The delimitation process is unfair to Kashmir
On August 5, 2019, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led central government nullified Article 370, a constitutional provision that granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir. In the plan that followed, the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, was born. Though the scrapping of the special status offends constitutional proprietary, and a batch of petitions against it is pending before the Supreme Court, it was suggested that a delimitation committee will be formed to redraw the boundaries of assembly constituencies. Since there were eminent personalities in the committee, such as justice (retired) Ranjana Prakash Desai and chief election commissioner Sushil Chandra, we had hoped that the exercise would not be politically motivated. But the committee’s recommendations prove otherwise.
The Kashmir division currently has 46 seats and Jammu 37, and both have 10 districts each. The commission has proposed six more seats for Jammu and only one more for Kashmir. If the Census of 2011 is taken as the starting point, then the Kashmir region should be given more seats than the Jammu region on the basis of population; this is why Uttar Pradesh has more seats in Parliament than Maharashtra.
According to the 2011 Census, Kashmir has a population of 6.88 million and Jammu has 5.37 million. But in the new plan, Kashmir has 52% of the seats with 56% of the population, while Jammu has 48% of the seats with 44% of the population.
The commission put 20 districts into three categories based on whether the terrain was plain, hilly or a mix of both. The average population per seat was worked out to be around 136,000, and districts were given a margin of plus or minus 10% while proposing the allocation. The logic was that in hilly areas, a seat could have a population 10% lower than the average and in urban areas, 10% higher.
But this distinction was arbitrarily employed. Jammu’s Samba district (population 316,000) was categorised as a -10% district. It is proposed to get three seats with an average population of 105,000 — which is far below even the -10% threshold. The preference structure of the commission is skewed can be gathered from the fact that even in Jammu region the emphasis is on the plains than hilly difficult regions.
In contrast, Kashmir’s Kulgam district (population 424,000) is proposed to be allocated three seats, with an average population of 141,000. The district has been placed in the +10% category despite its rugged and hilly terrain, and its assembly representation has been reduced from the current four to three.
Only one district in Kashmir is in the -10% category, whereas four districts in Jammu are in the same category. This implies that Jammu division is likely to get more seats with less average population per seat. In all, the panel proposes to allocate one assembly constituency for a population of 146,563 in Kashmir and 125,082 in Jammu. This is a virtual disenfranchisement of the people of the Valley.
While the nature of this insincerity is stark, what is the BJP’s bigger agenda?
The events post-August 2019 are like a fish bone stuck in the BJP’s throat. The only way the party can justify the events of August 5, 2019, is by winning a majority in the assembly, then passing a resolution in favour of the abrogation of the special status.
To do that, it will have to, one, increase seats in its strongholds; and two, change the demography of each constituency. The sequel will be to hold elections. Under the present situation, it will be difficult for the BJP to win a majority, especially after the formation of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration. The Election Commission of India recently announced assembly elections in five states. So why shouldn’t Jammu and Kashmir also have an elected government after being under Governor’s Rule for the last five years?
The commission tasked to delimit seats in J&K was also given the responsibility to delimit constituencies in Assam. However, the exercise was not initiated, and assembly elections were held last year. The delimitation in Jammu and Kashmir is being justified on the grounds that Section 60 of the Reorganisation Act provides for an increase of seven seats (107 to 114), and, therefore, the delimitation exercise becomes necessary for allocation of assembly constituencies. But there was no delimitation of assembly constituencies in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana after the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014. The Act provided for an increase in assembly seats for Andhra Pradesh from 175 to 225 and for Telangana from 119 to 153. However, assembly elections were conducted as per the earlier delimitation. This is why the election to the assembly in Jammu and Kashmir, as and when they are held, will be the most important, possibly, ever, for all stakeholders.
Tanvir Sadiq is a senior politician of the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference
The views expressed are personal