Changing political equation?

J&K Delimitation

By Sagarneel Sinha

The final draft of the Jammu and Kashmir Delimitation Commission is out, and it has, as expected resulted in a political controversy with the Opposition parties, particularly from the Kashmir valley, criticising the recommendations.
The Commission has proposed to increase seven new seats, i.e. six for Jammu and one for Kashmir for the legislative Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir, presently a Union Territory. As a result, the new assembly will have 90 seats — 47 from Kashmir and 43 from Jammu. The two dominant Valley-based parties, the National Conference of the Abdullahs and the People’s Democratic Party of Muftis, aren’t happy with these proposals. They see the current developments as “unholy designs of the Narendra Modi-led BJP government to reduce the majority Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir into a minority”.
It isn’t the first time that such allegations are heard from the dominant Valley-based parties, who have been quite vocal since the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019 by the Modi government. The majority of Muslims constitute 69% of the population of the UT, while Hindus, the largest religious minority, account for 29%. In the Kashmir division, the Hindus constitute a meagre 2% while Muslims constitute 30% in the Jammu division.
Therefore, it can be seen that the Muslims constitute a substantial minority even in the Jammu division, which has seen an increase of 6 seats — one each from Kathua, Samba, Reasi, Kishtwar, Doda and Rajouri. Out of these districts, only in Kathua and Samba are the Hindus in majority whereas in Kishtwar, Doda and Rajouri the Muslims are a majority. In the Reasi district, Muslims and Hindus are almost equal with the former accounting for 49.7% and the latter 48.9%.
The Commission also recommends the reservation of nine seats, i.e. six in the Jammu division and three in the Kashmir division — for Scheduled Tribes (STs) in the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly for the first time. Isn’t this a big development for the tribals like Gujjars and Bakarwals of the Union Territory? Those who lament that the “soul of Jammu and Kashmir was taken away on August 5, 2019” should ask themselves why there was no ST reservation in the erstwhile State Assembly. Why does the reservation of STs never matter? According to the 2011 Census, out of 14.9 lakh STs of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir (which included Ladakh), 13.2 lakh of them are Muslims.
Another development that is attracting criticism is the addition of the Poonch and Rajouri districts to the Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency. These two districts fall under the Jammu division. On the other hand, Pulwama, Tral and some areas of Shopian were taken out of the Anantnag constituency and added to the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat. The reconstruction of the Anantnag parliamentary seat, represented twice by PDP supremo Mehbooba Mufti in the past, has also left the Valley-based dominant parties unhappy. They see it as an attempt by the Centre to make way for a saffron victory from the seat.
Importantly, both Poonch and Rajouri are Muslim majority districts. In Poonch, Muslims account for 90% with only 7% Hindus. Only in the Rajouri district, Hindus with 34% constitute a substantial majority. The question is if minority Hindus get leverage in the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat, should there be a problem?
The labelling of allegations that the BJP government at the Centre is trying to “snatch away the rights of Kashmiri Muslims” has become an essential part in the last three years for the Abdullahs and Muftis of the Valley. For a long time, the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir State was dominated by one family, the Abdullah family, which has always held complete authority on NC, the Valley’s oldest political party. Later the State saw the emergence of another family, the Muftis, who also enjoyed the fruits of power through their party, PDP.
But how many chief ministers were from Jammu? Only one, Congress’ Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was in the post only for three years. Significantly, the erstwhile State never had a chief minister from the minority Hindus, despite the community accounting for around 29% of the population. From this, one can understand that a section of Valley-based politicians and parties have always had the larger share of the cake. Even the Muslim tribals weren’t given the ST status then. Not to mention the refugees of West Pakistan (today’s Pakistan) who didn’t even have the right to vote in the erstwhile State, despite staying in Jammu for decades. It was only after the abrogation of Article 370, that these refugees, who are mostly Hindus with 80% of them belonging to the Scheduled Castes, got the recognition they deserved.
One of the important aspects of the Delimitation Commission is that it has recommended two nominated seats for Kashmiri migrants — basically, the minority Hindu Kashmiri Pandits, who had to forcefully leave the Valley as a result of Islamic terrorism. They are given the rights at par with the nominated members of the Puducherry Legislative Assembly, which means that the nominated Pandit members will have the right to exercise their votes during the Budget and in a No-confidence motion.
Apart from this, the Commission has recommended to the Centre for giving representation to the displaced persons of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Although the Commission didn’t specify the seats for this neglected community, it has preferred to continue with the tradition of keeping 24 Assembly seats reserved for PoK vacant. This has left the displaced persons of PoK staying in Jammu for decades unhappy.
On May 8, thousands of displaced persons rallied in Jammu to make the Centre agree to give nominations for their community as recommended by the Commission in the Assembly like the Kashmiri Pandits. Ramesh Sabbarwal, head of the Jammu Kashmir’s People Forum, said, as reported by the Indian Express, that since one-third of people had got displaced from areas of PoK in 1947, 8 of the 24 seats reserved for them should be put into elections. This is a fair demand. Instead of keeping 24 seats vacant, it would be better for India to fill these seats through the displaced persons of PoK.
The Delimitation Commission may have some drawbacks but at least it has tried to give power to the political aspirations of neglected sections — Scheduled Tribes (most of whom are Muslims), minority Hindu Kashmiri Pandits and also the people of Jammu, who often have complained about the dominance of the two Valley-based dynastic parties, which also face criticisms for not focussing on real problems of common people. Jammu and Kashmir shouldn’t be a hostage to any family — and the Commission seems to have tried to address this.
The responsibility lies on the Centre to ensure the political aspirations of all sections of people, irrespective of their religion, caste or region. There has been no functional Assembly for the last four years and as a result, currently, the Union Territory doesn’t even have any representation in the Rajya Sabha. It will be better if the Centre conducts the Assembly elections in the UT with no further delay. Security challenges, however, remain for the Centre. — INFA