Reforms of 1991 were meant to be economic liberalization, conjointly with the political reforms. Instead, it only focused and revolved around economic liberalization leaving behind the latter- which today has become the need of the hour.
Economic reforms refer to the economic liberalization of a country’s economic policies to improve and hasten a country’s economic growth, by expanding the role of private and foreign investment; thus making it more market and service-oriented. And exactly 30 years ago, an emerging balance of payment crisis occurred that led to a severe recession and forced the political leaders to rethink and reframe India’s socialist economy. Hence, in 1991, Manmohan Singh, the then Finance Minister of the newly formed Narasimha Rao government, came up with advanced profitable and money-making policies to reform the economy. But in this scenario, people being excited for the reforms, what was left behind unconcerned were the political reforms which actually demanded equivalent significance and requirement.
Why political reforms became a pressing priority?
India is the largest democracy in the world with a parliamentary system of government. India’s electorate is not only vast but also quite diverse reflecting the plurality of caste, religion, language, etc. However certain aberrations have come to the fore in the very working of the electoral system over the years.
India established an electoral democracy in the year 1952 providing universal adult franchise i.e. all above the age of 21 years can cast a vote (which was later changed to 18 years under 61st Amendment Act in 1988). The number of seats of the Lok Sabha at that time was 489 seats with a count of 173 million voters to cast their vote in elections. With an increasing population and merger of new states, there was a demand to increase the number of seats as well. Thus by the year 1971, it increased to 518 seats.
With the non-uniform increase of population in the country, DMK leader and representative in Lok Sabha (then) Murosoli Maran called for a standstill as to stop increasing the seats of Lok Sabha evenly. This was purposely proposed as the population increase in UP and Bihar was quite large as compared to states like Tamil Nadu.
As a result, this problem was resolved by giving more power to states with higher population count than those at a relatively lower growth rate. States UP and Bihar got more powerful with a greater representation in Lok Sabha whereas the number of seats allocated to Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh actually went down. So, ultimately, a stalemate arose that as the population gets lower, more is the restriction on the number of seats in Lok Sabha.
Until 2001, the number of seats in Lok Sabha remained frozen at 543 (under the Delimitation Commission Act of 1973 which recommended the increase in the seats of Lok Sabha from 522 to 542, later 543 with the addition of one more seat to Sikkim) taking into account the Census of India, 1971 later updated by the Census of India, 2001, keeping the number of seats unchanged. With the end of the year 2001 various political parties were asked for their opinion on ‘de-freezing’ the count of Lok Sabha seats.
None of the political parties were interested in de-freezing or changing the ‘status-quo’ to avoid the difficulties that would come their way in order to cope up with the new challenges. Pranab Mukherjee (then a Congress MP who later became President of India) told the audience at a conference held on the subject of Indian Economy by the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (FICCI) in 1998: “I don’t see why this freeze cannot be extended.” Similar were the views of other parties like BJP represented by Jaswant Singh.
Drawbacks of the still prevailing 1977 electoral pattern
Till date, we are following a similar pattern of elections continuing with the total number of seats as in 1977. Then the population of the country, voting, was 321 million voters which has tremendously increased to 912 million voters. Even after an increase in population, there has been no change in the number of reserved seats of Lok Sabha, which means an increased number of voters are still electing the same number of MPs.
This explosive increase in the voters has increased the cost of elections, thus making it more competitive and drain on national treasury. The economic reforms that were made to improvise the growth of the country, on the contrary led to a distortion. While not increasing the number of seats meant the competition became tougher, making it difficult for an average politician to survive the battle without enough financial services. Obviously an ordinary man, who’s competent and skilled, couldn’t manage to reach the general public due to lack of resources required to contest polls.
The ones who benefitted from the liberalization were businessmen who earned a lot from these new sectors. They got much respect from the society and eventually became dominant in the view of electoral policies. These people had the resources to reach millions of voters and campaign with them which ultimately affected the growth of a potentially more deserving candidate, who could have won but was left out just because of financial weakness.
In order to make democracy more meaningful and apt, a refinement in politics is compulsory and recommended. The increase in the number of Lok Sabha seats is important to match the growing population of the country, which will in turn reduce the cost per head of contesting in the elections. Also, taking decisions and allocating seats on the basis of the population per state should be abolished so that equal opportunities are given even to states developing at a lower rate.
However, this issue hasn’t been totally ignored by the government. The Central Vista Redevelopment Project has been launched to revamp the Central Vista, India’s central administrative area located near Raisina Hill, New Delhi.
The project, as of 2020, aims to revamp a 3 km (1.9 mi) long Rajpath between Rashtrapati Bhavan and India Gate, convert North and South Blocks to publicly accessible museums by creating a new common Central Secretariat to house all ministries, a new Parliament building near the present one with increased seating capacity for future expansion, new residence and office for the Vice-President and the Prime Minister near the North Block and South Block and convert some of the older structures into museums.