Deconstructing Delimitation

With the Ranjana Prasad-led Delimitation report expected to trigger sweeping changes in the legislative map, the politics and the power structure of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, Masood Hussain details the process and the response

With certain cosmetic alterations in its draft proposals, the Ranjana Prasad Desai led 3-member Delimitation Commission has submitted its final report. Once implemented, it is expected to reshape the Jammu and Kashmir politics and alter the power equations within communities and the regions. Jammu and Kashmir’s entire political class with the only exception of the BJP is hugely critical of the report and sees it as biased, discriminatory and drafted to suit the rightwing party.

In the 90-seat assembly, the Commission gave 43 berths to the Jammu region and 47 to Kashmir. Any party having 45 berths will make the government in Jammu and Kashmir. Though the Commission said it considered a number of things while delimiting the assembly seats, the fact remains that the population is the main parameter on basis of which the blocks of representation are created.

On a regional basis, Jammu emerges as the kingmaker as it has six additional seats more than what it earlier had. Kashmir is barely one up, a sole seat located in Kupwara’s Trehgam.

The Population

The exercise was supposed to be based on the 2011 census that put Jammu and Kashmir’s population at 12267013 people of whom 6888475 (56.15 per cent) lived in the Kashmir region and 5378538 (43.84 per cent) in the Jammu region. Kashmir has 1509937 more population than Jammu.

Now in the new Naya Kashmir assembly, Kashmir will have 52 per cent representation and Jammu will have 48 per cent representation. Jammu will have a representative for 1.25 lakh people, unlike Kashmir where he will represent more than 1.46 lakh.

There are problems at the sub-region level as well. Unlike north and south Kashmir, the central Kashmir representatives will have to represent more people in the assembly. In the Jammu case, the Tawi belt will have a better low population per representative in comparison to Pir Panchal. “Had the area been of some consideration, Pir Panchal and Chenab Valley regions would have got a better share in the six additional seats,” one political activist from Doda said. “The fact is that the six seats were literally rationed as one seat each to Doda, Kishtwar, Samba, Rajouri, Kathua and Udhampur.”

Jammu and Kashmir is a Muslim majority areas. Of the 20 districts, 15 are Muslim dominated, four are Hindu majority and in Reasi, Muslims (in 2011) were only three thousand more than the Hindus. Of the 12267013 people (2011 census) living in Jammu and Kashmir, 8487157 (69.18%) are Muslims, 3533451 (28.8%) are Hindus and 231594 (1.88%) are Sikhs. Ideally, two-thirds of berths in the 90-seat house should go to the majority community but that is not possible because Jammu and Kashmir has sub-regions and pockets where non-Muslim pockets exist within Muslim areas and vice versa.

The political class, however, sees that the Commission skipped respecting the composite culture that Jammu and Kashmir has. Barring Trehgam that was added to Kupwara, they believe the other six additional seats have either a clear Hindu majority or a critical edge over other communities.

“They did interesting things in Chenab Valley. “The valley comprising the districts of Kishtwar, Ramban and Doda had jointly seven seats in the assembly. They added Padder-Nagseni to Kishtwar and Doda West to Doda but distributed the Gool berth between two assembly seats. So effectively the Chenab Valley saw the addition of only one seat – we moved from seven berths to eight,” Asim Hashmi, a DDC member, said. “Earlier, we had six of seven berths Muslim majority seats. Now we have five Muslim majority berths and three seats where most possibly Hindus will have an edge. There is a possibility of an impact in Bhaderwah also if they are able to divide votes within Muslim majority.”

Reasi retained three berths. However, the Muslim majority Gool seat that disappeared on one end re-emerged as the Hindu majority Mata Vaishno Devi seat in Reasi on the other end.

The situation is not very different in Pir Panchal valley where, with one additional seat, the total number of seats is eight. Earlier, it would send five Muslims and two Hindus to the assembly. Now, it will send six Muslims and two Hindus to the assembly but at least two of the Muslims will be having BJP support.

“The legislative map is completely changed,” Zaffar Choudhary, the Jammu based journalist, who understands the region better, said. “Muslims performed the best in 1996 when the region sent 15 of them to the assembly when the region had 37 berths only. Now when the number of seats is 43, I see only eight berths where Muslims have an edge. The rest will be consumed in competitions within the Muslims only.”

Commission Response

However, the Commission has its own take on how it did all this. “Keeping in view the geographical features, means of communication, public convenience, contiguity of areas as various factors enumerated in Section 9(1) of the Delimitation Act, 2002 and the inputs gathered during the Commission’s visit to the UT from 6th to 9ft July 2021, the Commission categorised all 20 districts into three broad categories i.e. A- Districts having predominantly hilly and difficult areas, B- Districts with Hill & Flat areas and C- Districts with predominantly Flat areas, giving margin of +1- l0% of the average ‘population per Assembly constituency, while proposing allocation of the constituencies to the districts. The Commission has also, for some districts, proposed carving out of an additional constituency to balance the representation for geographical areas having inadequate communication and lack of public conveniences due to their excessive remoteness or inhospitable conditions on the international border,” the Commission said in the statement, the day it submitted the final draft.

It added: “The Commission had decided that constituencies shall be delimited having regard to the administrative units i.e. Districts, Tehsils, Patwar circles, etc, as in existence on 15-06-2020 and the commission had communicated to the UT administration, not to disturb the administrative units as existing as on 15-06-2020 till the completion of the delimitation exercise in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir. It was ensured by the Commission that every Assembly Constituency shall be contained entirely in one district and the lowest administrative units i.e. Patwar Circles (and Wards in Jammu Municipal Corporation) were not broken and were kept in single Assembly Constituency.”

Reservations

Jammu and Kashmir had seven of the assembly berths reserved for Scheduled Castes (SC). All these seats were in the Tawi catchment belt which is the region’s main Hindu plains area. Though the Gujjars had been declared Scheduled Tribes (ST) as early as 1991, they were yet to get their reservations in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly.

As the Delimitation Commission reserved nine berths for STs – three (Gurez, Kangan, Kokernag) in Kashmir and six in Jammu, it has added a new element to the Jammu and Kashmir politics. The Gujjars’ are emerging as a major political force. The ST population, according to the 2011 census, stands at 1275106, making them 10.39 per cent of the population of Jammu and Kashmir.

This is expected to run riot with the politics in Pir Panchal valley where five of eight seats stand reserved. “The region has always exhibited the Gujjar versus Pahadi divide but in the last 10-15 years there was a process of mending the fence and it had worked well in helping the region emerge a voice,” Zaffar Choudhary, who belongs to the area, said. “Now, the division is back. Most of the Pahadi leaders may find it difficult to retain their status. Though Pahadis’ have been assured that they will also get the ST status also, but if that happens the advantages of the ST status to Gujjars will evaporate because that will make everybody in the region an ST.”

Off late, the ruling BJP has been reaching out to the community. A delegation of them flew to Delhi and met Home Minister as well. The argument has been very simple – the community did not get a reservation because of Article 370 and the party binned it and made the reservation possible. Will it fetch the BJP an ally, is too early to say.

“We did seek and would continue to demand reservations in jobs and professional institutions but the fact is that we never sought a political reservation. This was because when we had no political reservation, we still had 13 to 14 ST representatives in the assembly because we are the third largest community in Jammu and Kashmir,” Guftar Ahmad Choudhary, the lawyer spokesman of the Gujjar Bakerwal Youth Welfare Association said. “The reservation was a natural corollary of reading down of Article 370 as the constitution requires it so it had to come like the Forest Rights Act.”

Admitting efforts of seeking an ally in the community, Choudhary said the community has not forgotten how they opposed the implementation of the Forest Rights Act on the floor of the house. “In Roop Nagar (Jammu), they demolished a cluster of Gujjar homes who celebrated their Eid under the open sky. They are chasing our community like anything in Jammu and other areas. Where is the possibility of the support?”

The political reservation, he said, adds to the divisions of the society and makes the representation an exclusive affair. Unlike Choudhary, there are many other Gujjar groups who have been very thankful to Prime Minister, Narendra Modi for granting the reservations “after a wait of 31 years”.

New Recommendations

The Commission, interestingly, made certain recommendations beyond the final draft that was published in the gazette of Jammu and Kashmir. “Provision of at least two members (one of them must be a female) from the community of Kashmiri Migrants in the Legislative Assembly and such members may be given power at par with the power of nominated members, of the Legislative Assembly of Union Territory of Puducherry,” the statement that the Commission issued in Delhi reads. “The central Government may consider giving the Displaced Persons from Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir some representation in the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly, by way of the nomination of representatives of the Displaced Persons from Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir.”

It has triggered a debate. One section of analysts thinks the all-powerful commission could have done it in the final proposal and the government had no option but to accept. “This recommendation is not a part of the gazette notification and hence is not binding on the government, like the other recommendations of the Commission,” Haseeb Drabu wrote in The Indian Express. “It is essentially an obiter dictum, which is as powerless as it is meaningless. It seems to have been added just for the optics.”

Zaffar Choudhary, however, believes that these two off-gazette recommendations could be used to delay the elections if required. “If the government wishes to accept the demands then it will take it to Lok Sabha for discussions and amending the Reorganisation Act, which will take its own time,” Choudhary said. “For the representation of the PoK refugees, the government will have to create a mechanism and one could be de-freezing some seats from the 24-seat lot that is kept aside for the PoK from day one.”

This part of the recommendation will reopen the 1947 debate that saw the bifurcation of the erstwhile state. Either of the Kashmirs, post-partition kept seats reserved for the other Kashmir in their respective houses. However, there was a difference. In Muzaffarabad house, 12 seats are set aside for refugees – six each for people who migrated from Kashmir and Jammu. Unlike Muzaffarabad, the 24 seats are set aside in Jammu and Kashmir assembly for the PoK region. These were 25 berths of which Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah de-froze one earlier.

What eventually the government would do remains to be seen.

Political Reactions

BJP was the only political formation that welcomed the report. “It is an all-inclusive political empowerment of all segments of the Jammu and Kashmir population,” senior BJP leader, who earlier submitted a memorandum to the Commission as NC leader, said, terming the report as fair, judicious and equitably empowering all residents. “Eventually, it will lead to strengthening the idea of Jammu and Kashmir and thereby the idea of India.”

Asked how it will help in a situation where part of South Kashmir was mixed with part of Pir Panchal valley in the Lok Sabha seat, Rana said it will integrate the politics as the Mughal Road has integrated the economy. “Why should people see Jammu versus Kashmir when the larger reality is that it is a single unit?”

The report was criticised by Congress and the CPIM at the national level.

Altaf Bukhari, who is the founder and president of the JK Apni Party said the report is “unfair, and disempowering” and “yet another tragedy”. “The Commission report is fill in the blank and they did it to help one or two political parties by dividing people or regional and communal lines,” Bukhari said. “I did go to many people in Delhi and requested them to do justice with all the people but it did not help.”

“The commission is part of the (BJP’s) agenda to curb the rights and dis-empower the people of Jammu and Kashmir after Article 370 was read down,” PDP president, Mehbooba Mufti told reporters. “The government of India has once again trampled upon the Constitution of this country by turning the electoral majority into a minority. How it pans out is anybody’s guess. They are trying to create a rift by dividing everyone. This is also laying the political foundation for demographic change which has been the real design behind unconstitutional scrapping of Article 370.”

Dr Farooq Abdullah said the entire process was a smokescreen to draw a veil over the obscure agenda at work. “The entire exercise was blind to the universally accepted and practised criteria and principles with regards to electoral representation,” Dr Abdullah said. “However no amount of gerrymandering will save the BJP, and its proxies from the wrath of the people. People of Jammu and Kashmir have made it a point to punish BJP and its proxies for all they have done to J&K. No matter how many false fronts they put up, people won’t forgive those who have robbed the region of its unique status, its prized historical individuality and dignity. The writing is on the wall.”

Jammu and Kashmir’s five-time Chief Minister was apparently responding to a scathing critique by Peoples Conference, an erstwhile BJP ally and a former PAGD member.

“Over the last six decades, Kashmir’s share of assembly seats in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly increased from 43 to 47 while Jammu’s share rose from 30 to 43. Who is responsible for the systematic disempowerment of Kashmiris from 1947?” Sajad Lone asked, “Those who aided and abetted in the journey from Jammu’s 30 to 37 are the ones who aided and abetted from 37 to 43.”

Lone said some parties associated themselves with the delimitation process, a tool for disempowerment. “They actually had the nerve of submitting one memorandum in Kashmir and a separate memorandum in Jammu. Ironically the memorandums were contradictory,” the Conference said “The Jammu one seemed to have been copy-pasted from the Hindutva brigade.” He asked: “How those who started beating their chests outside the meeting halls were bending their back backwards to appease and please the members of the delimitation commission?”

Moving Ahead

Almost every party knows that the report is final and this is the new reality of Jammu and Kashmir. This is despite the hope that certain sections in PAGD see in the Supreme Court announcing to hear the cases about August 5, 2019 decision-making in July 2022, after a wait of three years. M Yousuf Tarigami said that the Gupkar Alliance is “hopeful” that the Court will take a “dispassionate view” on the issue. He said the alliance believes the delimitation exercise was illegal as the law under which it was constituted has been challenged in a court of law.

After a delay of nearly three years, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana recently said that the court will hear the petitions after the culmination of the summer vacations. “The statement (of the CJI) has rekindled our hopes that the unconstitutional measure taken by the Union government on August 5, 2019, will be struck down,” Tarigami said.

National Conference, the grand old Kashmir party said they are studying the impact of the report on individual assembly segments. “We have seen the final recommendations of the delimitation commission. We are studying the implications of these recommendations for individual assembly constituencies,” NC chief spokesman Tanvir Sadiq said. “No amount of gerrymandering will change the ground reality which is that whenever elections are held the voter will punish the BJP & its proxies for what they have done to J&K over the last 4 years.”

Days ahead of the report becoming public, Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah had separately been talking in public that the next election should be contested together. It is too early to predict whether that happens or not.

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