Why J&K's Proposed Delimitation Is Being Viewed as Unfair to Kashmir

The proposal would take the number of assembly seats in Jammu to 43 from existing the 37, and to 47 in Kashmir from 46.

Srinagar: In a controversial move, the delimitation commission constituted by the Narendra Modi government has proposed six additional assembly seats for the Jammu region and only one more seat for Kashmir, triggering widespread criticism from major political forces in the union territory.

Many view the recommendation as an “assault on political centrality and supremacy” of Kashmir in J&K’s politics and “part of the series of measures started by BJP-led government from August 5, 2019 to disempower Kashmiris”. The proposal has raised eyebrows as the population living in the Kashmir Valley is 15 lakh more than Jammu, as per the last census exercise.

Delimitation in J&K has been on the BJP’s agenda since 1995, when the last such exercise was carried out in the erstwhile state.

Draft proposal

In its meeting held in New Delhi on Monday (December 20), the commission, constituted by the Union government on March 6, 2020 to redraw the electoral map of J&K, told its associate members – three MPs from the National Conference and two from the BJP – that it has proposed six additional seats for Jammu and one for Kashmir.

“The commission has proposed six seats for Jammu and only one for Kashmir,” Justice (retired) Hasnain Masoodi, the NC MP from Anantnag and associate member of the panel, told The Wire.

He said the commission has asked them (MPs) to respond to the proposal by December 31. “This proposal is unacceptable to us as Kashmir deserves more seats than Jammu as per population,” he said.

The proposal would take the number of assembly seats in Jammu to 43 from existing the 37, and to 47 in Kashmir from 46.

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The Wire has learnt that the panel has proposed to increase one seat each in Kathua, Samba, Udhampur, Doda, Kishtwar and Rajouri districts in the Jammu region and Kupwara in the Kashmir Valley.

The Kathua, Samba and Udhampur segments will be Hindu-majority constituencies. As per census figures, Kathua has an 87.61% Hindu population, while Samba and Udhampur have 86.33% and 88.12% population from the community. Kishtwar, Doda and Rajouri districts too have also sizeable Hindu population (between 34% and 45%).

Delimitation in J&K has been a longstanding plan for the BJP, and the party has often raised the bogey of underrepresentation of the Jammu region. The party won 25 seats in the area in the 2014 assembly polls, and went on to became part of the government for the first time in history.

The right-wing party’s oft-repeated claims of underrepresentation of the Jammu region in J&K assembly don’t withstand scrutiny. The region had got a better deal than Kashmir in the last delimitation exercise too.

In 1995, Kashmir was allocated 46 seats and Jammu 37. This means that Kashmir, which accounts for 56.15% of the population of J&K, had 55.42% representation in the assembly and Jammu, where 43.84% of the population of the region resides, had 44.57% representation.

Besides this, the increase in number of seats in the Jammu region from 1957 is more than double that of Kashmir. While Kashmir saw an overall increase of three seats, Jammu’s seat tally has gone up by seven. In the first assembly election held in 1957, 43 seats were allocated to the Kashmir Valley, 30 to Jammu and two to Ladakh, which is no longer part of J&K after the reorganisation of the erstwhile state.

People in the Kashmir Valley believe that proposal of the delimitation exercise is part of the BJP’s “dream project” of installing a Hindu chief minister in the Muslim-majority J&K.

A Muslim has always been the head of the elected government in J&K since 1947. All chief minister of J&K, except Ghulam Nabi Azad, have been residents of the Kashmir Valley.

Widespread criticism

The new proposal has evoked widespread criticism in the Kashmir Valley, with political leaders alleging that the recommendation reeks of a partisan approach by the commission.

“The draft recommendation of the J&K delimitation commission is unacceptable. The distribution of newly created assembly constituencies with 6 going to Jammu & only 1 to Kashmir is not justified by the data of the 2011 census,” former chief minister and NC vice-president Omar Abdullah tweeted.

Former chief minister and People’s Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti said “the real game plan is to install a government in J&K which will legitimise the illegal & unconstitutional decisions of August 2019”.

“My apprehensions about the Delimitation Commission werent misplaced. They want to pitch people against each other by ignoring the population census & preposing 6 seats for one region & only one for Kashmir,” she said.

People’s Conference chairman Sajad Gani Lone said the proposal “reeks of a bias” and is a “shock to those who believe in democracy in Kashmir”. “The recommendations of the delimitation commission are totally unacceptable. They reek of bias. What a shock for those who believe in democracy,” Lone tweeted.

Districts classified into three categories: delimitation commission

In a handout issued this evening, the delimitation commission headed by former Supreme Court judge, Justice (retired) Ranjana Desai said it has shared the proposed seat allocation at the level of districts with all the members with the request to furnish their views/comments/suggestions by December 31.

The panel said it has categorised all 20 districts in three broad categories giving margin of +/- 10% of average population per assembly constituency, while proposing allocation of the constituencies to the districts.

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“The Commission has also, for some districts, proposed carving out of an additional constituency to balance the representation for geographical areas having inadequate communication and lack of public conveniences due to their inhospitable conditions on the international border,” it said.

The commission said for the first time in Jammu and Kashmir, nine seats are proposed to be allocated for Scheduled Tribes out of 90 seats on the basis of population. “Seven seats are proposed for Scheduled Castes,” it said.

What Kashmir deserves, as per population size

While the commission has recommended 43 seats for Jammu and 47 for Kashmir in the 90-member assembly, a simple calculation based on the population figures in the 2011 census shows that Kashmir’s tally should go to 51 seats, from existing 46, and Jammu should get 39 seats, up from the existing 37.

According to J&K’s former law secretary Muhammad Ashraf Mir, the commission has proposed to carve out one seat per 1,25,082 people in the Jammu region and one seat per 1,46,563 people in the Kashmir region. “One constituency has been carved out for 1,25,082 people in Jammu Division. For Kashmir Division, the same constituency has been established for 1,46,563 people. In effect 10,09,621 people of the valley have been disenfranchised,” Mir tweeted.

Senior journalist and political analyst Gowhar Geelani said the proposal “is an assault on political centrality of Kashmir region”.

“The recommendations by delimitation commission suggest that it appears to have acted as partisan, not an independent institution,” he told The Wire.

Former bureaucrat Lateef-ul-Zaman Deva said the delimitation has been carried out in violation The J&K Reorganisation Act 2019 and The Delimitation Act-2002. “The proposal is highly objectionable as it has been carried out to disproportionately empower one community by disempowering the other,” he said.

Deva said the selection of districts for new seats is a “pointer to flagrant breach of law and trust of those who participated in the proceedings of the delimitation commission.”

Delimitation is product of J&K reorganisation

No delimitation exercise was possible in J&K till 2031. This was before August 2019, when the BJP-led Union government, along with effecting other constitutional and legal changes, repealed the law governing delimitation in the erstwhile state.

The Union thus incorporated provisions for undertaking delimitation in The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019. Under the law, the J&K assembly will have 90 seats, excluding the 24 seats reserved for areas which are part of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Umer Maqbool is a Srinagar-based journalist.