The Union government’s decision to rescind a 2008 order that deferred delimitation in Manipur along with three other northeastern states including Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland took everyone by surprise. In the normal course of affairs, these states would have faced delimitation after the first census taken after 2026. However, the sudden change in Jammu and Kashmir’s constitutional status necessitated delimitation there and for reasons that remain unclear, also prompted the government to conduct the exercise in other states where it could not be completed after the 2001 Census.
The decision to conduct the delimitation exercise just before the next census, that too in the middle of a pandemic, is inappropriate and is, even otherwise, deeply flawed from administrative and legal perspectives. Moreover, while the 2008 order deferred the exercise due to concerns about the breakdown of law and order if flawed census data were used, the decision to rescind that order refers to only the improvement of law and order and is silent on the quality of the 2001 Census. Is there more to the proposed delimitation in Manipur than meets the eye?
Manipur comprises of a small valley that accounts for 10% of the state’s area and for about 60% of its population. The Meiteis dominate the valley. The surrounding hills are populated by several Naga and Kuki tribes. Some of the hill districts reported very high growth rates in the 2001 Census, which sharply increased their population share at the expense of the valley.
The civil society, as well as political parties based in the valley, opposed the use of the 2001 Census for delimitation that would have resulted in the loss of five seats to Naga-dominated areas. The threat posed by “Greater Nagaland” to the territorial integrity of the state, which had triggered massive protests in June 2001, would have added to the urgency of stalling delimitation.