In the great Indian democratic exercise called elections, 24 assembly constituencies in J&K have never voted; these seats are in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). The 111-member J&K assembly, in effect, has always functioned with 87 legislators—46 from Kashmir, 37 from Jammu and four from Ladakh. Any party or alliance which wins Muslim-majority Kashmir is virtually assured of forming the government in the state. But this equation could change if the BJP government at the Centre moves ahead with a reported proposal that has riled political parties and people of Kashmir.
Union home minister Amit Shah is said to be actively considering a demand from the state’s BJP unit to give the Jammu region larger representation in the assembly—by constituting a delimitation commission to redraw the scope and size of the assembly segments and determine the number of seats to be reserved for schedules castes. On Tuesday, Shah was given a detailed presentation on the situation in the state. India had amended the Constitution before to put off any fresh delimitation till 2026, which is seven years away.
The state BJP, however, wants eight seats from PoK to be “defreezed” for refugees from the Pakistan-held region. Most of these refugees are settled in Jammu. The state is under President’s rule since last December 18 after the BJP pulled out of the ruling alliance with the PDP. J&K governor Satya Pal Malik, who submitted a three-page report on the situation in the state to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shah in the first week of June, is likely to recommend an extension of president’s rule for the second time from July 3.
Giving more assembly seats to Jammu—a Hindu-majority region—could end the primacy of the Valley in elections; any party which can sweep Jammu in the hustings will be in a position to form the government in the state. The BJP has made a case for electing the state’s first “Hindu chief minister”; the only chief minister from the region was Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Though officials said that there was no discussion during Shah’s meeting on any delimitation commission for the state, Kashmir’s political leaders are aghast over the potential move. “Distressed to hear about GoI’s (Government of India) plan to redraw assembly constituencies in J&K. Forced delimitation is an obvious attempt to inflict another emotional partition of the state on communal lines. Instead of allowing old wounds to heal, GoI is inflicting pain on Kashmiris,” former chief minister and Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti said on Twitter.
Another former chief minister, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, was caustic in his reaction to the proposed move. “It’s rather surprising that the BJP, which talks about bringing J&K on a par with other states by removing 370 & 35-A, now wants to treat J&K differently from other states in this one respect,” Omar said, referring to the country-wide freeze on delimitation. He added that when delimitation takes place in the rest of the country, the BJP was welcome to apply it to J&K. Until then, Omar said, his party will oppose any attempt to make changes “without a mandate from the people of the state”. The BJP’s aggressive stand on Article 370 and 35-A—which give J&K its unique character—is seen by Kashmiris as an attempt to tinker with the state’s autonomy. The delay in holding the long-due assembly polls—the Election Commission cites law and order in Kashmir as the reason—is also seen as a deliberate ploy by the BJP government at the Centre. However, Lok Sabha polls were held across the state with the BJP winning two seats from Jammu and one from Ladakh.
In the recent parliamentary polls, the NC got the most votes in 33 assembly segments while the BJP took the lead in 25 assembly segments in Jammu. In the 2014 assembly elections, the BJP had won 25 of the 37 seats in Jammu and the PDP 28, mostly in the Valley. For the BJP, any scope of forming the government on its own lies in the Hindu votes of Jammu.
Bureaucrat-turned-politician Shah Faesal, however, warned that any delimitation exercise at this stage will be seen as manipulative and will have dangerous consequences for the state. “If the idea is to adjust assembly constituencies to (the) needs of the growing population then let’s wait for the assembly to be reconstituted,” he suggested.
- Giving more assembly seats to Jammu—a Hindu-majority region—could end the primacy of Kashmir Valley in elections.
- The state BJP wants eight seats of PoK to be “defreezed” for refugees from the Pakistan-held region.
By Naseer Ganai in Srinagar With agency inputs