The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Congress dilemma

New Delhi, March 23: The Congress leadership is in a bind. Several MPs want it to insulate them against facing next year’s parliamentary polls with their constituencies reorganised by the delimitation commission according to the 1991 census.

At the same time, “younger generation” leaders from the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are pressing it to ensure that nothing is done to delay delimitation.

“If it is delayed, the SC/STs may have to wait another five years to get increased representation in the Lok Sabha and most Assemblies which will accrue from the fresh delimitation,” said a Dalit leader of the party.

Senior Congress leaders met to thrash out the party position on the delimitation debate which had compelled parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj to hold a meeting of leaders of parties recently.

Swaraj had asked the parties to give in writing within two weeks whether delimitation should be continued according to the 1991 census, whether there should be a course correction or whether it should be restarted with the 2001 census as the basis.

At the Congress meeting, discussions were inconclusive.

Among the leaders present were general secretaries Ambika Soni, Oscar Fernandes, deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Shivraj Patil and Pranab Mukherjee. A firm view will be taken at a second round of meetings early this week, which will be conveyed in writing to the government.

Sources said the party was willing to consider suggesting the 2001 census as the basis for delimitation. “But we have to find out whether other parties are prepared to come up with the same view. The issue is rather sensitive as it will mean that the next elections will be held as per the existing delimitation,” said a senior leader.

The problem with such a position is that SC/ST groups fear “if the delimitation is not done now, it might be postponed for some more time as had happened in 1990”, he said.

Apparently, SC/ST leaders, who will get additional reserved seats in the Lok Sabha and Assemblies under the planned delimitation, are saying “it is either now or may be never”.

In view of the concerns of the SC/ST groups, a section of the Congress leadership is mulling a compromise position. The party will not support the demand to make the 2001 Census the basis for delimitation but it will ask the Centre to ensure the exercise is carried out systematically and after consultations at every stage with “associate members, concerned MPs or MLAs and political parties”.

“Since the fresh delimitation is going to stay for at least 20 years, we should not do anything in a hurry,” said a party leader.

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