Delimitation process kicks off as NC falls in line. Where does it lead?
Moving forward with its unilateral vision for Jammu and Kashmir, as emphasised after the 24 June all party meeting, the Delimitation Commission arrived in the erstwhile state’s summer capital Srinagar on 6 July to begin the process of redrawing electoral constituencies.
Just two weeks ago, the much hyped all party meeting expectedly futile with Home Minister Amit Shah clearing the air that New Delhi is not offering an olive branch; a government handout attributed to Shah: “the delimitation exercise and peaceful elections are important milestones in restoring statehood as promised in parliament.”
After initial hesitancy, regional parties on Tuesday met with and presented memorandums to the commission headed by retired Supreme Court judge Ranjan Desai. The participation of the National Conference, which has three sitting parliamentarians, was instrumental to the process lifting off amid fears of Kashmir’s further political disempowerment.
The People’s Democratic Party – besides the electorally insignificant Awami National Conference – has chosen to stay away from the process citing “apprehensions that the delimitation exercise is part of the overall process of political disempowerment of the people” since the abrogation of J-K’s limited-autonomy in August 2019.
What is delimitation?
Delimitation is the process by which electoral constituencies are redrawn by a “high power body” known as the Delimitation Commission, the outcome of which is unquestionable – even before a court – and must be enforced from a date fixed by the President of India.
Given the chokehold of the Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi led Bharatiya Janata Party over the Government of India and its institutions, the outcome of the commission is being viewed with mistrust.
“There are apprehensions that the process is aimed at realizing the political vision of a particular political party in J-K wherein, like other things, the views and wishes of the people of J-K would be considered the least,” the PDP had written to the commission. “It is a widespread belief that contours & outcome of the exercise are pre-planned and the exercise per say is mere formality. The very intent is under question.”
According to the Election Commission of India, delimitation commissions have been constituted four times since independence — in 1952, 1963, 1973, and 2002. The PDP has also pointed out that the “core” of the apprehensions is “the fact that while the delimitation process across the country has been put on hold till 2026, J&K has been made an exception.”
The last delimitation in J-K was in 1995 based on the census of 1981, a census wasn’t carried out in the region in 1991 owing to the eruption of militancy. The population of Hindus was recorded at its highest by the 1981 census – 32.24 percent of J-K’s population.
Yet, the conduct of delimitation has been a key demand of the Jammu region’s Hindus, who aspire to weaken the more populous Kashmir’s political significance through a redrawing of electoral constituencies resulting in more seats to the Jammu Division.
The Delimitation Commission will, however, demarcate constituencies based on the 2011 census data that states Hindus form 28.43 percent of the population while Muslims comprise 68.31 percent, angering Jammu’s Hindu far-right that calls it a “fudged census”.
As per the 1941 census, Muslims constituted 72.41 percent of the population while Hindus comprised 25.01 percent.
The ten districts of Kashmir Valley with nearly seven million residents, as per the 2011 census, has 46 seats while the Jammu Division with its population of a little more than five million had 37 seats in the 83 member assembly whose strength was raised to 90 after August 2019. Another 24 seats remain vacant — reserved for Pakistan administered Kashmir.
What’s in it for Kashmir?
The J-K Assembly in 2002 deferred the delimitation process till after the forest census after 2026, at par with a similar freeze in mainland India, through an amendment to the Jammu and Kashmir Representation of the People Act of 1957 and Section 47 (3) of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir — both of which were scrapped on 5 August 2019.
Fears are ripe in Kashmir that the intent behind the exercise is gerrymandering.
Gerrymandering is a biased redrawing of electoral constituencies with the aim of creating an unfair political advantage by first breaking down vote banks and then repacking them in a way that numbers favour a particular political party.
Already, New Delhi has unilaterally increased the number of seats in the region’s disempowered assembly. “Having already decided on the number of electors as well as the number of elected, the only part of delimitation that has been left to the Commission is the electoral cartography,” former minister Haseeb Drabu wrote in Hindustan Times.
He further wrote: “Notwithstanding these debilitating infirmities in the context of J&K, the redrawing of the constituencies is an extraordinarily complex and highly contentious exercise. It can potentially alter the electoral demographic balance.”
Now, it is being pointed out that the Jammu Division – where only four districts are dominated by Hindus – deserves more seats owing to its larger territory. Additionally, clamour for religion-based electoral reservation has increased in the region. While initially the demand was made by Kashmiri Pandit leaders, citing their exodus, the chorus was later joined by Sikh leaders who propelled a fake narrative of love jihad to allege discrimination.
It is precisely this lack of parity between the regions in terms of representation owing to their populations that has cost J-K its limited-autonomy in a majoritarian parliament where it only had six representatives against the 546 from other states – a staggering 80 from Uttar Pradesh for example.
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