Manipur tribal forum urges timely completion of delimitation

Published : July 07, 2020 13:27 IST

Women from tribal communities waiting to cast their votes in Tengoupal constituency, Manipur on March 8, 2017. The Manipur Tribals’ Forum has been advocating delimitation to ensure a fair representation in the State Assembly, which has reserved only 19 seats to the hill people in a house of 60. Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar

The Manipur Tribals’ Forum for Delimitation (MTFD), which has been demanding a fair representation for tribal people in the State Assembly and the Lok Sabha in accordance with Census 2001, has petitioned the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ensure timely completion of delimitation of the electoral constituencies in the State. This exercise has been pending since 2008 owing to opposition from mainstream political parties in Manipur such as the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (United). While the notification for starting the delimitation exercise was issued in February this year, the MTFD is apprehensive that political opposition to the exercise may once again derail it.

The MTFD, which is headed by former Chief Justice W.A Shishak, submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister on July 3, urging him to provide democratic justice, rights and empowerment to the tribal people of Manipur, and ensure that the delimitation exercise did not fall prey to political manipulation this time round. The memorandum stated: “The hope and faith of the tribal communities of Manipur lies in your kind concern for them.”

The delimitation exercise, which began after Census 2001, became embroiled in political controversies engineered by the influential Meitei community, a socially and politically powerful ethnic group that has been demanding the Scheduled Tribe status in the State. In 2005, 14 political parties formed a joint forum and filed a petition in the Guwahati High Court against the delimitation exercise. They said if the delimitation exercise were allowed to be completed, it would lead to violence and bloodshed in the State and even threaten the country’s sovereignty and integrity. The High Court ruled in their favour in 2007 and the exercise was deferred in 2008 through a Presidential notification.

The last delimitation in Manipur, which was carried out in 1973, gives 19 seats to the hill people in an Assembly of 60. Shelmi Sankhil, a member of MTFD, said: “Though the hills account for 90 percent of the land area in Manipur and the hill people constitute about 40-45 percent of the population, they have been given only 19 seats which is in direct contravention of Article 332 of the Constitution of India which mandates fair political representation to the tribal people.”

According to Sankhil, ever since Manipur became a full-fledged State in 1972, its tribal people have been denied their rightful share in political representation; further, the political parties which call the shots in the State have never paid heed to their just demands. “Now that the notification for starting the delimitation exercise has once again been issued, we hope the exercise gets completed this time,” he said.

The delimitation exercise is scheduled to be completed by February 2021 . But the fear that the exercise could get derailed again has arisen because the same political parties, barring the BJP, have filed a writ petition in the Manipur High Court, opposing the exercise. Interestingly, while in 2005, the BJP was a party to the demand to defer the delimitation exercise, it now rules Manipur in alliance with other State parties. A few BJP MLAs, though, have independently opposed the delimitation exercise.