With Phase I voting beginning today for 91 out of the 543 seats of 2019 Lok Sabha elections, India’s people will elect parliamentarians that effectively decide the country’s policy trajectory over the next five years. Representation by elected officials is an important feature of a healthy democracy. Yet, the legislature, which is intended to give voice to 1.3 billion people, has not evolved to meet the country’s changing representation needs. While the population of India has tripled since the making of the Constitution, the number of parliamentarians has remained stagnant since 1973. We asked the question: how does India’s representation ratio compare to that of other countries?
In Figure 1, we calculate the ratio between population and statutory number of members in lower houses or unicameral legislatures across countries. At almost 2.5 million constituents per Lok Sabha seat on average, India far outstrips other countries. We find that India’s representation ratio is over five times that of China and three times that of the United States. If the powers of parliamentarians were measured as a function of the number of constituents they represent, India’s MPs would top the charts. The reality is unnerving: a small number of time-constrained politicians is tasked with championing the welfare of an expansive electorate.
When comparing India to other populous parliamentary democracies in Figure 2, we find an even larger disparity. India’s representation ratio exceeds that of Pakistan, ranked second, by almost 1.9 million people per parliamentarian. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s representation ratio only exceeds that of Bangladesh, ranked third, by slightly more than 100,000 people per parliamentarian. Worse still, the world’s most populous parliamentary democracy has a representation ratio about 33 times that of the 20th most populous parliamentary democracy, Papua New Guinea.
Figures 3 and 4 illustrate that, among Westminster systems and Commonwealth nations, which share similar structures of government and a common heritage of institutions, India’s representation ratio also significantly surpasses those of its peers, including Bangladesh and Japan. The United Kingdom, which has been a model for India’s structures of government, has a population of over 66 million and a House of Commons 650 members-strong. Yet, India’s representation ratio is over 24 times that of the United Kingdom.
Whichever way you slice it, the gap between India’s constituents and the number of parliamentarians who represent them is significant ¬ and it is especially disconcerting when placed in comparative context. For more on the consequences and possible solutions to this representation problem, see our analysis featured in The Hindustan Times.