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Dilemma of the Delhi voter

April 18, 2009 13:31 IST

A call from a puzzled friend, who lives about a kilometre away from me in the old colony of Jangpura in south Delhi, is trying to figure out which Lok Sabha constituency Jangpura now falls under and who his parliamentary candidates are.

Hundreds of thousands of voters in Delhi -- and in many parts of urban India -- face the same dilemma after the Election Commission's sweeping delimitation exercise was completed last year.

Jangpura and Nizamuddin, which used to be solidly part of the New Delhi constituency for decades, now find themselves in East Delhi together with Patparganj and Shahdara across the river Yamuna. R K Puram and Greater Kailash, heavily built-up parts of the middle class South Delhi constituency, have moved to East Delhi.

Karol Bagh used to be one of Delhi's seven parliamentary seats; it has now vanished from the electoral map while the Karol Bagh area itself is now part of New Delhi.

Delhi Sadar, from where the recently-ousted candidate Jagdish Tytler was sitting MP, has similarly disappeared as a constituency and is now part of Chandni Chowk, the seat held by Congress minister Kapil Sibal. Tytler's fellow renegade, Sajjan Kumar, also tainted by the bloodshed of 1984's anti-Sikh riots, has lost his political home in more ways than one ever since journalist Jarnail Singh's infamous shoe-chuck.

Kumar used to be MP from Outer Delhi but that constituency, too, has fallen off the map.

Not only has the landscape of Outer Delhi and East Delhi, two of the city-state's largest and once largely rural seats, changed with rapid urbanisation but also their names; they are now North East and North West Delhi, and come in completely different sizes.

Delhi's population has swelled from 14.9 million in 2004 to 16.3 million in 2008 (and the electorate is up from 9.5 to 9.6 million in the same period) so the extra numbers, plus new voters to elect the 15th Lok Sabha, had to be evenly accommodated.

As a city-state Delhi can't actually add on constituencies -- by law there cannot be an increase in the nationwide number till 2027 -- but many of the country's fastest-growing metros have put on numbers.

For instance, the Mumbai urban agglomeration has gone up from six to eight parliamentary seats, Bangalore district is up from two to four, Ahmedabad/Gandhinagar from two to three and Jaipur from one to two.

Delhi's delimitation drama is of such proportions that it has led to an epic-scale redrawing of the voting map, leading to corresponding confusion amongst voters.

Whereas one of the most marked changes in the general election of 2009 is the amount of constituency data available, what's missing is the expertise of geographers and cartographers to explain the shifting borders.

The Election Commission's website and other online resources throw up a wealth of statistical detail at the flick of a button -- break ups of faith, caste, gender, literacy rates, children immunised or dropping out of primary school, crimes against women or habitations connected by pucca roads -- but what's missing in the profiles are comparisons of new maps against the old.

There are several reasons for this. One is the number of new settlements erupting in urban areas, between one election and the next, yesterday's shanties "regularised" as bona fide colonies with such speed, that even political workers are uncertain; another is the peculiarly Indian habit of changing place names and street names overnight; yet another is that old records of 10- or 20-year surveys are hard to come by.

I asked a colleague, a specialist in constituency profiling, to share published details of Delhi's old constituencies. She brought out a well-thumbed volume, virtually in tatters, a record so precious that she keeps it under lock and key. Even a cursory comparison with current reality showed how phenomenal the changes are. Unless these records are widely disseminated, many voters literally don't know where they stand.

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Sunil Sethi