Jammu & Kashmir awaits Delimitation Commission's final recommendation

Delimitation Commission’s term expires on March 6. It is expected to submit its final recommendation before that. The two drafts signal attempts at redrawing constituencies to BJP's advantage

Hasnain Masoodi speaks in Lok Sabha on attempts being made by Modi government to effect demographic changes in J&K
Hasnain Masoodi speaks in Lok Sabha on attempts being made by Modi government to effect demographic changes in J&K

Haroon Reshi

The Union Home Minister’s admission that normalcy has not returned to Jammu & Kashmir is poor consolation to the beleaguered people of the Union Territory. While arbitrarily downgrading the state into a UT in August 2019, the Home Minister had optimistically promised a new era of peace and prosperity. Statehood, he said, would be restored and elections would be held.

Two and a half years after the Home Minister’s promise, J&K is still grappling with political uncertainty, violence, militancy, declining economy, growing unemployment and skyrocketing inflation and human rights violations.

Parliament was informed this month that 541 militancy-related incidents had occurred in J&K since August 5, 2019. In a written answer, MoS Home Nityanand Rai informed that 439 militants, 109 security personnel and 98 civilians had been killed in these incidents. The violence had led to damages to private properties worth about Rs. 5.3 crore, he added.

The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) pegged unemployment in J&K higher than the national average and the worst among all states and UTs in India. The Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry Kashmir (CCIK), the 85-year-old apex trade body, confirms that the economy has been in shambles since August 5, 2019.

Contrary to the rosy pictures and the bright future promised to the people, agriculture, horticulture, handicrafts, tourism, trade, small businesses and new start-ups are all in dire need of fresh capital infusion, it says. The Federation of Chambers of Industries Kashmir (FCIK), a representative forum of industrial associations, predicted that 85% of the existing industrial units in the Valley might shut down by March 2022, if urgent and effective measures are not taken by the government. The situation remains far from hopeful in the middle of February.

The term of the 3-member J&K Delimitation Commission headed by retired Supreme Court judge, Justice Ranjana Desai and comprising Chief Election Commissi-oner Sushil Chandra and state election commissioner K.K. Sharma comes to an end next month. The commission was formed on March 6, 2020 and given a year to complete the process. An extension of another year was given last year because of the pandemic.

The commission meanwhile has submitted two reports, the second one on February 4, both of which have been objected to by Valleybased parties. While Home Minister Amit Shah reiterated at a virtual event on January 25 that full statehood would be restored “as soon as the situation becomes normal”, he or the government have never spelled out what would constitute ‘normalcy’.

In his interaction with Kashmiri politicians in June last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had declared that elections would be held in the UT after the process of delimitation gets completed. While political parties and leaders pleaded for holding the election before delimitation to allow the elected assembly to have a say, the proposal was overruled by the PM.

The Delimitation Commission, meanwhile, released its first draft proposal on December 20, 2021 and proposed an additional six seats for the Jammu division and one for Kashmir division. It also proposed reserving 16 seats for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Schedule Tribes (ST). The Tribal Gujjar and Bakerwal communities, considered to be supportive of the BJP, welcomed the recommendation.

However, Valley-based parties and the leaders opposed the proposal. While the commission had fixed December 31, 2021, as the deadline for filing objections, the National Conference complains its objections were not addressed by the commission before releasing its second draft report on February 4.

In the second report, the Commission besides proposing some changes, suggested inclusion of areas from the Jammu region — Rajouri and Poonch—and redraw the Anantnag Parliamentary Constituency.Farooq Abdullah, patron of NC was quick to react and say that his party would challenge the entire process of delimitation in court.

“The draft is a reflection of the BJP furthering its divisive agenda, separating Hindus and Muslims. They want to make it Godse’s India; it is unacceptable,” quipped former chief minister, BJP ally and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti. Peoples Conference (PC) Chairman Sajad Lone has said that the Delimitation Commission’s draft report was an exercise to favour a particular party. Mohamad Yousuf Tarigami, CPI (M) leader, also declared that the party would challenge the proposals in Supreme Court.

Most observers expect the recommendations to be accepted with alacrity and an election notified swiftly.

With the redrawing of the political map as per the Delimitation Commission, Kashmir division (with 68.88 lakh population as per the 2011 Census) will have 47 assembly constituencies (existing 46) with an average size of 1.46 lakh people; Jammu division (with 53.78 lakh population) will get 43 constituencies (existing 37) with an average population size of 1.25 lakh.

With the changes in the constituencies, Muslim-majority assembly constituencies in the Jammu Division would go down from 14 to 11. The Muslim majority (with 57% Muslims) Kishtwar district had two assembly seats with both having a Muslim majority. Now, following the Delimitation Commission’s proposal, the district will have three assembly constituencies, two of which will have Hindu majority.

Likewise, Doda (again a Muslim Majority district) in Jammu Division, which earlier had two assembly seats, both dominated by Muslim populations, will now have three seats, with two of them dominated by Hindu population. Some areas from Pulwama and Shopian districts in south Kashmir, which formed part of the Anantnag parliamentary seat, will now be part of the Srinagar parliamentary seat.

The Anantnag parliamentary seat will now have some areas from the Jammu Division’s Rajouri and Poonch, which are 500 kilometres away via the Jammu route. The alternative Mughal Road remains closed during most of the winter. BJP clearly expects the exercise to favour its calculations for demographic change. If they can ram it through before opposition intensifies will be clear by the end of March, say observers as Kashmiris keep their fingers crossed.

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