Delimitation Commission’s Report: partial justice

K N Pandita
In the course of its deliberations, the Delimitation Commission met with leaders from the Peoples Conference, National Conference (NC), CPI, CPI (M), Panthers Party, Congress, BJP, Apni Party and Bahujan Samaj Party. The Commission also met with District Election officers from Anantnag, Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian. The Commission also met with various delegations of the people of the Union Territory from both regions to know their views on issues connected with the delimitation of constituencies.
The purpose of this interaction was to gather first-hand information about the conduct of the mega exercise of carving out new constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir so that the unrepresented or inaccessible people are brought within the ambit of the electoral process in the Union Territory.
The Commission has published the draft report and views and observations are invited to reach it by the end of this month. Sources believe that elections will most likely be held early next year. It is a step towards the restoration of the election process that will usher in a responsible Government in J&K.
Most of the leaders of political parties have found the report unacceptable for various reasons. One impression that had made deep inroads in the valley-based leadership, and to which they gave big media hype, was that it was a hidden attempt to reduce the status of the Muslim majority community of the valley by manipulating constituencies in the Jammu region. In simpler words, it was doubted as a report biased against the valley.
These myopic comments notwithstanding, the fact is that Jammu has been complaining against discrimination in various walks of life including the allotment of constituencies. The NDA Government led by Narendra Modi took cognizance of the long-standing complaint of the Jammu people and decided to go in for fresh data collection which most of the valley-based political leaders opposed from the very outset.
The question hotly debated in political circles is whether the report does justice to all segments of the population of the Union Territory or not. Perhaps the significance of the report will squarely rest on that criterion. From the point of view of the internally displaced community of Kashmiri Pandits, the report does not bring them any solace nor does it meet the requirement of bringing them within the ambit of the election process. We will try to elucidate the point.
Constituting a Delimitation Commission for the UT of J&K was necessitated by the J&K Reorganization Act 2019. The conversion of J&K into a Union Territory did away with the State Constitution along with amendments that were made to it from time to time. Therefore the validity of the order under which the exercise of delimitation of constituencies was disallowed till 2024 has lost its validity.
Regrettably, the Commission is silent about its views regarding the electoral status of several hundred thousand internally displaced Kashmiri Pandits despite several of their delegations having interacted with the Commission in the course of their groundwork in both regions. We know that the basis of recommendations for delimitation of constituencies was outlined in a verdict of the Supreme Court and that was the census report of 2011.
Firstly, The Commission has unjustly ignored the protest lodged by the Internally Displaced community of KPs against deliberately making incorrect entries in the census records about the community such as Gerrymander-ing, tampering with numbers and creating hurdles in the voting process etc. Secondly, the Commission has clearly said that besides the 2011 census as the basis of their recommendations, they have taken other factors also into account as well as mandated by Section 9(1)a of the Delimitation Act 2002 read with Section 60(2)(b) of the J&K Reorganization Act 2019.
The Section desires the factors like (a) geographical features (b) public convenience etc. among others to be taken into account. Yes, the Commission has taken into account the factors like “hardships faced by persons living in areas adjoining the international border like Samba and Kathua” as stipulated in the Act and consequently reorganized the constituencies thereof. But it has chosen to ignore the persons that fall in the category (a) geographical features (b) public convenience of the same Act. Obviously because the KPs though falling in this category of the Act are not a vote bank owing to their insignificant numbers, therefore remain ostracized. Specific mention of Kathua and Samba for special category of borderline areas could be possible because these constituencies had a staunch patriotic leader of high status to lend weight to their cause. The internally displaced persons had no such support whatsoever and could be ignored without a whimper.
Unfortunately, an entity that was authorized to recommend enfranchisement of the deprived people of this country has chosen to disenfranchise those who have been subjected to genocide and ethnic cleansing in a secular and democratic India to which their home state acceded in 1947. Such is the apathy of the Commission of their cause that it did not care even to reflect on numerous man-made hurdles created in their way of exercising their right. This lack of concern stems from one reason beyond their control. It is their insignificant numbers not helping them to be a part of the vote bank politics of this country. One wishes the Commission had tried to understand the historical reasons for their diminished number.
One may ask where the large humanitarian logic demonstrated by the BJP in supporting permanent residence for PoK refugees has vanished in thin air when the status of the KPs is considered along the same lines. If the Delimitation Commission has considered the population affected by the shelling of their homes on the international border as eligible criteria for delimitation, does not the populace that has been subjected to genocide and ethnic cleansing deserves to be considered by the same token? Why has the Commission ignored the democratic rights of KP IDPs when it was charged with the duty of establishing the rights of the people to the democratic process is a moot question.
There is still a chance that the Commission sheds bias and rises above certain human weaknesses. It has to remember that it is entrusted with a pious mission by the nation and the piety should not be allowed to be desecrated come what may.