Delimitation Commission and disenfranchised people

K N Pandita
Notwithstanding the opposition by the dissenting political leadership in the Kashmir Valley, the Delimitation Commission continued its assignment of rationalising the constituencies for the assembly and parliamentary elections. The Commission conducted studious research on the issue for more than two years and met with a large number of official and non-official delegations and groups of people with stakes in redrawing the constituencies.
A few days ago, the Commission submitted its recommendations to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs for necessary action. The Commission has conceded that Jammu and Kashmir is a geographically, culturally and linguistically unique region. It means to say that the factors that make the region a unique one also needed to be taken into account along with established norms for considering redrawing of any constituency.
Briefly speaking, the Delimitation Commission has recommended 16 reserved seats for the Assembly: 7 SC from the Jammu region and 9 overall ST seats out of which 6 go to Jammu and 3 to the Kashmir region. Thus we find that 13 constituencies in the Jammu region and 3 in Kashmir had remained unrepresented in the Legislative Assembly for the last seven decades. The recommendation, therefore, vindicates the seven-decade long protests by the disenfranchised people against the successive regimes of the state. The dissenting political lobbyists in the valley should have welcomed the recommendations if they admit conviction in a democratic dispensation.
Several delegations of Kashmiri internally displaced people, living as refugees in their own country, met and exchanged ideas with the Commission. For the first time, a category called “Kashmir Migrants” has been introduced in its recommendations. Ever since the ethnic cleansing of the valley of Kashmiri Hindus/Pandits, the effected community has been demanding constituencies in exile till the time of their restitution. The demand has been denied and the constitutional right of the exiled people of casting their vote was deliberately suppressed. Instead, a voting process with numerous encumbrances almost as good as obstructing the right to the franchise was introduced and remained in force. Plea after plea made by the Kashmir IDPs to streamline their voting system fell on flat ears.
In its report, the Commission has dealt with the right to the franchise of the Kashmiri IDPs in one sentence laden with all conceivable ambiguity and vagueness. It runs like this: “It recommends to the Central government the provision of at least two members (one of them must be a female) from the community of Kashmiri Migrants in the Legislative Assembly. Such members may be given power at par with nominated members of the Legislative Assembly of Puducherry.”
The vagueness lies in (a) “Kashmiri Migrants”, (b) provision of two members from the community of “Kashmiri Migrants”, and (c) power at par with nominated members. Let us elucidate the points. (a) Firstly, Kashmiri Pandits are not “migrants” nor have they accepted that label. It is the Department of Relief and Rehabilitation that has thrust the label. Secondly, not only the Kashmiri Hindus/Pandits but Kashmiri Muslims and Sikhs are also among the community of migrants. The Wire of 20 March 2022 published the RTI obtained by one P Kapoor which says that “The data revealed that a total of 44,283 families and 154,161 people were registered with the department. Of them, a total of 21,192 families and 70,218 people were being provided government assistance. This included 53,978 Hindus, 11,212 Muslims, 5013 Sikhs and 15 others.” This is a conservative estimate and Kapoor is a journalist known for his anti-Pandit bias.
The recommendation of the Commission equates the migrants of all the three communities registered with the office of the Relief Commissioner, J&K Government. The Commission has neither tried to comprehend nor touched upon the question as to who is the victim of ethnic cleansing in the valley? Who has been thrown out of their thousands of years old habitat in the valley, whose landed holdings, orchards, houses, shops, moveable as well as immovable properties, shrines, temples, religious and cultural icons etc. have been illegally grabbed, vandalized or decimated in Kashmir Valley? Is it fair and just on the part of the Commission to equate the victims of ethnic cleansing with those whose ancestral homes, lands, business units and establishments are intact and in regular use? It is a different matter that they managed to obtain the status of a migrant and extracted the benefits thereof. The government can conduct an enquiry in the case. Before offering its largesse to “Kashmir Migrants”, the Delimitation Commission should have obtained clarification from the Relief Commissioner and the Police Department as to who were the real migrants and who was the creation of secularist Utopia.
(b) The Commission has recommended the “provision of two members from the community of “Kashmiri Migrants”. Are the two members nominated or elected ones, The Commission is ambiguous and non-committal. The impression given is that they will be nominated. If it is so, then it is a clear betrayal of the cause of the Kashmiri Hindu/Pandit displaced community. It means treating the Pandits as something like an inanimate bloc not fit to be accommodated in the frame of normal democratic representation. One sheds tears on such myopic Pandit intellectuals or organizations as call the Commission’s recommendation of 2 seats for the Assembly a great gift to their community. Only such elements as having been part of the ruling elite will offer laurels to the Commission.
And who will nominate the two members? It will be the Governor/Lt Governor on the recommendation of the elected government in J&K. The Assembly election is round the corner and with that is also the revival of the State as per the Home Minister’s commitment. The local political parties will also fight the election. In case anyone or more of them wins a majority and forms the government who will be their nominated candidates from the “Kashmiri Migrant” category. The first and foremost priority will go to two candidates from among the 12000 Muslim Migrants already registered with the Relief Commissioner. The second priority will go to those among the Kashmiri Hindu/Pandit Migrants who have a sordid history of playing the second fiddle to the ruling elite. Did not the ruling NC have a Pandit selected/elected MLA/MLC/Minister on NC ticket in the past? What is their contribution to the improvement of the lot of their community members? Remember that a true democrat, socialist and secularist late Kashyapa Bandhu Ji resigned from the Working Committee of NC when Sheikh Abdullah bluntly told him in a meeting that he was first a Muslim and then a nationalist. (See letters of Kashyapa Bandhu in Kashmir Sentinel).
For the Pandit IDPs, this is a crucial moment. Let us thank the Commission for suggesting two seats for them and bringing their case to the public domain. But we must insist upon the Union government to make these elected seats within the “Migrant” community. Nominating two members is a dangerous and divisive step totally against the larger interests of the Pandit community. It means suppressing the meritorious candidates and boosting the sycophants. It means belittling and denigrating a fully educated community with great potential to serve the larger interests of the nation. Again, the suggestion of reserving one of the two proposed seats for a woman of Kashmir Migrants is disgrace hurled on the Hindu/Pandit “Migrants.” Their women are 100 per cent literate, most of them at least graduates and professionals, perfect in their professional skills and politically alive and receptive. They have always shown their ability to be as good contributors to national development as men folks. They will fight the election on their merit and win the seats. They do not need to be treated with kid gloves.
We hope the Union Home Ministry will take note of the observations made about the “Kashmir Migrants” in this write-up. The case of the POJK refugees is no less pathetic. Now that they have been given the domicile and other rights, why should not the requisite number of seats out of 24 reserved seats for POJK be allotted to them? They were thrown out of their homes, and yet the 24 seats remain reserved for those who threw them out under the fear of the gun. They suffered horrendous atrocities and more injustice is done to them by the Commission by not clearly and threadbare recommending a proportionate number of seats for them out of the reserved quota of twenty-four. The Union Government shall have to address these issues before putting its seal on the recommendations of the Delimitation Commission.