The J&K delimitation report and the future of the region

  • There are several important takeaways from the Jammu and Kashmir Delimitation Commission, which submitted its final report.
On May 5, the three-member delimitation commission finalised the UT’s new electoral map, marking the first step for elections in the region since its special status was scrapped in August 2019. (PTI) PREMIUM
On May 5, the three-member delimitation commission finalised the UT’s new electoral map, marking the first step for elections in the region since its special status was scrapped in August 2019. (PTI)
Published on May 16, 2022 09:04 PM IST
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On May 5, the Jammu and Kashmir Delimitation Commission submitted its final report, two years after it was appointed to redraw the electoral cartography of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) as per the mandate set by the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019. The Commission was headed by Supreme Court (SC) Justice (retired) Ranjana Prakash Desai, and former chief election commissioner (CEC) Sushil Chandra and the J&K state election commissioner KK Sharma were its ex-officio members. A day before the Commission’s term ended, it notified the new boundaries, names, and a number of assembly constituencies, paving the way for its first ever assembly elections in J&K since it was deemed a Union Territory after the effective abrogation of Article 370.

The delimitation exercise is carried out under the Delimitation Act, 2002, and is based on the 2011 Census data. Before the repeal of Article 370, which accorded special status to J&K, delimitation of the assembly seats was carried out by the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution and the Jammu and Kashmir Representation of the People Act, 1957. Those of the Lok Sabha were governed by the Constitution. Now, after the nullification of J&K’s special status, the delimitation of both assembly and parliamentary seats are governed by the Constitution.

The last delimitation exercise in J&K was done in 1995. However, in 2002, the then J&K government led by Farooq Abdullah amended the J&K Representation of the People Act to freeze the delimitation exercise until 2026 to coincide with the rest of India. This was challenged in the J&K High Court and the SC, both of which upheld the freeze. Owing to this, political parties in Kashmir point out that the Delimitation Commission is mandated by the Reorganisation Act, which is subjudice.

Delimitation is primarily based on the Census population. But the Commission has said it has considered other factors such as geographical features, means of communication, public convenience and contiguity of areas. The final report published in the Gazette of India has announced changes, which have been subject to intense debates. However, regardless of the merits of any grievances, the orders made by this independent Commission are not subject to judicial arbitration.

There are several important takeaways from the final report.

First, seven additional constituencies have been added to the J&K assembly, with Jammu getting six. This takes Jammu, the bastion of the Bharatiya Janata Party, from 37 seats to 43 whereas Kashmir goes up by only one constituency (46 to 47 seats). According to the 2011 Census data, the Kashmir region accounts for 56% of the population, therefore, deserving a greater number of additional seats and a greater number of seats in total, some parties argue.

Additionally, they also point out the discrepancy with regard to the division of voter demography. The average number of voters per constituency in Kashmir is 145,000 as compared to the average of 125,000 in Jammu. This effectively means that 44% of the population (Jammu) will vote in 48% of the seats, whereas 56% in Kashmir will vote for 52% of the seats. In the earlier set-up, Kashmir’s 56% had 55.4% seats and Jammu’s 43.8% had 44.5% of the seats.

The Kashmir-based parties are alleging a pro-ruling party bias. They have unanimously rejected the report, claiming that it is politically motivated and sure to disempower Kashmiris. They have also questioned the reservation of two seats for Kashmiri Pandits since there can be no reservation for religious groups. This has been taken care of by calling them “Kashmiri migrants”. Reservation for this category will help these migrants to re-establish themselves in their homeland.

The Commission has also made significant changes to the structural set-up of the Lok Sabha. It has redrawn the boundaries of the Jammu and Anantnag seats. Jammu’s Pir Panjal region, comprising Rajouri and Poonch districts, which were previously part of the Jammu parliamentary seat, has been added to the Anantnag seat in Kashmir. This restructuring will change the influence of various demographic groups in these seats.

For instance, the Commission has reserved, for the first time, nine assembly seats for Scheduled Tribes (STs), six of which are allocated in the redrawn Anantnag parliamentary seat, including Poonch and Rajouri, which have the highest ST population.

The erstwhile Anantnag seat had a small ST population, but in the current restructured set-up, Rajouri and Poonch will strongly determine the electoral outcomes. Kashmir-based parties emphasise that this move effectively reduces the influence of the ethnic Kashmiri-speaking Muslim voters.

Interestingly, 24 seats have been traditionally reserved for Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). I don’t know why the same logic is not extended to the reservation of a few seats for the Lok Sabha.

Finally, what remains for the Centre is to fix a date from which the delimitation order will come into effect. Former CEC Chandra has said the polling stations and electoral rolls will be revised. This, therefore, will prepare the way for the much-awaited assembly polls in J&K after the abrogation of Article 370.

We will need to wait and see how these various implications will be substantially manifested in the electoral outcomes.

SY Quraishi is former Chief Election Commissioner of India, and the author of An Undocumented Wonder: The Making of the Great Indian Election 

The views expressed are personal

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Monday, July 04, 2022