The Delimitation Commission formed to remap the electoral constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir submitted its final report after two years. The Commission’s recommendations clearly reflect that the panel has gerrymandered the territorial constituencies to advance the electoral aspirations of the ruling party.
In the first place, the exercise was carried out under the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019 and not in accordance with the Delimitation Act, 2002, which called for the 2001 census to be used as the basis for remapping poll constituencies.
This is not the only anomaly. In 2002, the Constitution of India was amended, deferring the delimitation of the constituencies until the first population Census is undertaken after 2026. Accordingly, the J&K Assembly amended the state constitution through the 29th Amendment deferring the delimitation process till 2026. The Delimitation Commission was set up under the Delimitation Act of 2002 — however, it has re-drawn the constituencies in accordance with the provisions of the J&K Reorganisation Act 2019, which increased the number of seats by seven without any basis and criteria.
The Commission considered the 2011 Census for delimiting the territorial constituencies. However, there was scant regard for the population, a cardinal parameter for any delimitation process.
According to the 2011 Census, the population of the Kashmir region is 68,88,475; Jammu has a population of 53,78,538; and Ladakh, which is now a separate Union territory, has 2,74,289 people. The Commission has assigned six extra seats to Jammu and only one to Kashmir. With this, Jammu will have 43 seats and Kashmir 47 in the assembly of 116 seats.
In effect, this means that with 44 per cent of the population, Jammu will get 48 per cent of the seat share, while Kashmir, with 56 per cent of the population, will get only 52 per cent share in seats. This arrangement is designed to create a disparity in regional representation.
The people as well as the political leaders in the region are unable to comprehend what, if any, objective criteria were employed by the Commission for this bizarre apportioning of seats. Despite the objectives of various political parties, including the associate members, the panel went ahead with its pre-determined plans, riding roughshod over the aspirations of the people.
In 2002, when the J&K government placed a moratorium on the delimitation of assembly constituencies until 2026, it was accepted that the process must take place in step with the rest of the country. The freeze was also upheld by the Supreme Court. But the BJP, which tom-toms that it has “integrated” J&K with India, has done the opposite by using a different yardstick for the delimitation of seats in J&K.
Thus, a malodor hangs over the entire exercise. Ever since the central dispensation read down the special constitutional provisions of J&K and broke the region into two Union territories, it has been making unceasing efforts to change the electoral demography of the region.
The BJP government went ahead with the delimitation process despite a clutch of challenging petitions the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, pending before the Supreme Court, under which the entire delimitation exercise was carried out.
The BJP’s dismal electoral performance in the region has spurred it to go for an early readjustment of poll boundaries. Despite fielding its candidates on multiple seats, the party has never been able to bag a single seat from the Valley. During the 2020 district development elections, the party took a drubbing in the Valley.
The recommendations of the Delimitation Commission are completely in line with the BJP’s policy of creating an electoral autocracy in J&K as most of the seats were carved out in Hindu-dominated areas. The overhauling of the existing territorial boundaries of the constituencies has significantly brought down the electoral representation of Muslims in the Jammu region. For example, Doda was allotted an additional seat, taking the number of total assembly segments in this Chenab Valley district to three. But of them, two seats are carved out of Hindu-dominated areas despite the district having a Muslim population of over 53 per cent.
The Commission’s assertions that it had taken the topography terrain and accessibility into account are without reason. The panel has recommended the merging of the Jammu division’s Rajouri and Poonch districts with the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat, thus carving out an Anantnag-Rajouri parliamentary constituency. But there is almost no geographical connectivity between the two regions as they are separated by the Pir Panjal mountains.
The Mughal road, which is the historic shortest route connecting Poonch and Rajouri districts via Shopian to the Valley, remains shut for at least six months a year. Shopian, on the other hand, which is comparatively nearer Rajouri has been made part of the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency. Moreover, these separate regions do not share common aspirations, as they are culturally and linguistically distinct. This peculiar readjustment of poll boundaries is beyond comprehension.
The BJP government has pursued divisive politics in J&K by pitting one region against the other and creating cleavages between communities. It has been manipulating and manoeuvring the situation to its advantage since August 5, 2019. The J&K Reorganisation Act modified the law of enfranchisement of J&K. Voting rights for the state assembly, which were restricted to only permanent residents, have been extended to non-state subjects. The redrawing of poll constituencies is of a piece with all this. It will deepen the communal and regional divide in J&K and is bound to disempower the people and will have deleterious effects on the political landscape of Jammu and Kashmir.
This column first appeared in the print edition on May 9, 2022, under the title ‘Dividing lines’. The writer is the former CPI(M) MLA from J&K. He is the Convenor and Spokesperson of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration