Indian assembly size to double, and then some?

Is the Indian Lok Sabha about to be more than doubled in size? There is this paragraph in an article in The Wire by Madhav Godbole otherwise about the role of parliament and its committees in India’s Covid-19 response:

In mature democracies, the efficacy of parliament largely depends on the functioning of its committees. I have been consistently advocating the strengthening of parliamentary committees. The importance of these committees will be all the more after the impending delimitation of Lok Sabha constituencies and an increase in the estimated strength of Lok Sabha to 1,200 members and of Rajya Sabha to 800 members. This is the ostensible reason for the construction of a new parliament building at such a break-neck speed even during the current pandemic. But, this will be futile unless parliament is permitted to function and does not become just an appendage of governance structure.

That size of the Lok Sabha would slightly overshoot the cube root law’s expectation for a country of about 1.3 billion, although it would certainly be closer to the cube root of population than the current 543 members. The current size is about half the cube root (which would be around 1,090), while the proposed expanded assembly would be about 1.10 times the cube root.

I’ve asked before the question of whether there is a tradeoff at some point where an assembly gets too large to be functional, even if it is consistent with the cube root. I have no idea where that point might be. The cube root law itself is based on a balance between two types of “communication channel”–those between representatives and their constituents and those among members themselves. Large countries should have large assemblies, and India currently has a very small assembly for country size.

One thing is for sure, there can be a lot more committees and subcommittees, or else larger committees, if the Lok Sabha is made this large. I don’t think we have a good theory of how committee structure relates to either assembly size or population. Moreover, this is a separate question from how “strong” a committee system is, as the quote from Godbole attests to.

Also it should be noted that this proposed new size for the second chamber, the Rajya Sabha, is quite excessive.

(Thanks to Patrick G on Twitter for the tip.)

28 thoughts on “Indian assembly size to double, and then some?

  1. As long as the Indian Parliament’s deadlock-breaking mechanism is a joint sitting, I think the Rajyah Sabha should be as big as possible.

    • Indeed, JD. That’s what came to my mind right away. Without a big increase in the Rajyah, the government would have a much bigger advantage in deadlock breaking than they already do.

      I have no idea how this reform would play out, but it would be something to see. The Rajyah would be by far the largest body ever elected by STV, and the Lot Sabha would be both the largest lower house by far and still have over 1 million people/MP!

  2. At some point the need for a manageable assembly must give way to the need for effective representation. One representative per million people leaves far too big a gap between the voters and their voice in the legislature itself.

    • Yes, but that is only one half of the cube root law. As noted in the post, this proposed size is almost at the sweet spot for balancing those channels of communication with constituents and the channels internal to the chamber.

      Maybe a good reform would be larger state assemblies, as well as more states. (Formation of new states is, of course, a long story about Indian federalism and several proposals for new divisions of existing states remain live.)

  3. A 1000 member and beyond assembly is too big regardless of the cube root. How big will the cabinet be? There could be a 50 to 100 member cabinet, that could be a parliament in itself.

    If India is going to increase the size of the Lok Sabha, would the FPTP system be kept or changed to a system of Proportional Representation such MMP or closed party list or open party list or MMM mixed member majoritarian.

    Only Germany currently has a parliament over 700 members, that is only because of the large number of overhang seats. I have yet to see any democratic country with 800, 900, or 1000 member parliaments.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cube_root_rule

    • I agree with Rob about the efficiency angle. I think Elster has some good stuff on this. Also, I think analogizing human preferences to geometric volumes is a bit of a stretch. Having such a rule handy may be comforting, but….

      • What is legislative efficiency? Number of items passed? Number of items debated? Number of items rejected?

      • Hmmm. Maybe small enough so that everyone who wants to speak on an issue has ample opportunity to do so? I assume there may be price and space constraints as well. I mean, a 10K member parliament would be hard even to house. Presumably, the main problem with direct democracy can be said to be some sort of “inefficiency.”

        But I don’t think passing or rejecting can be among the criteria. After all, potent party leader with a majority might be able to do either of those quite quickly and inexpensively on his/her own–regardless of the size of the body!

      • Yes, I suppose we could call it “comforting” that we have a “handy” law of assembly size that is both grounded in logic and empirically very accurate across time and space. As far as the “efficiency” of a very large body is concerned, as I allude to in the post in in previous ones on the general topic, I do have concerns about that. However, as other comments have noted, there are also problems inherent in having too many constituents per MP (whatever “too many” might be). That is precisely what the cube root law (not mere “rule” despite what the great Wiki might say) calls our attention to–the need to balance these competing desiderata.

        As far as speaking time, a very large assembly can always do what the Bundestag does–those members who are not allotted formal speaking time in the chamber can record a speech and distribute it in their official capacity. Speeches are mostly for external consumption anyway. They are not mainly about persuading fellow members. For other aspects of (in)efficiency, this is why assemblies have committees and sometimes sub-committees. More staff can be budgeted for in order to help handle the load of constituency service. And of course, for better or worse, political parties and executive agencies take on much of the actual management of both types of communication in modern legislatures, including small ones.

      • Its “logic” is based on geometry, and its “empirical basis” is no more than noticing that, for whatever reasons–good or bad– a lot of parliaments have historically BEEN roughly that size. We can’t derive an ought from that is.

        As I mentioned, there’s also been a square-root theory that’s had its own moment in the sun. I wouldn’t want to base a polity’s legislature on any such Leibnizian reeds.

        Re the possibility of successful gigantic conventions, it would have been nice to see what Chernov’s Constituent Assembly might have accomplished if the Bolsheviks hadn’t shut it down after about five minutes.

        Re

      • No existing lower house would meet the everyone can speak rule. The smallest externally sovereign legislature I can find is Monaco 24, Liechtenstein 25, Tonga 26, depending on how you define external sovereignty. If worst cones to worst a very large assembly can always deal with competition for the rostrum by random draw, by committees, by the Bundestag rule described by MSS, and by parallel assemblies (also recommended by Condorcet) like the horribly confusingly named Federation Chamber of the Australian House of Representatives.

      • FWIW, in Massachusetts, the size of representative town meetings ranges only from about 50 to about 250. Not sure why. In my own town, the time limitation for speakers seems to be a frequent matter of debate.(And became even more popular during the conjunction of COVID and bad weather).

    • The UK House of Lords has 793 members and chugs along quite happily under rules of procedure that are positively anarchistic compared with other legislative bodies. Ancient democracies had governing assemblies that numbered in the thousands. The formal name of the assembly of the Aetolian league was actually the Ten Thousand.

      • Here’s something I wrote on this issue in my book:

        “[No electoral system seems to provide much useful] advice or direction with respect to optimal overall-seat numbers. For the answer to that, we must defer to the empirical matters of cost and deliberative efficiency. Will having too many representatives result in a “confusion of the multitude” or in more influence peddling? Condorcet reasoned that “A National Assembly that was too small would be weak in moments of crisis, “because, on those occasions when courage is needed, each must fear compromising himself personally.” On the other hand, he warned that an assembly that was too large “could become detached from the general will, and cease to be effectively representative” (Williams 2004, 215). Madison had similar concerns:

        ‘No political problem is less susceptible of a precise solution, than that which relates to the number most convenient for a representative legislature; nor is there any point on which the policy of the several states is more at variance…. Sixty or Seventy men may be more properly trusted with a given degree of power than six or seven, but it does not follow that six or seven hundred would be a proportionally better depositary…. [T]he number ought at most to be kept within a certain limit, in order to avoid the confusion and intemperance of a multitude.’ (Federalist #55)

        Others have been more confident—or perhaps just less modest—than Madison or Condorcet. Weighing all the various constraints, Auriel and Gary-Bobo (2012) concluded (based on their “square root theory”) that the United States, with its roughly 325 million inhabitants ought to have about 800 representatives.173 I suppose another approach—though one that does not consider cost or efficiency—might be to require a confidence level X at which we want to be sure we are getting a view on some person or referendum “correct” (in the sense of appropriately reflecting the views of the voters) within some specified margin of error Y. E.g., where X is set at 90% and Y is set at 3% we would need about 750 representatives for a population of 325 million. Again, one might consider the question from the angle of minority threshold: When is a group so small that it can be considered an outlier and the electoral system may ignore it? During the U.S. Prohibition era, Rice (1928) argued that, barring a good case being made to the contrary, political opinions ought to be assumed to have a normal frequency distribution. Someone might use this estimate to deem positions not garnering the support of at least .0015 of the populace (what remains outside of three standard deviations from the mean: i.e., the views of 487,500 voters in an electorate of 325 million) to be outliers—too small to need representation. Such an estimate would require about 667 representatives in the U.S. House.

        Waldron 1995 notes that deliberativists have generally sought to reduce, rather than increase the number of participants in decision-making bodies, and he quotes Descartes, Mill, Rousseau, Blackstone and Bagehot the on the near-impossibility of getting anything coherent out of a large, diverse group. For his part, David Altman (2014, 13) suggests that a group of 21 individuals is optimal for a deliberative body. The search for perfectly sized legislatures and committees is fascinating,174 but, as should be obvious, good answers will not be derivable from either the structure of the voting systems we have settled on or from any obvious precepts of democracy. Rather, they are practical matters that should rely on empirical research regarding deliberative efficacy in reaching various goals, as well as cost considerations.”

        I mentioned the other day that Elster has written sensibly on this topic. This is what I was thinking of:
        Elster (1998, 109)

        “The dynamics of large assemblies, small bureaux, and small specialized committees are likely to be very different. In a large assembly, it is not possible to pursue an argument in a coherent and systematic fashion. The debates tend to be dominated by a small number of skilled and charismatic speakers, a Mirabeau or a Lamartine, who count on rhetoric rather than argument. The outward form of the debates is that of deliberation, but the force motivating the decisions is passion rather than reason. Although the speakers themselves need not be swayed by emotion, they hope to gain cause by playing on the emotions of the audience. In the bureaux, one is more likely to observe the substance and not only the form of deliberation. The small size reduces the scope for demagogy and allows all speakers to be heard…. In functionally specialized committees, the technical quality of whatever deliberation takes place, especially on factual matters, is likely to be higher than in the bureaux. Yet because the members are less likely to adopt an impartial attitude, there will be less deliberation and more bargaining.”

        Elster finds the middling size of the bureaux optimal for producing defensible compromises.

        –WH

      • Alan, I think it is fair to say the UK House of Lords is quite un-replicable.

      • Did Condorcet say an assembly too big would be less representative? That sounds like the opposite of what most of us would assume, cf. Mark Roth’s comment above.

  4. The Campaign for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly states:
    “The size of a Parliamentary Assembly should constitute an optimal balance between representativeness and efficiency. The smaller an assembly would be, the more efficient it could work but the less representative and democratic it would also be. The upper limit for efficient work that at the same time would ensure optimal representativeness lies approximately between 700 and 900 members. This is the size that most of the models take as a basis for the distribution of seats. For comparison, the European Parliament is a 736-member body and the Indian national parliament includes 802 members.”
    https://www.unpacampaign.org/proposal/faq/

  5. Tougis, I would be most interested in reading your book, if only I knew what name it is published under…
    Who else here just knows that, if this story had broken three decades ago, The New Republic in its Kaus/ Kinsley days would have run an article on the Lok/ Rajya Sabha expansion titled “Not Enough Indians?”

  6. John, now you mention it, that seems odd to me too. The quote is from David Williams’ book “Condorcet and Modernity.” Williams continues as follows”

    “In proposing an assembly made up of four deputies elected by each provincial
    assembly, requiring a quorum of two-thirds (representing five-sixths of the
    provinces) for the purpose of assembly deliberations and decision-making,
    Condorcet felt that the chances of having a body capable of conducting
    the affairs of the nation in an orderly, calm and mature fashion, and of
    reaching decisions quickly with minimal dissension, ‘expressing the true
    will, the considered will of the majority’ (viii: 236), would be optimised.
    Ideally, the assembly would be composed of honest, enlightened representatives
    deserving of public confidence, and whose functions would be
    legitimised by the collective will of ‘educated citizens’. Condorcet’s model
    for a National Assembly was thus characterised by a clear line of accountability
    through direct and indirect suffrage, with representatives elected
    on the basis of the empirical evidence of their record.”

  7. I think plenty of conventions are functional with thousands of attendees. You likely have a situation where many delegates have few, if any, committee responsibilities, and the right to speak on any given issue is relatively limited (perhaps by time being managed by political parties/coalition), but I think it could be absolutely manageable. Whether it’s preferable to have a class of more or less intermediary representatives who have a vote in parliament and much more access to those with actual power than the general public, but with little actual power themselves, or to have “representatives” who are responsible for literally millions of constituents is another question.

    At some point, single-member constituencies are so large that they’re functionally non-representative given that a single person just can’t possibly serve that many people with any reasonable level of efficacy. I don’t know how exactly you measure that efficacy, but I would venture that, at a minimum, India and the US have crossed that level where their representation is no longer effective.

    I am not sure what is right for India, but I have been coming to the conclusion that the best way to effectively abolish the US Electoral College’s built-in disproportionality is to radically increase the size of the House of Representatives to one per every 50,000 or so people (so, at the present population, about 6600 representatives) and for those representatives to elect a few hundred full representatives with voice, vote, and committee roles, and the rest to merely serve as voters on the floor (which, given modern technology, could be virtual as well).

  8. Also, as regards the cube root rule, has any study been done showing whether assemblies that are closer to the cube root are somehow more effective than those which are significantly larger or smaller? I had always thought the cube root was just an observation that the trend line for assembly size was closely related to the cube root but that it didn’t necessarily have any direct connection on governance.

    • There is less research on the impact of assembly size, and proximity of a given assembly to the prediction of the cube root law, than there should be.

      The best example I know of is Brian Frederick’s book, Congressional Representation & Constituents: The Case for Increasing the U.S. House of Representatives (Routledge, 2009).

      And you are right that Taagepera himself never has claimed (to my knowledge) any specific effect on governance. He was only interested in providing a theoretical explanation for an empirical pattern. We know it has held up well, empirically, since he first published the initial paper on the cube root law almost fifty years ago. I do not think we know much more than that, unfortunately, because so few studies have followed it up.

      We have some research on the selection of assembly size. For instance, Kristof Jacobs and Simon Otjes, “Explaining the size of assemblies. A longitudinal analysis of the design and reform of assembly sizes in democracies around the world,” Electoral Studies (2015).

      And when searching to locate the citation to that paper, I found this one, but I do not know it: Ulrik Kjaer and Jørgen Elklit, “The Impact of Assembly Size on Representativeness,” The Journal of Legislative Studies (2013). From the abstract, it would seem it is focused on effects on the party system and proportionality, in other words, in the vein of the Seat Product Model, and not on governance or legislative functioning, per se.

  9. tougis, I am not sure why the scare quotes, but whatever.

    You are correct that Taagepera did not claim the cube root law was a guide to what “ought” to be. He claims that it balances two kinds of communication channels (that is the logic) and he and others have shown it is empirically good at capturing the trend of actual assemblies. Other formulations, like a square root law, would not fit so well. I can’t comment on whether they have logic–I mean, “logic”–on their side, because I am not familiar with this supposed alternative.

    (This is intended as a comment on the item at 21/05/2021 at 11:40 am)

  10. The “square root rule” I was referring to comes from this: Auriol, Emmanuelle and Robert J. Gary-Bobo. 2012. “On the Optimal Number of Representatives.” Public Choice 153, no. 3/4: 419-445.

  11. I’m not sure these numbers for the two chambers are correct. I’ve looked at several articles that were written last December when the PM laid the corner stone for the new building, which indicate lower numbers. For example, this in The Indian Express: “In the new building, the Lok Sabha chamber will have 888 seats while there will be 384 seats in the Rajya Sabha chamber. Currently, the strength of Lok Sabha is 543 and that of Rajya Sabha 245.

    “During a joint session, the new Lok Sabha chamber will be able to accommodate 1224 members.”

    (https://indianexpress.com/article/india/pm-modi-to-lay-foundation-stone-for-new-parliament-building-on-december-10-7093362/)

    The difference in figures may be due to the distinction between the number of physical seats vs the number of members. From what I can see, the government has not yet passed any legislation to change the size of the either house, but is expected to do so. Meanwhile, there is speculation on how large the two houses will be, and also whether there will be further increases over the long term. However, the number of seats in the new building seems to be set, and is surely an indication of what the increase is likely to be.

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