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Parties close to seat shuffle deal

New Delhi, April 12: The ruling and Opposition parties are close to reaching a consensus on restarting the exercise of delimiting Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies based on the 2001 Census, dumping the ongoing 1991 Census-based process.

Such a consensus would ensure what a large number of sitting Lok Sabha MPs want — that is, the 2004 parliamentary polls are held according to the delimitation order that has existed since the 1977 general elections.

However, the parties would have to follow up their preference for the 2001 Census with a firm commitment to support a necessary constitutional amendment to facilitate the change. At an all-party meeting last month, the Centre had sought such a commitment before it considered an appropriate amendment Bill.

Informed sources said the two major parties — the BJP from the ruling National Democratic Alliance and the Congress, the main Opposition party — conveyed that they were willing to support a delimitation exercise based on Census 2001.

Sources in the Congress said the party had “verbally conveyed” to the government that it would have no problem either way — that is, if the 2001 Census were to be made the basis for delimitation or the ongoing exercise of the Delimitation Commission is persisted with.

“It is now for the government to make a decision. We will go with whatever decision it takes,” the sources said. They added that the party had avoided giving its views in writing because Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, who stand to benefit in the next elections by way of some additional reserved seats through immediate delimitation, could blame it for delaying the process.

“It (changes in the terms of reference for delimitation) has to be a government-initiated process. But for the ruling coalition’s preference for the 2001 Census basis, the government would not have convened the all-party meeting in the first place,” the sources added.

Union agriculture minister Ajit Singh supported the idea of making the 2001 Census the basis. “Lot of changes by way of population migration to urban areas have taken place between 1991 and 2001. It would, therefore, be in order to take the 2001 Census as the basis of delimitation,” he said.

The Left parties, too, appeared to be favourably inclined to basing the exercise on the 2001 Census. CPM general secretary H.S. Surjeet said the issue would come up in the politburo meeting, which begins in the capital on Tuesday.

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