When Tamil Nadu goes to the polls on April 13, it will be doing so for the first time in over 30 years with fully redrawn Assembly constituencies.
The last delimitation of constituencies was in 1976. The present delimitation, carried out throughout the country during 2004-2007, was aimed at eliminating the gross inequalities in the number of voters across constituencies that had developed over the years.
For example, both Chepauk and Harbour constituencies, held by Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and Finance Minister K. Anbazhagan in the outgoing Assembly, had around 1.5 lakh voters each in 2006 while the Tambaram and Villivakkam constituencies had 8.72 lakh voters and 9.4 lakh voters respectively.
In fact, some Assembly constituencies such as Villivakkam were almost as big as some Lok Sabha constituencies: in 2004, the size of electorate of the Perambalur Lok Sabha constituency was 9.9 lakh. Delimitation then was a bid to restore the principle of “one man, one vote, one value” which had fallen by the wayside.
Unlike the earlier Delimitation Commissions, the latest Commission had no power to change the number of constituencies. It was because of this that the total number of constituencies in the State remained intact. But, invariably, the extent and size of all the constituencies have undergone changes. Generally, the average strength of each Assembly constituency in the State is around two lakhs.
In the State, the Delimitation Commission did attempt to adopt the panchayat, not revenue village, as the basic administrative unit for the re-organisation of constituencies. This was in deference to the demand from representatives of the public. But, the Commission had to shelve the idea for lack want of authentic panchayat-level data.
During the course of delimitation, 44 Assembly constituencies were abolished and an equal number of new constituencies created. In some cases, the constituencies' names have been retained, though they have been remapped.
For example, most parts of Aruppukottai in Virudhunagar district have been transferred to the newly-formed Tiruchuli constituency. However, the name has been retained and parts of the neighbouring Sattur and Virudhunagar constituencies have been added to the present Aruppukottai.
While some districts gained constituencies, others lost. But, what was apparent was that the northern districts of the State had gained. Tiruvallur, Chennai and Kancheepuram got two more seats each and Vellore one additional seat, whereas the southern districts' share was reduced by five seats.
Behind all this, is a sharp demographic shift, as can be seen from the electoral rolls, released in January this year.
Nine southern districts — Madurai, Virudhunagar, Theni, Dindigul, Sivaganga, Ramanathapuram, Tirunelveli, Tuticorin and Kanyakumari — have about 1.14 crore voters whereas just three northern districts — Chennai, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur — have 78 lakh voters, accounting for nearly 70 per cent of the entire southern region.
Demographic changes are visible in the case of the Scheduled Castes too. The number of constituencies reserved for them has been increased from 42 to 44. While eight districts including two northern districts — Tiruvallur and Vellore — have got one extra SC seat each, five districts have lost six SC seats. Tiruvarur, the Chief Minister's home district, has lost two SC constituencies.
When the delimitation exercise was carried out, there were concerns among political parties that they might lose their traditional strongholds. However, they now say that electoral fortunes are not solely determined by the delimitation. Several leaders have had to shift their constituency because of the delimitation, some because of the change in classification from reserved to general or vice versa.