The strange thing about democracy is that no matter what the government does, it is dubbed controversial and pulls the government into a controversy. Nothing can explain this better than the Jammu and Kashmir delimitation exercise. The previous delimitation was undertaken under then-J&K Constitution and the J&K Representation of People Act, 1957. These Acts carried a huge amount of history and legacy. Tweaking of seats in the two regions of Jammu and Kashmir appears to have been done nearly ten times since the erstwhile princely state’s accession to India.
Justice (Retd) Ranjana Prakash Desai, the head of the current delimitation commission constituted in March 2020, has shared the proposals. According to the preliminary recommendations, the commission has proposed six additional seats to Jammu region and one additional seat to the Valley.
The howl of protests from nearly all political parties, the Valley as well as Jammu and even a section of the supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre, should not come as a surprise.
Politics at play
The main grouse against the previous delimitations was that it was not based on scientific principles of population. The seats were arbitrarily decided and an official stamp made it mandatory for the people and the political parties to accept it. The Jammu voters, overwhelmingly Hindus who have voted for either the Congress or the BJP en-block, were unhappy with the 1963, 1973 and 1995 delimitation exercises, lamenting that Jammu never got enough representation in the government. The assembly seat distribution was such that Jammu would never get a majority, sufficient enough to elect a chief minister.
When the delimitation work began, it was hoped that it would set right the ‘historical wrong’ done to Jammu. The work started with the 2011 Census as the base, which was very obvious. But there were allegations against the outcome of the Census figures, which were allegedly skewed in favour of the voters in the Valley. Unusual population growth patterns were emerging out of the final census figures in Kashmir Valley constituencies, which was very difficult to explain.
A cursory look at the census figures from 1981 to 2011 would reveal some flaws. For example, in Barwala village of Gandelbal district, there was a population increase of 164 per cent in 20 years while just 9 per cent in the next 10 years. In the forest block of Ganderbal, population increase was a whopping 728 per cent in 20 years as against 23 per cent in the next 10 years. It was the same in many other villages in Pulwama district.
Where does one go from here? Parties opposing the delimitation report are well aware of the fact that the political situation in J&K has undergone a massive change, rather a metamorphosis, post 5 August 2019 when Article 370 was shelved. There is no going back on the abrogation of J&K’s special status. This no doubt has seriously dented the prospects of at least two parties, the National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The Congress was never a serious player in constituencies where these two are strong. Both NC and PDP can oppose the new proposals and yet manage to retain hold over their constituencies. But for the Congress, it is a strange predicament. It will be difficult for the party to oppose the delimitation proposals and make a dent in the electoral prospects of NC and PDP. By supporting the delimitation, it will not gain in Jammu either.
Delimitation serves J&K’s interest
Whatever the suggestions of the delimitation commission, it would be in the best interest of J&K and democracy if all parties accepted the realities of the situation and moved ahead. Also, the committee should recommend, if it falls within its mandate, that the term of the assembly should be brought to five years from the current six years to be at par with other states and UTs in India.
J&K as a whole had a total of 111 seats with 24 reserved and vacant for Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Elections were held for the 87 seats while the PoK went unrepresented. After the ensuing assembly elections, as and when they are held, the Narendra Modi government should nominate 24 members representing PoK. These members will be able to bridge the gap between J&K and the Centre and the oppressed people of PoK. In fact, as far as people born and living in PoK (and J&K) are concerned, they are not considered as citizens of Pakistan. The government of India considers people of PoK as Indian citizens and hence should extend all the political rights to them.
Union ministers Rajnath Singh and Amit Shah have said that people of PoK want freedom from Pakistan, and that PoK and Aksai Chin are integral parts of India. There is little doubt that areas illegally held by Pakistan and illegally ceded to China are of great strategic significance to New Delhi’s quest of increased engagement with Central Asia. Will the Modi government and all the political parties seize the opportunity?
The author is the former editor of ‘Organiser’. He tweets @seshadrichari. Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)