The Practice of Gerrymandering:
Gerrymandering refers to the act of delineating political borders in a manner that grants an advantage to one political party over another. It entails a deliberate manipulation of electoral districts to establish an unfair edge in favour of the ruling party or coalition. Various methods can be employed for gerrymandering; however, the most commonly employed approach is to concentrate particular voters in districts where they have a commanding majority while dispersing supporters of the opposing party across districts where they face a disadvantage.
The term “gerrymandering” finds its roots in the name of Elbridge Gerry, the Vice President of the United States during the year 1812. Gerry faced criticism for endorsing the redrawing of state senate districts in Massachusetts to benefit the Democratic-Republican Party. As a result of this redistricting, the newly formed districts bore a resemblance to a salamander, which led adversaries to derisively label them as “gerrymanders.”
The objective behind gerrymandering is to either retain or gain political control by manipulating the boundaries of districts. Concentrating voters of a single party within a limited number of districts enables the dominant party to secure a substantially larger margin of victory in those areas. Simultaneously, this enables them to maximise the number of districts wherein they can secure a victory by a narrow margin. Through this strategic redistricting, political parties can uphold or even enhance their political power, regardless of whether they enjoy a commensurate level of popular support across the entire electorate.
The fair representation of electoral boundaries in India involves a process called delimitation. This task is assigned to the Delimitation Commission, which is constituted periodically. The commission takes into account various factors such as population size, geographical characteristics, and administrative convenience to redraw boundaries.
Despite the commission’s efforts to maintain fairness, the delimitation process has been influenced by political considerations, resulting in allegations of gerrymandering. Often, the manipulation occurs during the exercise of delimitation, where boundaries are redrawn to favour a specific political party or community.
In India, gerrymandering is often intertwined with communal and caste-based politics. Political parties have been known to redraw boundaries in a way that consolidates votes along religious or caste lines, ensuring their electoral success. This practice can result in the marginalisation of certain communities and the perpetuation of politics based on identity.
For instance, the creation of reserved constituencies for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) was a progressive measure aimed at ensuring their representation in the political process. However, the delimitation of these constituencies sometimes involves gerrymandering, where boundaries are redrawn in a manner that dilutes the voting strength of these communities.
The history of state reorganisation in India has provided a fertile ground for gerrymandering as well. The creation or reorganisation of states often involves the redrawing of electoral boundaries. This process, driven by political and administrative factors, can lead to the creation of constituencies that are biassed towards a particular party or community.
For instance, the redrawing of electoral boundaries after the bifurcation of states like Andhra Pradesh and the creation of Telangana sparked debates about gerrymandering. Some viewed the realignment of constituencies in these states as an effort to consolidate political power rather than ensure fair representation.
Conclusion – As we all know, gerrymandering, the manipulation of electoral districts for political gain, casts a long shadow over India’s democratic aspirations. To combat this, we must embrace the transformative power of technology.
By leveraging these platforms to provide transparent access to electoral maps and data, we can empower citizens to hold politicians accountable and advocate for fair district boundaries. Digital India, with its focus on inclusivity and transparency, can be the torchbearer in this fight against gerrymandering, paving the way for a more equitable and representative democracy. Let us harness the power of technology to ensure every vote counts, and every voice is heard.