The Ghulam Nabi Azad government’s move to increase Assembly seats by 25% before the 2008 polls has run into rough weather, with main opposition party National Conference saying no to such a move and the ruling alliance too failing to put up a united voice on the issue.
It has poured cold water on prospect of the bill aimed at constituting the Delimitation Commission that would decide on enhancing the number of seats for the Assembly. This became apparent at an all parties meeting held in Jammu on Friday.
The meeting attended by leaders of all political parties deliberated upon the 33rd Constitutional amendment dealing with the issue, Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs, Tariq Hameed Karra, who presided over the meeting said, "this consultation was to build consensus among various political parties over the issue.”
But the consensus was the most absent thing at the meeting. National Conference, the strongest votary of greater autonomy for the state, voiced its strongest possible opposition to the move.
Senior NC leader and leader of the opposition Abdul Rahim Rather said that the move did not make a sense to him as there was an embargo on such moves all over the country until 2026, why should J&K become an exception.
The party having its base in the Kashmir Valley is also afraid of the fact that in this era of coalition politics, any advantage in number of seats to Jammu region could spike its chances of political resurgence in the next Assembly elections in 2008. Similar fears haunt other Kashmir-centric political parties.
National Conference, which is having 25 seats in the House of 87, is a crucial factor. Without its support this bill requiring a two-third majority of votes on its side cannot be passed.
In the existing House, the maximum number of 46 members are from the Kashmir Valley, Jammu region, which has a bigger area and equal population, if not more than the Valley, is having 37 seats and rest four are from Ladakh region- two each from Kargil and Leh districts.
Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad , who had taken everyone by surprise, by creating eight new districts, in July last year, was also keen on constitution of the Delimitation Commission.
By creating four new districts each in Jammu region and the Kashmir Valley, he had played a political master stroke, by directly talking to the people rather than through political groups.
A report that had recommended four new districts – three for Jammu region and one for the Valley - had been gathering dust. When he announced creation of the new districts, there was a whispering campaign by his political allies and opposition for the people had come to ask as to why they didn’t do what Azad had done in his very first year a Chief Minister. Now, these parties do not want the repeat of the same situation now.
The Kashmir centric parties do not want to become a party to the loss of political supremacy of the Kashmir Valley, while political groups having popular base in Jammu are pressing for it.
Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party leader Harshdev Singh said that his party would oppose any proportional increase in the number of seats. These should be equal for Jammu region and the Valley.
He also said that it had become a mockery to increase the number of seats for the people of PoK. "It would be better if we keep few seats, say eight, for the refugees who have come from PoK."
He was supported by senior Congress leader and Health and Medical Education Minister, Mangat Ram Sharma. Congress had won maximum of Assembly seats in Jammu region in the 1983, 1987 and 2002 Assembly elections.