Representation in CA : Vital issue of inclusiveness

The question of representation is the main issue to be settled ahead of the CA elections to be held in less than four months’ time. The Dalits, Indigenous people, Madhesis and Women want to have their representation in the CA ensured. Notably, there are over 100 castes and ethnic communities that are marginalised and discriminated against. Therefore, the moot question is: Will the inclusion of everyone be possible?

Democracy presupposes representation. Citizens choose their representatives for the legislature. For this purpose, free and fair elections are needed. Representation does not mean cent per cent representation though. No representative can wholly reflect the wishes of the represented. Nobody can represent someone else in real sense of the term. Those represented have to surrender a portion of their uniqueness to the representatives who reflect their preferences, sentiments, likes and dislikes, thinking and will. Representation, therefore, is always symbolic and ideological.

Representation takes at least four forms — Geographical, Ideological, Political and Descriptive. In Geographical representation, chosen representatives are ultimately made accountable for their areas, such as a city or a district or a province from where they are elected. In Ideological representation, ideologies existing within society may be represented through cadres of political parties or independent representatives, or both. In political representation, a legislature may have the representation of the political parties within the country even while none of them might have a significant ideological base. In Descriptive representation, the elected body should be to some degree a “mirror of the nation” — thinking and acting in a way that reflects the whole population by including men and women, young and old, rich and poor. It should also reflect different religious affiliations, linguistic backgrounds and ethnic ties. Political and Ideological representations may be categorised under the single head of Ideological representation as political conviction is, a priori, ideological. Thus, there remain only two other kinds of representation — geographical and descriptive.

Representation has always been an issue generating much controversy. Benjamin Disraeli once remarked: “Do you know that the more I think the more I am perplexed by what is meant by representation.” Another scholar said, “Should the chamber of Representatives represent the electorate? That is the whole question. If such is the case, every opinion, however absurd, even monstrous it may appear, must have its representatives in proportion to its strength in the electorate.”

It appears there are two views regarding the goal of election — one favours Representation of Opinion and another supports Representation of Will. The supporters of Proportional Representation (PR) system advocate that an election is a means of obtaining a more or less accurate image of all of the opinions in a country — or even a means of “photographing”

these opinions. The adherents of First Past the Post (FPtP) system opine that voters should not choose their doubles who resemble them the most. They should rather choose their representatives with the decision-making capacity. To them, PR prevents the citizens from exercising a clear choice for a government team. It transfers this choice to the party leaders.

As per the interim constitution, elections for 240 seats will be held under List Proportional Representation system. Two issues are involved here — maximum representation, and number restriction. First, at this historic moment, every citizen and community wants to be represented in the CA. In reality, maximum representation is not possible, as the represented body cannot be inflated to include all.

Secondly, it is a truism that each and every caste or ethnic group cannot be included in the elected house on the basis of election, which is a numbers game too. There are more than 50 castes/ethnic groups, each with the population of less than 50,000, and each cannot be guaranteed a seat in the house. They might be accommodated if they are organised in groups who carry their broad interests. That will be the symbolic way of their representation in the CA. The small groups should not feel marginalised and discriminated. Of course, they might also be included through a nomination process.

Thus, the issue of representation circles around two factors — number-wise inclusion or interest-wise inclusion. It is morally justifiable to increase the representation of those castes with large populations. They should not be barred from proportionate representation. It is, therefore, necessary to limit the distribution of seats among dominant groups and a few groups that represent the marginalised and discriminated communities so that the interest of the majority might be secured in the Constituent Assembly.

Prof. Mishra is ex-election commissioner