On August 9, 2019, President Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent to the Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, which had been passed by both Houses of parliament a few days earlier. This act sought to dismantle the legal and constitutional framework that had made possible the accession of Jammu & Kashmir to the Union of India. Together with the Presidential Order that indirectly amended Article 370 of the Indian constitution, this allowed the Union Government to modify or repeal more than 400 state or central laws as applied to Jammu & Kashmir (including Ladakh).
One of the justifications used to explain this unjust and blatantly unconstitutional act was “Jammu & Kashmir had to be brought at par with the rest of the country” and that “it was wrong to have a constitutional mechanism that meant one country, two systems”. Contained in the Reorganisation Act was the proposal to set up a Delimitation Commission with a mandate to carve out assembly and parliamentary constituencies. This Commission was duly established in March 2021 and set about its work.
My party, the J&K National Conference, has objected to the establishment of this Delimitation Commission. We believe that since the very act of parliament that formed the basis for the establishment of this commission is unconstitutional, the Commission lacks the legal mandate to make any recommendations. This point has been brought on the record in the deliberations of the Commission through the memorandum submitted to them when they visited Srinagar in July of 2021 and also in the meeting in Delhi on December 20 this year. We maintain that the Commission should wait for the Supreme Court to pronounce judgement on the petitions that have challenged the J&K Reorganisation Act and the Presidential Order that accompanied this act. For obvious reasons, the Commission has recorded our point of view but has refused to act on it.
Together with the legal objections to the establishment of the Delimitation Commission, I also have a more political objection. If the point of what was done to Jammu & Kashmir in August 2019 was to bring it at par with the rest of India, how do you justify singling out the Union Territory for this delimitation exercise? The rest of the country will not see a similar delimitation until 2023, and then it will be based on the 2021 census data. In the case of Jammu & Kashmir, ours is the only legislature having its constituencies delimited now and this is being done on the basis of data that is a decade old: the 2011 census. So what happened to the “one country, one system” slogan? Clearly, it was just a convenient fig-leaf to justify the indefensible and is as hollow as the other slogans of “peace and development in Jammu & Kashmir” that we have been hearing ad nauseam for the last 30 months.
Now let’s come to the draft recommendations that the permanent members shared with the ex-officio members in Delhi on December 20. The most controversial recommendation was the distribution of newly-created assembly seats in the Union Territory. Perhaps for the first time, a Delimitation Commission was set up with its terms of reference all ready including the number of seats to be created. The J&K Reorganisation Act itself mandated the Commission to create seven seats. How this magic number of seven was arrived at we shall never know, but this was the number given to the Commission before they had looked at even a single scrap of paper. All the Commission had to do was decide how many of these seats would go to Kashmir Division and how many to Jammu. In its infinite wisdom and lacking any justification what so ever, the commission allocated six of the new seats to Jammu and only one to Kashmir. Why is this problematic? Because this allocation further disempowers Kashmir. A cursory reading of the 2011 census data will show that the share of population is 56.2% in the Kashmir division and 43.8% in Jammu. The existing seat-share in the last few assemblies from 1996 onwards has been 55.4% for Kashmir and 44.6% for Jammu. If the recommendations of the present Delimitation Commission are implemented, this will fall to 52.2% for Kashmir and 47.8% for Jammu. Given the ratio of the population, this is an unacceptable recommendation. There is no doubt in my mind that this recommendation is political in nature and designed to address the BJP’s desire to marginalise the voters of Kashmir division.
Normally, as a result of the way the people of Jammu have been pitted against the people of Kashmir by some self-serving politicians, what upsets Kashmiris is well received in Jammu and vice-versa, but in this case, no one is happy with these recommendations. The people of Kashmir are rightly incensed by this move to further disempower them while a lot of people in Jammu were expecting the BJP to completely alter the numerical balance, wherein the Jammu division would have more seats than Kashmir. In this one respect, the Delimitation Commission seems to have done the unthinkable and actually got the people of Jammu and Kashmir to agree on something albeit for completely different reasons.
As it stands, my party will not support these recommendations. In the first instance, we will record our opposition when we send our formal response before December 31. If these recommendations remain unchanged, we will announce our future course of action; needless to say, we will not put our signatures to a report that is so deeply flawed.
(Omar Abdullah is National Conference leader and former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir)
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