CHENNAI: Should the dual-member constituency system be revived in the country after nearly six decades of their abolition? Yes, says Bharatiya Stree Shakti (BSS), which led more than 50 women organisations a decade ago. The BSS has made this suggestion as an effective alternative to end the row over providing 33 per cent reservation for women through legislation.
Originally, the system of dual member constituencies was introduced during the first general elections to the Lok Sabha during 1951-52 to give adequate representation to the members of SC/ST communities. After the election is over, two representatives – one from general category and another from SC/STs – would be sent to Parliament. This system was abolished through a legislation in 1961 by allocating separate constituencies for these communities.
However, now the BSS has said the revival of dual-member constituencies for the sake of providing equal representation to women would be a welcome measure. In July 2009, activists from many women’s organisations spearheaded by the BSS demanded amendment to the Women’s Reservation Bill to convert all seats of the Lok Sabha and Assemblies into dual-member constituencies to elect one man and one woman each. So, these women organisations suggested that 543 women and 543 men could be elected to the Lok Sabha without changing the number of boundaries of the existing constituencies.
These organisations have pointed out that implementation of 33 per cent reservation for women would mean that it would deny opportunities to 33 per cent of men. But, if all 543 seats in the Lok Sabha are made dual-member ones, an equal number of men and women will be there and the number of male members would not come down in Parliament.
Dr KS Jayashree, national president of the BSS, told Express, “In 2009, the BSS and many other women’s organisations submitted our recommendations to the Centre. But there was no initiative to take forward our suggestion.”
A recall of the history behind this dual-member constituency system will be interesting. In the 1951-52 Lok Sabha elections, the erstwhile Madras had seven dual-member constituencies - Thiruvallur, Vellore, Erode, Mayiladuthurai, Cuddalore, Tindivanam and Madurai.
In 1956, new States were carved out on the basis of language and ethnicity. The Madras State (the present Tamil Nadu) had 34 Lok Sabha constituencies including Chengalpattu, Vellore, Chidambaram, Nagapattinam, Srivilliputhur, Dindigul and Namakkal. From 1967, the number of LS constituencies has gone up to 39 and all of them have remained single-member constituencies till now.
In 1957, the Congress was routed in Andhra Pradesh when its nominee VV Giri, former Union Labour Minister, who later became the President of the country, was defeated in the Parvathipuram double-member constituency by a narrow margin of 565 votes. Though Giri polled more votes than his rival in the general constituency, two reserved category candidates won the seat as their votes had exceeded those secured by candidates from general category.
Giri moved the court, arguing that the reserved category candidates should only be allowed to contest the ST seat, but his appeal was dismissed. Following this, the Congress government brought in the Two-Member Constituency (Abolition) Act, 1961 and all constituencies were made single-member ones.