Srinagar: The BJP has suffered a setback in Jammu, the Hindu heartland of Jammu and Kashmir, where dozens of its local leaders and activists have resigned to protest the proposed merger of Suchetgarh constituency with RS Pura constituency.
Suchetgarh, a stronghold of the BJP where the party has won three out of the last four assembly elections, is among 19 assembly constituencies that will vanish from J&K’s existing electoral map if the Delimitation Commission’s new cartography is approved.
In its second draft report, the three-member commission headed by Justice (retired) Ranjana Prakash Desai has proposed to alter the electoral boundaries of 28 existing constituencies, increasing the number of assembly constituencies in J&K from the existing 83 to 90.
The new electoral cartography suggests that ten constituencies in Kashmir Valley and nine in the Jammu region will cease to exist. They will be merged, either with the existing constituencies or added, in parts or whole, to the new constituencies. Besides, the panel has also rearranged all the five Lok Sabha constituencies in the Union Territory.
Tarsem Singh, a BJP leader from Jammu and Block Development Council chairperson of Suchetgarh, said nearly 200 local leaders and activists of the saffron party – including the heads of mandals, Shakti Kendra centres and polling booths – submitted a joint resignation letter on February 7 to Ashok Pandit, the BJP’s organising general secretary in J&K.
“We are not asking for a new constituency,” Singh told The Wire. “The people of Suchetgarh will lose their identity if their constituency ceases to exist.” He also expressed dissatisfaction that the new constituency (RS Pura) will be reserved for candidates from Scheduled Castes (SCs).
Since the second draft report of the Delimitation Commission became public last week, Singh said the party workers and leaders in Suchetgarh have gone on an “indefinite protest”. The disgruntled leaders are planning to meet BJP leader and Lok Sabha MP from Jammu, Jugal Kishore, who is also one of the five associate members of the Delimitation panel.
“The merger will disempower the people of Suchetgarh, so we will urge him that the proposal must be dropped. It has created disaffection for the party which can prove detrimental during elections,” Singh said.
“What has been done is that an assembly constituency, which is far from the urban centres and has specific concerns due to its proximity with the border, has been reduced to the level of a panchayat instead of upgrading it,” a local activist said.
Koul, the BJP’s organising general secretary, said he has received the joint resignation letter but no action has yet been taken. “We have briefed the party’s leadership. The commission has shared its draft report only, which can be modified. Those who have resigned could have spoken with their MP (Jugal Kishore),” Koul told The Wire.
The BJP leader said that out of 90 assembly constituencies, the panel has proposed to reserve seven for SCs, based on the percentage of SC population in a particular constituency. Out of the total population of 1,54,905, the new RS Pura constituency will have an SC population of 58,460, the second-highest after Bishnah. Of these, 18,956 will be added to RS Pura by the merger of Suchetgarh, which falls on the International Border with Pakistan.
Suchetgarh became an assembly constituency in 1the 994-95 delimitation exercise. Among the prominent leaders who have been elected from the constituency are Sham Lal Chaudhary, a former cabinet minister, Peoples Democratic Party MP Trilok Singh Bajwa, and former J&K minister and Congress leader R.S. Chib. The majority of voters in Suchetgarh are Jats and the proposed merger has triggered widespread anger and anxiety among them.
“The Jat community of Jammu left the Congress and trouped to the BJP. With the reservation of RS Pura constituency, these Jat leaders are upset,” Zafar Choudhary, senior journalist and political analyst based in Jammu told The Wire.
Parts of the original RS Pura constituency, which have a high concentration of West Pakistan refugees, have been merged with the Gandhi Nagar constituency, which has been renamed as Jammu South.
“This will ensure consolidation of the votes of West Pakistan refugees. If they choose their own candidate and vote for him en masse, they will find a place in the next assembly, which will be projected by the BJP as the victory of its agenda,” a political analyst said, wishing anonymity.
Murmurs in Kashmir too
The new electoral map has also caused a stir in the Kashmir region, where ten constituencies will cease to exist if the new electoral map is approved. The merger of Sangrama constituency in north Kashmir with Tangmarg, a new constituency, has deepened anxieties among the locals.
“If tomorrow, a candidate from Tangmarg wins the election, his constituent from Sopore will have to travel 100 km to reach him. Similarly, Kralpora (in north Kashmir) has been added to Karnah. If a person from Kralpora wins the election, his constituents will have to wait for six months for roads to be opened to meet him,” a Kashmir-based political analyst told The Wire, wishing anonymity.
Many political observers believe that the delimitation panel has created a “level playing field” for all the parties in Jammu and Kashmir by “disrupting the existing electoral arrangement” in many constituencies. “But there are people in many constituencies who feel they have been disempowered by the panel’s recommendations,” the analyst said.
The second analyst said the delimitation panel “may have changed the demographic realities and accomplished the objective of disempowering Kashmir to some extent”. “But the social fault lines have not been factored in the commission’s report which are only going to get sharpened in future,” he said.
The panel has shared its second draft report with its five associate members, who have been asked to file their responses by February 14. Then, the commission will hold further deliberations before the draft is put in the public domain. All the regional parties in Kashmir have opposed the draft report, terming it as a political exercise to fulfil the BJP’s agenda of changing the unique demography of the Muslim majority states. The BJP has dismissed these allegations.