The Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has long expressed its desire to delimit constituencies, or what those familiar with US electoral parlance might call “redistricting.” They claim that Hindu-majority Jammu has too few constituencies, and consequently Hindus lack representation in the federal Parliament and the state assembly. This bid for numerical supremacy and engineered domination reminds one of gerrymandering, something practiced predominantly by right-wing state regimes in the United States.
However, to ensure true fairness and proportionality of representation, a fastidious and conscientious analysis must be performed before delimitation is implemented, lest it re-establish a representational injustice akin to what we have in the religious composition of the Indian Parliament’s Lower House. Muslims, who comprise a sixth of the Indian population, made up a meager one-25th of the topmost legislative echelon in the 2014 elections, and marginally improved to a mere one-20th in 2019.
A research study that I have co-authored, published in the European Journal of Minority Studies, deals with the electoral-representational consequences of localization of minority communities in a highly polarized society. It traces electoral victory, that is, legislatorial representation, against mutual alienation or lack of intermingling at the geopolitical order of electoral divisions.
Our study presents a theoretical model for equitably sized constituencies in a bipolar society. It was aimed at obtaining a plot correlating the number of minority-candidate victories to the extent of constituency-wise localization, that is, ghettoization of minorities.
The key findings included the fact that beyond a certain very low threshold of minority ghettoization, proportional representation of minorities in legislatures may be achieved over a wide range of values, but is very unpredictable. In fact, our very first finding was that the frequency of variation was very high, and except for very low ghettoization, trends were extremely vagrant on a small (zoomed-in) scale.
For maximal minority representation (overshooting the in-proportion-to-population threshold), a moderately high localization is required. Even for low values of localization, representation ranges from low to moderate.
Proportional representation is widely accessible, occurring over the entire range of possible localization values, except for the very lowest of them. For moderate values of localization, representation ranges from moderately low to the highest, while for high values of localization, representation varies between moderate and high. Thus moderate ghettoization is an ambitious, high-stakes gamble while high ghettoization is insurance with consistent, reasonable prospects of gain.
So what relevance does it have to the Kashmir delimitation? Now, constituency redefinition provides ample scope for manipulation along communal contours, such that divides are bypassed and advantages of the majority either enhanced or suppressed, depending on which the minority can either be obliterated or empowered, respectively.
Our study is assuredly valid for equitable constituency sizes. Given that Indian constituencies are unequal in size, often disproportionate, our theoretical model won’t be accurately applicable to it. However, since the disparity is low, it will offer a fair approximation of general trends.
Kashmir has a moderately high level of communal ghettoization – that is, Hindus concentrate in a select few constituencies, while in the rest, they either constitute a significant minority or are nearly absent. Thus there are a few minority-dominant constituencies, a good number of minority-significant constituencies, and several minority-absent (approximately) constituencies.
The pertinence that our research bears with the issue is that minority representation is fickle on the short range, and even what you would perhaps call a long range. It is important to emphasize that our results were based on, and hold good on (are much simpler to evaluate and tackle), equitably sized constituencies. The analysis of unequal-sized constituencies is much more complex, and vagrancy will be even more pronounced.
Ladakh boasts one giant constituency, for instance, and most of the Kashmir Valley has sparsely inhabited alpine stretches. Merely analyzing the valley alone comprises quite the psephological exercise in itself. So no amount of creative redrawing, unless very meticulous – a tedious and expensive exercise for bureaucrats, officials and citizens alike – would amount to a substantially deterministic and predictable change in the outcome. Such an artificial enforcement of electoral justice would be flirting with totalitarianism, and render us prone to the jeopardy of overregulation. It would be an expedition into dystopian territory – the muse of control-freaks and autocrats.
Given the high inter-communal alienation in Kashmir, it serves as an ideal candidate to apply our theoretical model to. What’s more, if minorities realize that high ghettoization would guarantee them an assured level of representation, it might serve as further incentive to deepen the distrust and widen the rifts further, heightening tensions. The Hindu minority can wield further ghettoization as a tool to empower themselves artificially.
However, in our study, the numerical representation of minorities rose until a high level of ghettoization was reached and then substantially fell for very high values of ghettoization. It can be thus inferred that it is again a very dicey practical exercise on the part of minorities. Hence it is fair to state that at the current level of ghettoization, the minorities might be getting the fairest gamble possible. Unless the ghettoization is nearly absent (near-perfect homogeneity and high intermixing), every once in a while, the minority shall avail proportionate representation. It is thus either a fool’s errand, or a communal Russian roulette, to try to manipulate constituencies irresponsibly, lest the situation be rendered even more precarious, and minorities perceive alienation as an electoral stilt and pedestal, or worse yet, a survivalist crutch.
No matter who gets wronged – the national minority or the regional minority – coarseness, idiosyncrasy, blind zeal and lack of meticulousness will ensure that the truly aggrieved and loser shall be democracy, notwithstanding who is the victor.