Fierce Reactions

As the Delimitation Commission is suggesting allocating six berths to Jammu and one to Kashmir in the 90-seat house, and reserving 19 seats for SCs and STs, Kashmir’s political class feels choked in the new disempowerment debate, reports Khalid Bashir Gura

PAGD leaders addressing a press conference in Jammu

As anticipated, the Delimitation Commission constituted on March 6, 2020, for redrawing electoral constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir, now a Union Territory without Ladakh, has triggered a row. The draft recommendations that the Commission led by Justice (retd) Ranjana Prakash Desai, shared with five Members of the Parliament (MP) (three from National Conference and two BJP) have pushed Kashmir back to the newspaper front pages in wake of the criticism that the recommendations invited. Right now, everybody, other than the BJP has rejected the idea.

In the brand new unicameral ‘legislative’ assembly of Jammu and Kashmir, there will be 90 berths (excluding 24 reserved for the PaK territory), an increase of seven seats. The draft recommendation has proposed six constituencies for Jammu and one for Kashmir. Besides, it has reserved 16 berths for the Scheduled Caste (SC) and Schedule Tribe (ST) communities.

The recommendations mark a departure from the earlier delimitations. Excluding Ladakh, now a separate UT, Kashmir had 46 berths and Jammu 37. If the recommendations are accepted Jammu will get 43 seats and Kashmir 47.

This is what has triggered a fierce debate and scathing criticism of the Commission. Cutting across party lines, almost everybody sees the recommendations as “unacceptable,  discriminatory, divisive, and dis-empowering.” Terming it gerrymandering, the major players in Kashmir’s political class and the experts are apprehensive of its fallouts fearing it could eventually divide Jammu and Kashmir on religious if not regional lines.

The draft has brought different political ideologues especially from Kashmir’s two major political parties, NC and PDP to see eye to eye again as they believe the Commission has violated the basic criteria for delimitation. Given the criticism that the recommendations got, there is hardly any difference between Altaf Bukhari led Apni Party or the Sajjad Lone led Peoples’ Conference. The latter in fact was ruthless in his reactions.

PAGD had initially decided against meeting the Commission. After Prime Minister, Narendra Modi invited all the parties to Delhi, he advised them to meet the Commission. Later, the Commission flew to Srinagar and Jammu where almost all the parties had interaction with the full commission. PDP, however, was the only exception.

A group photograph of 14 Jammu and Kashmir participants in the All Party Meeting that Prime minister Narendra Modi hosted on June 24, 2021, at his official residence. The photograph marked the beginning of the meeting.

Objections

After the MPs, the associate members met the Commission, they were asked to submit their objections ‘if any’ by December 31. Hasnain Masoodi, the NC MP, said that this whole exercise is being made under a law, which is under scrutiny in the Supreme Court.“When we met the commission, we apprised the head Ranjana Prakash Desai, who herself is a legal luminary, that it offends the constitution,” he said. Dr Farooq Abdullah told Karan Thapar that Justice Desai agreed that though the Commission has the mandate the Supreme Court observations would eventually be a “binding on us”. He said his party had sent a letter to the commission saying the exercise they are mandated with is “illegal” in wake of the case pending in the apex court, and the chairperson said she has not received the letter.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Altaf Bukhari in Delhi

Masoodi said the universally accepted criterion for delimitation is mainly the population. He said he enquired about the criteria and they were told the Commission adhered to the 2011 census. “If they rely on the 2011 census then they should follow it,” he observed. “How come this disproportionate distribution because Kashmir has 15 lakh population more than Jammu.”

The 2011 census puts the Jammu population at 53.5 lakh and Kashmir’s population at 68.8 lakh. Many think Kashmir was already under-represented. In 1995, Kashmir was given 46 seats and Jammu 37, which meant 56.15 per cent of the population got only a 55.42 per cent stake in representation. In contrast, Jammu with a 43.84 per cent population had stakes over 44.57 per cent of the representation in the assembly.

“Had they relied on population, Kashmir’s should get 51 seats, from existing 46, and Jammu should get 39 seats, up from the existing 37,” NC spokesman, Imran Nabi Dar said. “Since, it is not reflective of the numbers on the ground, to us.”

Dar said why the same parameters have never been applied anywhere across India. “The parameters have been tweaked as per their own likes and dislikes and the report is not based on scientific approach but reeks of political agenda,” he said.

Tensions are even within the party. Influential Shia leader and three-time legislator Aga Ruhullah said he was never in favour of participating in this process and even suggested his party against any participation as “it was pre-planned by BJP and RSS”. He said he had forewarned the party against participation, which would mean lending legitimacy to it.

“It is discriminatory and based on communal lines. They want to disturb communal harmony and pit communities against each other,” said Aga, insisting the implementation of the recommendations will have long-lasting and bad implications on society. “The BJP is implementing its agenda and wants to turn the balance of power towards itself. This is the outcome of August 5, 2019 decision-making.”

Peoples Conference President Sajad Gani Lone addressed a massive gathering of workers in the Shangus assembly segment on December 19, 2021.

Echoing NC, PDP spokesperson Mohit Bhan, said that his party was aware of these designs of pitching Jammu against Kashmir and further dividing and disempowering Kashmir, after August 2019. “Once the delimitation team was constituted we never believed in it as it reeked of bias and unaccountability at every step,” he said.

Bhan said even though population remains the principal criterion for delimitation, it was for the first time topography, geographical areas having inadequate communication and lack of public conveniences due to their excessive remoteness or inhospitable conditions on the international border were used to carve constituencies.

“If population formula was the main criteria we were not against it even if all seven seats went to Jammu,” Bhan said.

Bhan also questioned the SC reservations in Kashmir. “We do not have SC population in Kashmir. So are they going to get candidates from Jammu or other regions to contest elections? What is the agenda behind it and where are they reserving it? They want to install a government in Jammu and Kashmir that would legitimise the illegal and unconstitutional decisions of August 2019,” he said.

PC, Adnan Ashraf Mir, said that this proposal is totally unacceptable. “This is Delhi’s brute majoritarianism at work ironically to undermine the majority sentiment in Jammu and Kashmir. Federally it is tantamount to a bigger majority eating up a small majority,” Mir said. “It is also an attempt to reverse what Indian democracy has given to Jammu and Kashmir in the last seven decades. They want to push Kashmir back to the disempowerment levels which existed at the time of Maharaja.

The NC delegation led by Devinder Singh Rana handed over a memorandum to Delimitation Commission Chairperson in Jammu on July 8, 2021

Muhammad Ashraf Mir, former law secretary termed it Kashmir’s disenfranchisement. “One constituency has been carved out for 1,25,082 people in Jammu and the same constituency has been established for 1,46,563 people in Kashmir. In effect 10,09,621 Kashmiris have been disenfranchised,” Mir said.

Apni Party General Secretary Rafi Ahmad Mir, a former lawmaker said that the delimitation draft is unfair as it violates the principle of population. “They must reconsider what has been done as it seems there is an unjustifiable imbalance,” Mir said as according to him the draft should be made public and not monopolized by the elected MP’s of a particular party. “We may seek the government of India’s intervention in it.”

Echoing Mir, Working President of JKPCC Raman Bhalla, said that the draft proposals should be put in the public domain and we cannot comment as the draft is not available with us. They have created a hype of Jammu versus Kashmir. They should put it online and let people decide.

Even though delimitation is yet to be finalized, Bhalla said that it is not an independent commission but is BJP directed. “We would like to question as what criterion has been used to carve out constituencies,” Bhalla said. “We want fair and transparent delimitation based on law and laid down norms in this regard.” Bhalla insisted that since the draft is not out formally, he will not comment. “They (BJP) are playing divisive politics,” he said.

But according to Ghulam Nabi Monga, Vice President of the Jammu and Kashmir Congress it is not acceptable at all as it is a political agenda of BJP which they want to impose in Jammu and Kashmir. “They want to divide on religion and regional basis. They want to change the demography through the communal agenda,” Monga said, insisting they are not against Jammu. “But the empowerment of Jammu should not come at the cost of Kashmir.”

With SC and ST getting their share in the new power politics, Kashmiri Pandits, and Sikhs are also demanding quotas. Even there are allegations that refugees have been ignored.

A senior leader of Apni Party and All Parties Sikh Coordination Committee (APSCC) chairman Jagmohan Singh Raina said that Abdullah’s and Mufti’s have always betrayed the Kashmirs and have been chasing power. “We have an inkling that they agreed to commissions meeting. The previous constituencies were carved out by NC to suit their own liking. Also, the amendment in 2002 was done to prevent delimitation till 2026 as they never wanted to reshape constituencies,” Singh said insisting the two parties stand caught in their own web. However, he agreed the commission recommendations are “politically motivated”.

PAGD Protest

People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), an alliance of various political parties formed to fight the restoration of Article 370 and 35A termed the draft as divisive and unacceptable and announced to protest on January 1. “It is against the interests of the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” PAGD spokesman Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, a 4-time lawmaker, said, insisting population has remained the main certain of delimitations everywhere. “The constitutionality of the commission under the reorganization act has been challenged in the Supreme Court of India. The government should have waited.”

He said the recommendations reek of BJP’s agenda to widen the gaps between regions and communities as he is apprehensive it may spawn a crisis in Jammu and Kashmir and lead to further alienation from the centre.

Besides pitting region and religious communities against each other for electoral gains, the PAGD spokesperson also forewarned Gujar and Pahari speaking communities to remain together.

BJP

However, BJP is happy. The party has been alleging discrimination so they say the recommendations are fair.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and CPI(M) leader M Yousuf Tarigami greeting each other on June 24, 2021, on the occasion of All Party meeting. BJP Jammu and Kashmir president, Ravinder Raina and Muzaffar Hussain Baig are also seen in the frame.

The party won 25 seats in Jammu in the 2014 assembly polls and went on to become part of the government forming an alliance with PDP for the first time in history.

Surjit Singh Slathia, who recently moved from NC to BJP said that political parties met the commission to express their viewpoints and recommendations are based on basic tenants of population, geography, topography, area, physical features. “Whatever commission has recommended is transparent as it is headed by the Supreme Court judge,” he said.

Former National Conference senior leader, Devender Singh Rana, who recently joined BJP, said that the report has rekindled a ray of hope among all those who have suffered the exploitation and discrimination over decades especially in the Jammu region, of their right of being equal partners in the democratic process and governance mechanism.

According to him, those opposing it are actually exposing their ‘sense of political losses which they assumed as their entitlement and birthright.

“In their pursuit of retaining political hegemony, the self-styled champions of Jammu and Kashmir are stooping to lowest depths by indulging in promoting sectarian discord”, Rana said.

Non-Political Response

Even the people outside politics see the Commission recommendations negatively.

“It will give political advantage to BJP in Jammu and Kashmir,” Prof Noor Ahmad Baba, former head of the political science department at the University of Kashmir said. “Previously non-Kashmir political parties including BJP were not able to govern and come to power in Jammu and Kashmir due to seat alignment. Ultimately the number of seats in Jammu has been raised and with the manipulation of reserved seats, there is a possibility of BJP ruling Jammu and Kashmir.”

Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a political analyst and former head of the department of law and dean of the school of legal studies at the Central University of Kashmir said that throughout India the delimitation was always questionable as in places where Muslims were in majority they were divided or reserved for Scheduled Castes.

“After August 5, 2019, the same is being applied to Jammu and Kashmir,” Husain said. “It is a step towards long unfulfilled demand of bringing next Hindu Chief Minister from Jammu.”

The implications are multiple, Prof Siddiq Wahid, a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi and former VC Islamic University of Science and Technology, said. “To summarily exclude Kashmiris from any political participation in the future; to allow Delhi to dominate the peoples of the territory, and an incremental step forward towards demographic change through territorial re-districting. It will be disastrous for an entire population.”

 War of Words

After the meeting with the Commission and terming the draft recommendations unacceptable, a virtual war of words triggered between Peoples Conference President Sajad Gani Lone said the NC. Lone reacted to the NC claims that they will go to the Supreme Court.

“Will somebody please enlighten them (PAGD). This report cannot be challenged in court. It is legally unchallengeable. Heavens sake,” Lone tweeted.

This triggered a new barrage. Loudmouths from NC including their newly appointed spokesperson and a former minister said Sajad lacks the luxury to point fingers at others because of his proximity with the ruling party in Delhi.

But Sajad is not the only person who pointed out this. Even Monga also expressed apprehensions that the delimitation commission’s final report cannot be challenged constitutionally.

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