Delimitation in J&K requires mature approach
by Jaibans Singh on 15 Aug 2021 2 Comments

On March 6, 2020, the Union government set up a Delimitation Commission headed by retired Supreme Court judge, Ranjana Prakash Desai. Among its many responsibilities was the mandate to carry out a Delimitation exercise in the Union Territory (UT) of Jammu and Kashmir. In accordance with the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019, the number of Assembly seats in J&K will increase from 107 to 114, with seven more seats added to the Jammu region. This was to cater to West Pakistan refugees and others who earlier, under Article 35A, were denied domicile and the right to vote. They will henceforth form part of the electorate.


The Centre has also hinted at its resolve to conduct elections in the UT immediately after delineating the new constituencies as per recommendations of the Delimitation Commission. This has naturally become the most significant and keenly watched political exercise in the region.


It is well known that the two distinct geographical segments which comprise the UT (Jammu region and Kashmir region) vote according to regional affiliations; the region with more constituencies forms the government. For decades, Jammu region’s representation has not been commensurate to its population and territory. An arbitrary allocation done in 1957 by the then State Government gave 30 seats to Jammu region, 43 to Kashmir and two to Ladakh. The huge gap was allowed despite there being a population difference of less than one lakh (82,340) in 1951. The disparity continues even though some additional constituencies were created later. At last count, Jammu and Kashmir had 87 seats, 46 for Kashmir, 37 for Jammu and 4 for Ladakh (the latter is now a separate UT).


It has been decided that the Delimitation process will be carried out in accordance with Census 2011. Here again the people of Jammu have reservations as the population figures of the Census showed Kashmir (68,88,475), Jammu (53,78,538) and Ladakh (2,74,289). The census suddenly showed a sudden population jump for Kashmir, which looks odd since Jammu had received additional population due to displacement of Kashmiri Pundits from Kashmir.


The reason behind this sudden increase has been explained as the floating population of Gujjars and Bakarwals being shown in the Kashmir region, even though it shifts between the two regions according to weather conditions. 


The census also claimed that 1,95,190 Hindus were living in Kashmir which is not easy to accept. The scheduled castes who are basically Jammu-centric are quite surprised to note that their strength has shown a decline since 1981, which goes against the established norms of population growth in the region as well as the country. The Gujjar-Bakarwal community claims that its actual population share is higher than suggested by the census.


Some analysts in Kashmir maintain that the existing data supports the present distribution of seats. “Even on the ‘one person one vote’ principle, it (seat allocation) is as good as it can get with 1,49,749 voters per constituency in Kashmir and 1,45,366 voters per constituency in Jammu,” says Haseeb Drabu.


The decision to use the 2011 Census data for Delimitation will definitely compound the difficulty of reaching a fair conclusion.


The Kashmir based political parties are playing their cards close to their chests. While the National Conference has, after initial hesitation, met with representatives of the Commission, the PDP has refused to do so. “Our party has decided to stay away from this process and not be a part of some exercise, the outcome which is widely believed to be pre-planned...” said PDP General Secretary Ghulam Nabi Lone. National Conference too, in its memorandum to the Commission, has questioned the legal validity of the panel saying Delimitation of constituencies can be undertaken after the next census.


The Delimitation Commission has hinted that while population will form the main criteria, the geography, terrain and topography, population density, ethnic composition etc., will also be considered. This aspect has its own dynamics and may become an issue of contention in the long run.


The seats reserved for Gilgit-Baltistan are likely to emerge as a point for debate since they remain with the UT of Jammu and Kashmir, while the region is territorially included in Ladakh. It may not be politically relevant at the moment, but is an inconsistency that should not be allowed to linger unnecessarily.


Ideally, the Kashmir based parties would have liked the Delimitation process to remain dormant for as long as possible – preferably till 2031. The change in borders, however, has given the government the opportunity to go ahead. The Government is quite determined to ensure reservations for Scheduled Tribes in the Assembly and extension of the right to vote to West Pakistan refugees and others qualified for domicile in the state.


The delimitation exercise, therefore, is of a sensitive nature. On the one hand the applicability of the 2011 census is likely to create problems, but there is no choice. On the other hand, the balancing act of increasing the number of seats from 107 to 114 will not go well with the Kashmiri leadership. 


If not handled with maturity and sensitivity, the Delimitation process has the potential of triggering an uprising in the region which is witnessing peace and tranquilly after decades. Undue hurry may lead to distrust and escalation of unrest that would linger for a long time, especially in Kashmir. It needs to be remembered that some vested interests in Kashmir have the expertise and potential to trigger uprisings at the slightest pretext. Unsurprisingly, the Commission is going into great detail to ensure a fair award to all.


(Jaibans Singh is a Geo-political analyst and columnist)

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