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New Delhi: The Delimitation Commission on Jammu and Kashmir has proposed six additional assembly seats for the Jammu region and one for Kashmir, triggering an immediate backlash from regional parties that the commission was allowing the “political agenda of the BJP to dictate its recommendations”.
If the commission’s recommendations are implemented, the Jammu region will have 43 assembly seats and Kashmir will have 47. The Kashmir division currently has 46 seats and Jammu 37 seats. In addition, 24 seats of the assembly continue to remain vacant as they are in territory occupied by Pakistan.
According to news agency PTI, the commission also recommended that 16 constituencies should be reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
The National Conference (NC), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the JK Apni Party and the People’s Conference (PC) also protested strongly against the commission’s draft recommendations, which will alter the electoral map of Jammu and Kashmir. They had earlier expressed reservations about the commission’s fairness, saying a disproportionate increase of seats in the Jammu division – where the BJP has a strong base – will favour the BJP.
The commission headed by former Supreme Court judge Ranjana Desai held its second meeting here on Monday. It has five Lok Sabha members from Jammu and Kashmir as associate members and the chief election commissioner Sushil Chandra as an ex-officio member.
Three Lok Sabha members of the NC, including party president and former chief minister Farooq Abdullah, attended the commission meeting for the first time. Two BJP MPs, including the minister of state in the PMO Jitendra Singh, were also present.
Sources said that the parties have been asked to submit their views on the proposed increase of seats by December 31.
The Delimitation Commission was set up in February 2020 after the passage of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill in parliament in August 2019.
Initially, it was asked to complete its work within a year but had to be given an extension of one year in March this year as the work could not be completed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The commission is tasked with redrawing parliamentary and assembly constituencies in the union territory.
Abdullah, who is also the chairman of the five-party People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), said after the meeting that he would brief the grouping as well as his party colleagues of the deliberations of the commission.
“We attended the meeting for the first time because we wanted the voice of the people of Jammu and Kashmir to be heard. The meeting took place in a cordial manner and we all were explained the method adopted for coming to the conclusion,” Abdullah said.
Opposition parties lash out
In a strong reaction, NC vice president and former chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted that it was deeply disappointing that the commission appears to have allowed the political agenda of the BJP to dictate its recommendations rather than data which should have been its only consideration.
“Contrary to the promised ‘scientific approach’, it’s a political approach,” he said.
He said the draft recommendation of the Delimitation Commission “is unacceptable. The distribution of newly created assembly constituencies with six going to Jammu and only one to Kashmir is not justified by the data of the 2011 census.”
The Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party, headed by former minister Altaf Bukhari, also rejected the proposal of the commission.
“This is outright unacceptable to us. Apni Party demands a fair delimitation exercise without any bias, taking population and districts as the base. We strongly demand the Government of India to intervene,” it said.
PDP president and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said the commission has been “created simply to serve BJP’s political interests by dividing people along religious and regional lines. The real game plan is to install a government in JK which will legitimise the illegal and unconstitutional decisions of August 2019”.
She was referring to the government’s decisions of revoking Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 and bifurcating the erstwhile state into two union territories.
“My apprehensions about the Delimitation Commission weren’t misplaced. They want to pitch people against each other by ignoring the population census and proposing six seats for one region and only one for Kashmir,” she said.
People’s Conference chief Sajjad Lone said the recommendations of the commission were totally unacceptable. “They reek of bias. What a shock for those who believe in democracy,” he tweeted.