A day after Congress skipped a key meeting with the Election Commission alleging that the Assam delimitation process is a "pre-determined move" and they feel there is a 'match-fixing' between EC and BJP over this issue, the Chief Election Commissioner made a stern assertion about equitability and transparency.
"EC does not take dictation from anybody. As a commission, our process depends on two foundations - disclosure and participation," Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar said at a press conference in Guwahati, assuring that every community across the state will be considered fairly, within the legal framework, and adhering to principles of equity.
Assam Congress chief Bhupen Borah had said they went to Delhi and submitted a memorandum to the EC where they raised several doubts about the redrawing of district boundaries, but the poll body was yet to respond. "We are ready to meet and discuss with the EC but first, we need to get a reply to our queries," he had said.
"Now they are only giving 10–15 minutes, and we don't think meeting them will be of any use," Congress MLA and Assam Leader of Opposition Debabrata Saikia said yesterday.
The Chief Election Commissioner, stressing that it wants to consult all political parties, pointed out that they gave the grand old party time in January, ahead of any other party, to meet.
"We see that EC has a pre-determined motive behind this process. We get a feeling that there is a match-fixing between the EC and BJP, since December 27, the EC made a press note on delimitation in Assam and on December 30, the Assam cabinet passed a resolution to merge four districts, altering district boundaries in the state. And on January 1 this year, the EC issued the notification. What does this mean?" Mr Borah has questioned.
Other opposition parties AIUDF and Trinamool Congress in their closed-door meetings with the EC have raised objections about the process, including the Assam National Register of Citizens (NRC), the timing of the delimitation exercise ahead of the 2024 general election, and apprehensions that it might alter boundaries of Muslim-majority constituencies.
The commissioner is in Guwahati on a three-day visit to hold consultations with stakeholders, including political parties and civil societies on the delimitation process in Assam.
The delimitation exercise for redrawing the territorial boundaries of the assembly and parliamentary constituencies of Assam, based on the 2001 census, had been stuck for 14 years. The last delimitation in Assam was done in 1976.
Rajiv Kumar said his team has spoken to nice political parties and civil society groups in the last two days, and noted the points they have raised.
60 civil organisations from different parts of Assam met the commission in this consultation, Mr Kumar said, adding that he met senior officials of district administration from all Assam districts.
The main suggestions they received were to use the latest census figures (2021 instead of 2001), increase the numbers of the assembly and parliamentary segments, increase in representation of SC and ST communities, and proportionate delimitation even for areas with a lesser population.
Some groups have also requested to consider the uneven population growth in Assam, he added.
"We will consider all the suggestions received and try to include them keeping the equitability issue in mind," Rajiv Kumar said.
However, he clarified that the number of both Assembly and Lok Sabha seats in Assam would remain the same even after this delimitation process.
This delimitation process was started in 2002 but was put on hold. EC took up the delimitation duty after the ministry of law wrote to EC, Mr Kumar added.
"EC will give time until April 15 for anyone to send further suggestions. After that, the draft will be published. One month's time will be given for suggestions on the draft," the commissioner said.
Notably, he also clarified that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the delimitation process are two separate issues, and there is no legal compulsion to carry out the two simultaneously.
"The delimitation process is not timing driven. There is support from all to complete the delimitation process quickly," Rajiv Kumar said.