The completion of delimitation exercise in Jammu and Kashmir has emerged as the basic requirement to kickstart political activity in the union territory. Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought the cooperation of the J&K political leaders to expedite the delimitation process during their meeting on June 24.
Delimitation is the act of redrawing boundaries of an Assembly or Lok Sabha seat to represent changes in population over time. While the next delimitation in the country is to be done as per the 2031 census, the process had to be hastened in J&K following the dramatic reorganisation of the erstwhile state into two UTs -- with Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. The delimitation in the region – first after 1995 -- is being carried out on the basis of 2011 census.
Though several leaders in the Valley ask why delimitation could not have waited and done on the basis of 2021 census, government says any further delay would have only pushed back the resumption of the democratic process in J&K.
A lot has changed there in the last decade. The borders have been redrawn, reservation for Scheduled Tribes in the assembly has been introduced, voting rights have been extended to West Pakistan Refugees and the number of assembly constituencies has increased.
It is not possible to hold elections in J&K -- representative of the changed demographics – since the existing distribution of seats is based on the 1981 census. The 1991 census could not be carried out in the erstwhile strife-torn state, and the delimitation exercise of 2002 was deferred by the then state government. “The last delimitation in J&K in 1995, preceding the 1996 assembly elections, was based on the population data when large numbers of Kashmiri pandits lived in the Valley, STs were not recognised and West Pakistan Refugees could only vote in Lok Sabha elections and not in Assembly elections,” explains a senior government official.
The ongoing delimitation is certainly not a simple exercise as it has to deal with new categories of population and not just a natural growth of population. The doubts that most leaders of J&K have regarding the delimitation exercise are not ill-founded. There have been dissenting voices from within the BJP too, with many leaders claiming that 2011 census data is not reliable since it shows exaggerated growth in the population of Muslim-dominated Kashmir over Hindu-majority Jammu.
As per 2011 Census, the population in Kashmir region is 68,88,475, Jammu has a population of 53,78,538 and Ladakh has 2,74,289. “If we choose this data for delimitation, it will be injustice to Jammu that never gets its due representation. How could the population share of Jammu region decline? There has been so much migration to Jammu from Kashmir. Hindus came in large numbers and so did Sikhs. So many Muslims left the Valley due to insurgency. Anecdotal evidence suggests that 2011 census figures cannot be relied upon,” says a BJP leader from Jammu.
Given the inadequate representation of Hindus from Jammu, the major concern that the local leaders have is that a Chief Minister will never emerge from the region. With the exception of Ghulam Nabi Azad, who hails from Doda in Jammu, J&K has always had a Kashmiri-speaking Muslim leader from Kashmir as the chief minister. “If this trend continues, J&K will never have a Hindu chief minister,” he adds.
However, sources assure that all anomalies will be taken care of in the complex delimitation exercise. The number of absolute assembly seats will go up from 107 to 114 in J&K. However, the delimitation will be done for 83 seats as 24 seats fall in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). Presently, of the 83 Assembly seats, 46 are from Kashmir and 37 from Jammu. In the 2014 assembly elections, the BJP had won 25 assembly seats in J&K, its highest ever, and all from the Hindu-dominated Jammu region.