K B Jandial
Kashmiri political leadership, without any exception, has made the draft report of the J&K Delimitation Commission “controversial” by raking up the perennial issue of Muslims versus Hindus. There is nothing new for the intolerant Kashmiri leadership, including seemingly pro-Delhi groups, to join hands whenever their “fiefdom” (Jammu) gets some shade of political empowerment.
The most amusing clamour of the Gupkar conglomerate, holding its meeting in real secular and tolerant environs of Jammu, called the draft report as “divisive” with one its senior ideologues making it a communal exercise to “add more Hindu-dominated constituencies” and “disfranchise the largest minority in the country” (Muslims). Media is full of their fictional fear, designed to instill panic among the Muslims brethren by claiming that there would be fewer Muslim MLAs. To hog the national and international publicity and perhaps seeking worldwide condemnation of a “communal dispensation” in India, they portray it as “advantage Hindus” while Jammu leaders still resent Kashmir’s political hegemony.
Keeping aside this mischievous attempt, the famous adage “pot calling the kettle black” fits on them, at least data proves it. Intriguingly, the Gupkar Alliance which had the benefit of known top legal minds is talking trash bereft of ordinary understanding of the relevant provision of the Constitution and the law.
Why is the former ruling leadership of J&K crying foul on the proposed distribution of seven seats to J&K UT granted by the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019? Is it the lack of knowledge of the law governing the delimitation exercise or whip up public passion in Kashmir. Perhaps, they are fearful of ST MLAs who may not play their ball for depriving them all through their political empowerment.
To put the issue in right perspective, it is clarified that the mandate of the Delimitation Commission was limited to delimiting only seven new seats created in Section 60 of the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019 and not 90 constituencies of the Legislative Assembly. Its other mandate is to carve out the new category of reserved constituencies for ST and identify new SC constituencies . The SC and ST reserved constituencies would be distributed in the UT and located in those areas where the proportion of their population to the total is “the largest”. Grant of nine seats to the ST is a positive consequence of scrapping of special status used by the Kashmiri leadership to deprive this marginalised section of their rights even though it was provided in the Constitution.
The main ground for allegedly favouring Jammu Hindus is that the new constituencies should have been given on the basis of population of the regions and since the Kashmir has higher population than Jammu, the additional seats should be in Kashmir. The legal luminaries and the secular leaders should know that the law governing the delimitation doesn’t prescribe seats region -wise. The 90 seats granted in the Reorganisation Act are for J&K UT as one entity and not to the regions of Kashmir or Jammu. As such, region-wise the population is irrelevant. Moreover, population is not the sole criterion. Both the Delimitation Act of 2002 and the J&K Reorganisation Act provide almost identical criteria for delimiting constituencies.
Section 9 (1)of the Delimitation Act says that the single-member territorial constituencies should be delimited on the basis of the census figures and constituencies shall be geographically compact , and “in delimiting them regard shall be had to physical features, existing boundaries of administrative units, facilities of communication and public convenience” So, the new seven constituencies have been delimited keeping in mind these mandated norms of public convenience and not political gains of any party or region.
Section 60 (2) (b) of Reorganisation Act also envisages identical criteria for delimiting the constituencies. It says that “all constituencies shall, as far as practicable, be geographically compact areas, and in delimiting them, regard shall be had to be physical features, existing boundaries of administrative units, facilities of communication and conveniences to the public” So, the hue and cry raised by Kashmiri leaders are bereft of logic or legal support. Yes, they got sympathetic media. The Delimitation Act takes J&K UT as one unit with average size of population for each constituency which is subject to the territorial boundaries of the administrative units and Parliamentary constituency.
The Commission has rightly considered all aspects – population, geographical compactness, topography, physical features, contiguity, confining to limits of administrative units & parliamentary constituency, easy communication and public convenience, while carving out seven seats without any consideration to region, religion or ethnicity. Media reports also refer to one constituency for the border belt that is new and it needs, if correct, further elucidation.
Maintaining its transparency and fairness, Section 60 (5) enjoins upon the Election Commission to publish its proposals together with the dissenting proposals, if any, of any Associate Member who desires publication thereof for the information of the people together with a notice inviting objections and suggestions which after due consideration , the final order be notified in Official Gazette & newspapers. This order “shall have the full force of law and shall not be called in question in any court”.
The Delimitation Commission has completed its exercise and shared it with the Associate Members (five J&K MPs) who under the law have neither any voting rights nor are required to sign the report. They were explained the procedure adopted and the Districts in which seven additional seats have been carved out in line with the mandate given by both the Acts. It has divided UT’s 20 districts into three broad categories: A, B, and C, giving a margin of 10 percent of the average population per constituency while allocating seats to the districts. It has carved out one seat each in Kathua, Samba, Rajouri, Reasi, Doda, Kishtwar and Kupwara districts. While the names of the new constituencies have not been announced, still the political leaders and other critics in the media call these as “Hindu seats” which is just hogwash.
While it is not relevant, still the demographic profile of these seven districts is mixed. Four districts (Kupwara, Rajouri, Doda and Kishtwar) have Muslim majority, two have Hindu majority( Kathua and Samba) and Reasi district it is nearly equally placed ( Muslim 49.66% and Hindu-48.91%) as per 2011 census. This data nails Kashmir’s lies and communal mindset.
Applying population norm for determining the number of seats, the previous distribution of seats smacked of injustice and anti-Jammu approach to Jammu districts. Udhampur district having a population of 5,54,985 with 2637 Sq kms, Poonch district with a population of 4,76,835 and 1674 sq kms area had 3 seats each and Doda district with a population of 4,76,835 and 1,674 sq kms area had only two seats against 4 seats each to Pulwama and Kulgam districts and equated with Kulgam district which all have much less population. See population of Kashmir districts: 5, 60,440 souls and 1086 sq kms area in Pulwama, 4,24,483 souls and 410 Sq kms area in Kulgam and 3,92,232 souls and 345 sq kms of Bandipore. Why additional seat for Kashmir districts with less population? While Udhampur district almost shares the population with Pulwama district with a much larger area, still got one seat less than Pulwama. Why? The other two Jammu’s Muslim majority districts of Poonch and Doda too have more population than Kashmir’s districts of Kulgam and Bandipore but Poonch had the same number of 3 seats and Doda had one seat less. Why so? Rajouri district has one lakh more population than Pulwama with 2630 sq kms area and over two lakh more population than Kulgam district but all given only 4 seats each. Why no local or national level critics or media pointed out this injustice and political disempowerment of Jammu region? Do Kashmiri leaders have any answer?
A cursory glance back to the past elections puts to shame those who dub Draft Delimitation Report as anti-Kashmiri or anti-Muslim to disfranchise them. In the 1951 election to the 75-member Constituent Assembly, 51 unopposed elected members were Muslims. This figure was 50 in the 1972 elections with 40 out 42 MLAs of Kashmir were Muslims. Kashmir’s secularism can be seen from the fact that this figure increased to 41 in 1977 elections with ‘communal and intolerant Jammu’ returning ten Muslims candidates to the Assembly. The secularism was ‘glorified’ in 1996 when Muslim MLAs number increased to 63 in a House of 87and to 69 in 2008. In both 2008 and 2014, all the 46 MLAs elected from Kashmir region were Muslims. All those who are defaming the real secular people of Jammu by dubbing the Delimitation report as bias, divisive, communal or “disfranchising the largest minority in the country” should introspect on Kashmir’s conduct before talking about Jammu in such a contemptuous manner.
Those who are making an issue of not considering separate seats for KPs, PoK DPs or Sikhs, should know that the Delimitation Commission’s mandate was only to carve out seven new constituencies besides identifying seats for SC and STs as per the provisions of the J&K Reorganisation Act. No other reservation has been mandated in the Act.
Moreover, Section 63 of the Act bars delimitation of UT Assembly seats before “the first census taken after the year 2026” (after 2031 census). It means that no readjustment of the Assembly and Parliamentary Constituencies can be taken up. This freeze on the total number of seats in Parliament and State/UT Assemblies actually started in 1976 and the delimitation process remained suspended until 2001 to allay fears of southern states of losing seats as a consequence of their successful family planning programme. The Parliament banned it again in 2002 and deferred until the census after 2026 on the ground that a uniform population growth rate would be achieved throughout the country by 2026. J&K also separately did it in view of Article 370. Actually, the number of Lok Sabha and legislative assemblies has remained unaltered since the 1971 census.
Now, the NC has announced to challenge the Delimitation procedure and the draft in the Supreme Court. Well, it is their right to approach the Apex court for any issue but they should know that Article 329 bars judicial interference in electoral matters, saying that validity of any law relating to the delimitation of constituencies shall not be called in question in any court. Even the Delimitation Act debars the courts from interfering in such matters. But it is good for public consumption.