Separate Electorate May Unite  India’s Diverse Socio-Cultural Diversity

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 Mir Iqbal Ahmad

India-the largest democracy of the modern world was divided into India and Pakistan, at the time of independence in 1947, mostly on the grounds of religion. Muslim leadership of that time headed by Qaid e Azam Mohammad Ali Jinah opted Pakistan- separate country for Muslims, to ward off apprehensions of insecurity at the hands of religious majority group.

Whereas the other side of leadership headed by Mahatam Ghandhi and Jawaherlal Nehru of erstwhile India, decided for secular state based on the political arrangement of democracy guided by the Constitution of India which reveals all its aims and objectives in its preamble- “We the people of India having solemnly resolved to constitute India into sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic and to secure to all its citizens justice liberty equality and fraternity”.

So the aims and objectives prescribed in the constitution are pretty clear to guide Indian citizens in every sphere. Nevertheless, India has not lived up to its enshrined goals and has been least successful in its constitutional achievements.

Indian society is diverse, with hues of people from different religious beliefs, castes and tribes. As per 2011 census, India consists of 79.80% Hindus followed by 14.23% Muslims 2.30% Christians 1.72% Sikhs 0.7% Buddhists 0.37% Janis and 0.88% others.

So the promise of equality enshrined in the constitution has to be maintained for each group without any bias and discrimination. There are number of articles incorporated in the Constitution of India, guaranteeing right of equality directly or indirectly to its citizens. Despite these provisions, our society has not achieved equality among all the religious communities.

The inequality amongst religious groups is due to lack of representation in highest law making body- Parliament and state assemblies. Compared to above-mentioned demographic statistics, representation of minorities in elections has always been at the lowest end. For instance during 16th Lok Sabha elections held in 2014 there is just 7.03% minority representation in Lok Sabha constituting just 4% of Muslim MPs, Christian, Janis, Buddhist 1% each and 0.3% Sikhs MPs.

Once we don’t have our leaders in parliament, disparity is bound to happen. It is often difficult to understand aspiration and desires of another community. Although there are people in parliament and state assemblies from every community but the ratio is very less compared to their population.

If the aims and objectives of our constitution have to be achieved, there has to be   equal representation in the highest law making body of the country.  And verily it would be possible by having separate electorate.

Separate electorates, though not impracticable, may trigger apprehension about its feasibility among people. It therefore becomes necessary to clarify my stand viz a viz separate electorate.  Having separate electorate does not mean a separate nation, separate state or a separate township for different religious groups. People would remain part of the same system they are presently in. However, the only change would come in at the time of elections. Voting has to occur separately through a separate voting machine to elect a particular representative from a religious community.

That’s not anything new to be heard of in Indian democratic system. There is already an arrangement existing in the form of reserved constituencies for SCs and STs, duly supported by the Constitution of India. Constituencies are reserved for SCs and STs where only the candidates from these communities can contest elections.

So having separate electorates based on religion would not involve many transformations. A separate voter list of different religious communities has to be prepared at first. Open constituencies instead of territorial demarcated constituencies would have to be made. These new constituencies should be delimited population wise as per different communities. That makes it as simple as that.

Nevertheless, fear of kindling communalism through separate electorate has made many to re-think about its adoption. Despite all apprehensions, personally, I demand separate electorate for every community. Once such a system is adopted for one and all, equal representation thereby would diminish any chance of communalism to occur. It is no way against the tenets of secularism.

Interestingly, present democratic setup in the name of secularism has kept minorities at a bay of development. Secularism doesn’t mean inequality among different religions, hegemony of one religion over other, prosperity of one community at the cost of another and attempts to establish state religion, which we have been witnessing hitherto.

Although based on unity in diversity, India is divided on religious grounds. Uniting them and establishing equality needs a wide unbiased platform, taking care of social economic and cultural demands of the people. To cater such needs,   all communities should have equal number of their representatives as per population ratio in parliament and state assemblies. India needs to break its conservative thought and bring separate electorate on cards.

 The author is a Social and Political activist and can be reached at miriqbal.iyc@gmail.com. The views expressed are his own.

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