What the 2026 Delimitation Process has in Store For Indian Muslims
Illustration Courtesy: The Quint
As the Election Commission of India (ECI) released the final order for the delimitation exercise carried in Assam, the final order has raised widespread concerns among opposition parties. While the BJP has hailed the changes, several organisations and parties have protested over it. Critics have also raised concerns about what the proposed delimitation would do for Muslims.
Muslims have been noted by journalists, academics, and activists to have faced the brunt end of the delimitation process in India. As noted by the Sachar committee report in 30th November, 2006, it has been utilised to prevent Muslims from exercising their fundamental right. Thus now with the final order from Assam, critics have argued that these as areas which are known to have a concentration of Muslims are now finalised to be split or to be declared deliberately as reserved constituencies.
Regarding this contentious issue, the Sachar committee had undertaken a thorough analysis of the data pertaining to reserved constituencies for Scheduled Caste (SC candidates) in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and West Bengal has been undertaken by the Committee and these states boast a notable share of India’s Muslim population. The findings of this analysis by the Sachar committee report reveal that the constituencies designated as reserved for SCs by the Delimitation Commission in these states are predominantly those where Muslims constitute a significant portion, often exceeding 50% of the population and often, at times, even surpassing the SC representation. Conversely, a sizeable number of constituencies within these states, with substantial SC percentages, have been left ‘un-reserved’. This data raised concerns that the Delimitation Commission might have deliberately allocated reserved seats to regions with a notable Muslim presence, potentially with the intention of diminishing the political impact of the Muslim community. This phenomenon has sparked discussions around potential discrimination, as it curtails opportunities for Muslim representation in democratic institutions.
The Sachar Committee therefore advocated for the rectification of these concerns in the delimitation processes to be carried out. In fact, the issue of delimitation and its potential to hamper the fundamental rights of Muslims is mentioned by Justice Sachar himself in the foreword for the report itself where the Justice calls for a more judicious and just process of delimitation that refrains from reserving constituencies based on high minority population shares for SCs is recommended. This decision, if implemented, is something that is touted to amplify the avenues for minority political participation, as they are severely underrepresented in Indian politics where only about 4 percent of parliamentarians are been Muslims, both in the Indian Parliament and State Assemblies, without the risk of hampering SC community votes.
The Sachar Committee Report (SCR notes) that there is a recognised need for further strategies to enhance political engagement within the minority community. As the nation navigates the complex landscape of electoral representation, the focus should remain on establishing an equitable, inclusive, and representative political structure that upholds the democratic principles India holds dear. The right to fair and equal representation is a key marker to equal citizenships rights that must flow to all Indians under the Constitution.
In the context of the delimitation of constituencies in Assam under a BJP regime, concerns have emerged about potential impacts on the rights and representation of Muslims. The exercise of delimitation, as carried out by the Election Commission of India after each census, plays a crucial role in shaping the political landscape. However, the Muslim community in India, particularly in Assam, has experienced various challenges within social, cultural, and public spaces. These challenges have led to a sense of unease and discomfort among Indian Muslims, which could potentially be exacerbated by the delimitation process. Indian Muslims often bear a dual burden of being labelled by right wing politics as “anti-national” and recipients of disproportionate government benefits from “politics of appeasement” simultaneously and this dual perception creates an environment where Muslims are compelled to constantly prove their loyalty and disassociation from any terrorist activities. Paradoxically, the alleged “appeasement” has failed to yield the desired level of socio-economic development for the community if we were to even give the slightest credence to such comments. This continuous scrutiny, suspicion, and lack of recognition therefore has had a detrimental impact on the mental well-being of Muslims.
Similarly markers such as the burqa, purdah, beard, and topi, while contributing to the distinct identity of Indian Muslims, have also subjected them to ridicule and suspicion. The public realm has witnessed instances where Muslim men wearing a beard and topi are subjected to unwarranted interrogations and even violence such as mob lynching and religious profiling in places like parks, railway stations, and markets. Muslim women, particularly those wearing hijab or burqa, face discriminatory treatment in various public settings including markets, hospitals, schools, and public transportation.
Social identity-related challenges extend to housing and education as well where Muslims encounter difficulties when attempting to buy or rent properties, especially in non-Muslim localities. Some housing societies actively discourage Muslims from settling in these areas, reflecting a pattern of exclusion. Similarly, Muslim parents face discrimination when seeking admission for their children in mainstream educational institutions. This discrimination negatively affects the educational prospects of Muslim students, compelling some to resort to denominational schools that provide a sense of belonging but might not always offer the highest quality of education.
According to the SCR, the focus on specific cases of Muslim women’s rights in politics by right wing politicians, such as marriage, divorce, and maintenance, has overshadowed basic citizenship rights such as equal and non-discriminatory rights to fair living, employment, education, access to justice security or even political representation. This selective narrative perpetuated by large sections of a politically compliant media has, since 2014, especially contributed to portraying the Muslim religion as the sole source of gender injustice within the community, potentially overlooking structural inequalities that may exist.
Security-related concerns further exacerbate the sense of vulnerability within the Muslim community as feelings of insecurity vary across states, often triggered by communal tensions or untoward incidents. The present government’s response to communal violence and its perceived indifference has added to the distress of Muslims. The “involvement” of Muslims in acts in violation of the law (common among any and all citizens) is selectively used to profile Muslims and often render them criminals by default by sections of law enforcement and media. As an extension of this one-sided rhetoric, reparation or compensation to survivors of violence is also then portrayed as “unfair”, when in fact access to restitution is onerous and tardy.
Against this backdrop of abject Muslim marginalisation and furthering of hate against the community, concerns are raised about the impact of delimitation in Assam, particularly under a BJP regime. The fear is that the delimitation process, if not handled transparently, could potentially exacerbate the marginalisation and underrepresentation of Muslims in political spheres. It’s crucial that the delimitation exercise is carried out keeping the constitutional mandate of equality and justice as the markers.
The Delimitation Commission, established by the Government of India through the through the provision of Delimitation Commission Act, is responsible for determining the boundaries of state assembly and parliamentary constituencies in India. Originally, the constitution aimed for a fresh round of delimitation after each ten-year census to maintain roughly equal population sizes in constituencies. Delimitation Commissions were formed in 1952, 1963, and 1972 to draw new boundaries. However, boundaries were “frozen” from the 1970s until 2001 to avoid promoting areas with higher birth rates due to concerns about family planning programs. Consequently, most Indian constituencies, including those reserved for SCs, remained unchanged from 1974 to 2007.
The most recent delimitation order in Assam follows a draft proposal released in June of this year, which recommended redrawing many constituency boundaries while keeping the total number (14 at the parliamentary level and 126 at the assembly level) unchanged.
Around 30 assembly constituencies will be redefined, and 26 new ones will be created in Assam. According to Sentinel Assam, Assam’s Chief Minister and BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma stated that if the ECI’s draft proposal is approved, the “people of Assam” will have a greater say in their constituencies. The All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) party, expressed concern that the delimitation exercise will reduce the number of Muslim-majority assembly constituencies in the state from 29 to 22.
The draft proposal continues to face criticism due to the deliberate removal of specific assembly seats with Muslim-majority populations. These constituencies are presently represented by opposition party legislators from the Bengali-origin Muslim community, often labelled as “illegal” migrants.
As per the draft, these seats will either be amalgamated or merged into newly-created constituencies, many of which have significant Hindu populations.
Previously, the Barak Valley, comprising the districts of Cachar, Karimganj, and Hailakandi, had 15 assembly constituencies in the 2021 elections. However, the new order seeks to reduce this number to 13, citing demographic changes as a reason. Additionally, several constituency names are also set to be modified under the proposed plan.
Furthermore, the order too reserves three assembly constituencies, where Muslims have a significant presence, for candidates belonging to Scheduled Castes and Tribes. This effectively bars minority leaders from contesting in elections for those seats where SC status is not accorded to minority religious populations like Muslims and Christians. Assam’s Muslim population was recorded as 34% in the last Census of India from 2011. Approximately 3/4th of Assam’s Muslims are Bengali Muslims, frequently facing accusations of being ‘Bangladeshi immigrants.’ This procedure appears to be biased rather than being based on demographics nor does it appear to be designed for expediency in the electoral system.
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