Members of a Delimitation Commission during a press conference in New Delhi. | Photo: Times of India

By Muhammad Raafi / Two Circles

JAMMU AND KASHMIR — The Delimitation Commission’s report to the government of India for redrawing electoral constituencies of Jammu and Kashmir has drawn sharp criticism from across the political spectrum in the conflict-ridden region and has been termed “biased, politically motivated, and aimed at creating divisions in the erstwhile state.”

The commission submitted its report for final recommendations on Thursday, May 5. The commission was constituted on March 6, 2020, to redraw the Lok Sabha and assembly constituencies of Jammu and Kashmir, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and Nagaland, and was headed by former Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai.

Political parties in Jammu and Kashmir have said that the recommendations by the Commission will disempower the erstwhile state while the political observers believe that the recommendations will create ‘electoral autocracy’ in the region.

The state unit of the Indian National Congress (INC) hit out at the Commission for neglecting the fundamental principles and norms and ignoring the aspirations of the people. “It is totally biased, highly faulty, politically motivated, and against the basic norms of delimitation,” party chief spokesperson Ravinder Sharma told the media.

The Commission has increased six assembly seats in the Jammu division and one seat in the Kashmir division. It has also reserved nine seats for Scheduled Tribes, of which six are in Jammu and three in Kashmir.

The Commission also suggested reserving two seats for the Kashmiri Pandit community.

The Commission came into existence after the government of India downgraded the erstwhile state into two federally-run Union Territories by unilaterally abrogating the special constitutional provision for the state of Jammu and Kashmir without taking into confidence the constituent assembly of the state. 

Union Home Minister Amit Shah had declared the exercise as a pre-condition to holding the assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, which has been under the Centre’s rule since 2018.

The delimitation exercise has been controversial ever since the Commission’s first draft proposal was made public. The political parties in the Valley alleged that the poll constituencies were being adjusted to give electoral benefit to the BJP.

They have said that the Commission had shown little respect for the population, which is fundamental to redrawing the electoral constituencies.

The population of the Jammu and Kashmir region, as per the 2011 Census, is 1.25 crore. Of this, 68.8 lakh people live in Kashmir while 53.5 lakh live in the Jammu region.

Soon after the Commission announced the submission of its final recommendations, National Conference spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar said that the entire exercise carried out by it was constitutionally suspect.

“The Commission has ignored the cardinal parameter of the population. People deserved to get equal rights and representation but unfortunately, it has not happened,” he said. In a tweet, the party said that no amount of ‘gerrymandering’ would change the ground reality.

CPI(M) leader M.Y. Tarigami said that the exercise was bound to disempower people in the long run and would change the electoral demography of the region.

In a statement, the People’s Conference, which is accused by its opponents of doing the BJP’s bidding in the Valley, said that it was a repeat of past discrimination against Kashmir and this time the amount of disempowerment was high.

Despite harsh criticism from Kashmir-based political parties, the Commission’s final report kept most of its previous recommendations. It merged the Jammu division’s Rajouri and Poonch districts with South Kashmir’s Anantnag parliamentary constituency.

Political analysts said this was a strange approach given the lack of a geographical link between the two locations. They are 500 kilometers away via Jammu. The quickest route between the two is via Mughal Road, which is now blocked owing to significant snowfall for at least six months.

The analysts believe that on the one hand the government makes a lot of noise about rehabilitating Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley, but is widening the gap between the two communities by allocating two seats to them.

A Kashmir-based political observer said that the Commission’s findings will pave way for ‘electoral authoritarianism’ in Jammu and Kashmir since it favors one political party. He said the Commission’s recommendations will inevitably disempower the majority community in the valley.

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