Karnataka Elections: Part 1 – Redrawing Constituencies

Starting today, i hope to write a series of posts on my blog covering the Karnataka elections, which are scheduled to be held on May 10, 16 and 22. What makes this elections more interesting is that they are going to be held according to new constituencies which were drawn up by the Justice Kuldip Singh Commission. The Congress tried to push the elections to November, claiming that it would take time to prepare the new rolls. However, the EC figured that they would be able to hold the elections before May 28 – which is 6 months after the last assembly got dissolved, so elections will be held next month.

For the last one week, I’ve been diligently reading the elections special page of the Vijaya Karnataka in order to get an idea as to what is happening. Going by those reports, one common thread across districts is the delimitation exercise. On one hand, certain unwieldy constituencies (such as Uttarhalli or Binnypet) have been split, and smaller constituencies in the hinterland have been dissolved to make way for them. What seems to have had a greater impact, however, is the reservation and de-reservation of constituencies.

I’m not sure of this but there seems to have been inorganic growth of Scheduled Tribes in Karnataka in the last 30 years. It is clear that certain new communities have been given “tribal status” (I’m not sure if they rioted like the Gujjars to show that they are uncouth and hence deserve tribal status). Else the number of tribal constituencies in the assembly wouldn’t have gone up from two to fifteen!

In the last assembly, there were two tribal constituencies. Virajpet in Coorg and Gokak near Belgaum. People in the former constituency have been cribbing for “generalization” of their constituency since the reservation was effectively denying Coorgis one extra seat in the assembly (Somwarpet and madikeri were the other coorgi constituencies, and they were general). Justice Singh did oblige, converting Virajpet into general (and reserving the neighboring H D Kote near Mysore for ST). However, on the grounds of small size, Somwarpet has been dissolved, leaving the Coorgis back at square one. One important change for the coorgis, however is that now they’ll vote for Mysore constituency? in the Lok Sabha elections, as opposed to Mangalore as they were doing so far.

There is now a new “tribal belt” in Karnataka, in the center-north in areas bordering Andhra. Raichur and Bellary lok sabha constituencies are now reserved for STs and most of the assembly constituencies around that area, too, have been set aside for STs. The biggest beneficiaries of this are people from the Lambani tribe (also called Banjaras; most common surname is Naik). On the other hand, reservation of most of Bellary seems to have broken the back of the mining lobby which was politically powerful in this area.

It would be interesting to know how reserved constituencies get chosen. As a first step, I believe, they calculate the aggregate proportions of SCs and STs and determine the number of reserved seats. Key here is the decision of how to determine which seats to reserve. If there are certain areas which have an overwhelmingly high population of these reserved communities, then it is easy to figure out. But what if certain communities are evenly spread out? How do they determine where to reserve? Isn’t the reservation of most of Raichur and Bellary unfair for the non-tribals there? Haven’t the tribals in areas other than the Lambani belt been discriminated against because they don’t have as much of a voice as the Lambanis? Wouldn’t it probably be better to have communal vote banks for communities for which you have reservation? (just a thought).

Apart from this, there is going to be heavy “displacement” due to change in reservation status for a number of seats. A number of prominent “leaders” including Mallikarjun Kharge, M P Prakash and B B Shivappa have “lost” their constituencies to this. There also seems to be significant lobbying and politics behind the deletion of smaller constituencies. Prominent was the effort to keep Chickmaglur “in the name of Indira Gandhi”. One interesting case here is that one constituency in Udupi district had to go. After hectic lobbying, the “chosen one” was one where the incumbent was an independent!

On the whole, the delimitation seems to have supported the rural->urban migration theory. On one hand, large constituencies in Bangalore such as Binnypet and Uttarhalli have been split, the latter into no less than six new constituencies. During the last election, my name was registered in Uttarhalli. Now, looking at the new delimitation, I may get to vote in Basavanagudi. In other towns also, there is a new rural-urban divide. Nearly wholly-urban constituencies have been created in Tumkur, Shimoga, Mangalore, etc. The number of urban constituencies in Mysore has also gone up by one. Deve Gowda won’t like it.

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