Why Kashmiris believe new delimitation draft aimed to ‘disenfranchise’ Muslims?

Apprehensions are brewing up among Kashmiris after Delimitation Commission’s recommendations for proposing additional six seats for the Hindu-dominated Jammu region and one for the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley.

Barring Bharatiya Janata Party, there is already resentment among political parties and people in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 which guaranteed special status to the people of Jammu and Kashmir, stripping the state into two union territories and not holding assembly elections here.

The three-member Delimitation Commission headed by retired Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai was appointed in March 2020. The exercise was carried out in Muslim-dominated J&K despite other states or union territories won’t see delimitation exercise till 2023 and will be carried out as per the 2021 census. The erstwhile state (J&K) had 87 assembly seats and has now remained only 83 after the separation of Ladakh as a union territory that had four seats. The Kashmir Valley has 46 seats and the Jammu region has 37 seats. On Monday, the Delimitation Commission proposed six additional seats for the Jammu region and one for the Kashmir Valley. This would make seats in Jammu-43 and 47 in Kashmir. 

The Commission has proposed to increase one seat each in Samba, Kuthua Udhampur, Kishtwar, Doda, and Rajouri districts of Jammu region and one seat in Kupwara district of Kashmir Valley. As per the 2011 census, Kuthua, Udhampur, and Samba districts have over 86 percent of the Hindu population and BJP won maximum seats from these districts in 2014. Hindus constitute 35-45 percent population in Kishtwar, Rajouri, and Doda districts.

Political parties in Kashmir believe that BJP wanted to raise seats in Hindu-dominated Jammu to grab power and make its chief minister. If seats are increased in Jammu, it is widely believed to benefit Jammu as the party is largely dependent on the Hindu vote bank there unlike in Kashmir where it did not win a single seat in the last assembly elections. 

According to the 2011 Census, the population of Kashmir was 68,88,475, which amounted to 54.93% of the erstwhile state (Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh). It has 46 seats, or 52.87% representation. While Jammu, with 53,78,538 inhabitants or 42.89% of the population, has 37 seats, or 42.52% representation in the assembly. 

It has been in the election manifesto of BJP to give reservation to Scheduled Tribe who accounts 11.9 population in J&K. The Commission has proposed nine seats for Schedule Tribe (ST). The majority of the ST population is in Jammu and is mostly comprised of Gujjar and Bakarwal.

The Commission has also proposed seven seats for Scheduled Caste (SC). They are 9,24,991 in population and comprise 7.38 percent. With no SCs among the Muslim community, all these seats will be reserved for Hindus in the Jammu region.

In the last assembly elections, PDP had won 28 assembly seats followed by BJP 25, National Conference 15, and Congress 12. The BJP won maximum seats in Hindu areas of the Jammu region.

As BJP was well short of the 44 seats needed to form its government in 2014, Kashmiris believe that BJP’s focus is on Hindu-dominated areas of Jammu and SC and ST population to cross 45 mark in upcoming elections. Valley-based parties argued that Kashmir has a 15 lakh more population than Jammu and should have more representation in the assembly.

While BJP has been saying that in terms of geographical area, Jammu is about 26,293 sq km while Kashmir is 15,948 sq km and thus the delimitation needs to take into account not only the population but geographical area as well.

BJP is trying to spread its presence in Kashmir and the party’s Jammu and Kashmir chief Ravindar Raina recently held several rallies in bordering areas of Kashmir to reach out to the Gujjar and Bakarwal community (Schedule Tribe population).

“The Delimitation Commission has done a transparent exercise. Why do some parties say Jammu got six and Kashmir only one. Seats have been increased for the empowerment of entire J&K,” Raina said.

Reacting to Commission’s recommendations for proposing six seats in Jammu and only one in Kashmir despite the Valley having over 15 lakh more population, senior National Conference leader and former chief minister Omar Abdullah asked, “Before someone tells me that geographical area has to be taken into consideration please use the same logic in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra. All three states have more area than UP but have lesser number of seats, both Assembly and Parliament.”

Further, he asked, “If the point of what was done to Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019 was to bring it at par with the rest of India, how do you justify singling out the Union Territory for this delimitation exercise? The rest of the country will not see a similar delimitation until 2023, and then it will be based on the 2021 census data.”

PDP president and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said they (BJP) want to pitch people against each other by ignoring the population census and proposing six seats for one region and only one for Kashmir.

“This commission has been created simply to serve BJPs political interests by dividing people along religious and regional lines. The real game plan is to install a government in J&K which will legitimize the illegal and unconstitutional decisions of August 2019,” she claimed.

Echoing similar views former union minister and senior Congress leader Saif ud Din Soz termed the recommendations of the Commission as a conspiracy hatched by the RSS to change the demography of the region and install a Hindu CM in J&K.

“The RSS seems to have succeeded in making Commission propose six additional Assembly seats for Jammu and only one seat for Kashmir. This recommendation of the Commission goes against the most crucial criteria for delimitation, that is population, and the same attitude shows the Commission itself in extremely poor light,” he said.

Jammu and Kashmir Congress chief G A Mir said as per the rules, population is the first criteria for delimitation.

“As per 2011 census, Jammu and Kashmir had 1.22 crore population. The Commission should have proposed seats based on population which means 1.22 lakh divided by 90 and then each constituency would have shared the same population and there would have been no discrimination with any region or area,” according to Mir.

Senior CPI (M) leader and spokesperson for People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) M Y Tarigami said Commission’s draft paper “will further divide people of J&K, deepen their alienation and create a much bigger void between communities and the regions.” The PAGD, an amalgam of several political parties formed last year seeking restoration of Article 370, has announced they will hold a peaceful protest against Delimitation Commission’s proposal on January 1. According to former minister and Peoples Conference chief Sajad Gani Lone, the recommendations of the delimitation commission are totally unacceptable. “They reek of bias. What a shock for those who believe in democracy,” Lone said. Apni Party led by Altaf Bukhari has also reacted strongly to Commission’s proposal.

“This is outrightly unacceptable to us. Apni Party demands a fair delimitation exercise without any bias, taking population and districts as the base. We strongly demand the GoI to intervene,” Bukhari said. Kashmiri Sikhs have also expressed their resentment against the delimitation exercise. “This seems a one-sided exercise to benefit a particular party. We fail to understand why this is being done for vote bank politics and further alienating the people of Kashmir. Even there is no reservation for Sikhs who are in minority here,” chairman of All Parties Sikh Coordination Committee, Jagmohan Singh Raina said.

Mohammad Shahid, a legal expert said it was strange that population criteria was not followed. “All this is faulty exercise and goes against the rules and to disempower Kashmiris,” Shahid added.


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