Will 2024 Witness the Rise of the Urban India?

One of the important takeaways that just does not seem to get registered from the West Bengal assembly elections is the middle class voters particularly the urban middle class literally deserting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It may seem a strange trend; however, it is not a one off incident. Rather, this seems to be a trend that no has been noticing for a while, especially in the assembly elections across various states.

Over the years, the BJP actually shifted its vote base from the urban centres to the rural centres. What started in 2004 solidified into significant electoral successes in 2014 and 2019. However, there is a lot to worry about for a party that should be wiser to the change taking place.

India’s middle class is not necessarily middle class by world standards. Let us make no mistake about it. Most of the middle class still makes what would be considered sub-par wages as per World Bank definitions. However, what differentiates them is the fact that purchasing power within India seems to be relatively higher than many countries, making a relatively decent life affordable to millions.

The electoral successes of the Congress in the 2009 elections did not take place due to the rural vote base as many would want you to believe - rather it was the urban voters that propelled the Congress to the 200 plus seats number that year, as they were relatively at peace with the economic performance of the government (no credit to the UPA for it though). If it continues to neglect the urban voter base, especially the middle classes in tier II and tier III cities, the BJP risks becoming what the Congress became under Rajiv Gandhi - a party that got the maximum seats but would have to sit in the Opposition perpetually.

India is Increasingly Becoming Urban, And Would Do it Even Before 2036

This trend actually generates even more worrisome factors when one considers the transitions taking place in India’s development patterns. Urban population growth in India has been growing at a much faster rate, and more and more of what were once villages become census towns and cities. Consider the following reports:

A July 2020 report of the Government of India has realized that by 2036, more than 70 per cent of Indians will be living in urban areas.

This emerging trend was not a one off report. A UN report report on population in 2019 had suggested that India’s urban population will take over the rural population by the end of 2050.

For the first time in history, the Census 2011 had reported a decline in the population growth rate of rural India. Between Census 2001 and Census 2011, the number of Census Towns increased from 1,362 to 3,894. As Down to Earth’s Richard Mahapatra has clearly pointed out:

This indicates that people in rural areas are quitting farming or joining non-farm livelihoods. Millions of farmers have quit agriculture and, worryingly, very few from the current generation are entering the sector.

  • Goa is now the most urbanised State with 62.2 percent urban population, a significant increase since 2001 when urban population of Goa was 49.8%.
  • Tamil Nadu houses 48.4 per cent of the population in urban areas.
  • Kerala’s urban population is now 47.7 per cent, while a decade ago it was just 25.9 percent.
  • Maharashtra houses 45.2 per cent of its population in urban areas.
  • Mizoram is most urbanised with 51.5 per cent urban population, though in terms of absolute contribution to total urban population in the country, Mizoram’s contribution is just 0.1 percent.
  • Sikkim, which was just 11.0 urbanised a decade ago became almost 25 percent urbanised in 2011.

These trends and predictions of course did not account for either the pandemic or the accelerating pace of the urbanization taking place across several parts of India that need to be observed. While many people argue that there will be depopulation of urban areas arising from the pandemic, it could also be argued that urbanization of rural areas will be compelled due to the rising population’s demands for urban style amenities.

Also, as Tanushree Chandra of the Observer Research Foundation points out, nearly every Indian under the age of 25 is today literate. What this implies is that there will be an aspirational class wanting to move out of the rural areas in search of income and lifestyle opportunities that do not exist in rural areas, and will at least move to peri-urban areas.

Source: ORF

Neither has anyone observed or discussed the inter-city migration phenomenon of India. The large metropolises house a large number of urban migrants, who moved from tier II, tier III and tier IV cities. Even as they move back during the pandemic, they do not move into rural areas; instead, they add to populations of cities, increasing the number of residents, in some cases permanently. Thus, all these factors clearly show that India will in fact be urban much earlier than 2036 as the Government itself has forecasted.

Delimitation Will Shift Seats to Urban Areas
A nation-wide delimitation is overdue for a long time. As per the Delimitation Act 2002, delimitation was shifted to 2026, with the 2021 census being the grounds for the same. With an increased population, it is certain that a shift of seats should ideally take place. Herein arises a conundrum - most Members of Parliament with heavy ‘rural’ base constituencies will certainly put pressure to prevent any alteration to their constituencies. What happens in such a scenario?

The most probable answer to the same seems to be an increase in the seats of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. This was an approach that was proposed to accommodate OBC students in 2009 when it was introduced in educational institutions on a pan-India basis. In that case though, the number of urban seats will certainly expand drastically. This also perhaps explains the much larger seating capacity of the new Parliament buildings, though reasons could be many more.

Another factor in discussion for years has been about the reduction of the constituency size. Whether that happens or not is another debate, but its implementation would certainly again lead to a situation where the number of seats of urban make are bound to come up.

When can this happen? While 2026 seems unlikely, an educated guess would be that by 2029, a new set of seats will certainly come in, with . Irrespective of scenario though, it is certain that the urban share of Parliament seats is bound to rise. And any party that can think of sustaining on its current seat distributions to continue their stay in power even in 2024 would be committing the greatest folly.


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