Lok Sabha Expansion – UPSC GS2

  • The Indian Constitution may face an unprecedented crisis in 2026 when there will be a dramatic change in the composition of the Lok Sabha.
  • Since 1976, seats in the Lok Sabha have reflected the 1971 census and have not taken into account changes in the population. 
  • The primary reason for this has been unequal population growth among States.
  • India’s most highly developed and prosperous States have been successful at family planning, while the poorer States continue to expand.
  • The freeze was thus a chance to ensure that India’s most successful States are not punished politically for their success.
Reason behind emergence of crisis:
  • Post 2026, when this compact ends, there will be a seismic shift in national power towards India’s poorest and most populated States.
  • This would generate much resentment among the States that will lose political and economic power and influence. This calls for a realignment in the balance between the democratic principle and the federal principle in the Indian Constitution.
About Indian Federalism:
  • Article 1 of the Indian Constitution says, India is a Union of States. The choice of words is deliberate: it is the several States that, together, make up the Indian Union.
  • India has adopted a unique quasi-federal structure with a strong centre. The ethnic, linguistic, and cultural diversity of India made the adoption of federalism inevitable, but the fear of separatist tendencies warranted establishment of a strong centre.
Tussle between democratic principle and the federal principle:
  • An inherent contradiction between the principles of democracy and federalism arises when federal units are unequal, population and economics.
  • In a democratic setup, all citizens are equal and are thus entitled to equal representation in governance. But this would imply that bigger States are likely to dominate the national conversation over smaller States.
  • Small States fear that they would get a smaller share of the pie economically, a much reduced say in national issues, and be irrelevant in the political governance of the country.
  • Thus, federal democracies have incorporated into their governing structures various kinds of compromises to ensure a balance between democratic principles and federal ones.
  • For instance, US Constitution protects states in following ways:
    • National powers over the States are limited
    • Each State regardless of size had two seats in the Senate, giving smaller States an outsized role in national governance
    • Presidents are elected by electoral votes, which means they must win States rather than the total national population. Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump won without winning the popular vote.
  • Similarly, India enabled formation of various states on linguistic basis in 1956 to uphold federal principles and respect the demands of people for greater autonomy.
What can India do to alleviate the fear of less populous states?
  • The powers of States vis-à-vis the Centre contained in the Lists and in the provisions dealing with altering boundaries of States must be increased. This will alleviate the fear of smaller States of being dominated by bigger ones.
  • The role and composition of the Rajya Sabha must be expanded. This would allow smaller States a kind of brake over national majoritarian politics that adversely impact them.
  • Constitutional change and the change in financial redistribution between the States must require the consent of all or nearly all States. The fate of the Goods and Services Tax, or GST, serves as a salutary warning in this regard.
  • Serious thought must be given to breaking up the biggest States into smaller units. This would prevent them from dominating the national conversation.
Way Ahead:
  • National bonds of affection and patriotism will not be severed by devolution of powers though they will be at least severely strained when one part of the country is empowered over another.
  • There is an urgent need to reimagine our national compact — another freeze will only kick this thorny issue down the road and will continue to perpetuate an increasingly undemocratic set up.

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