It is now or never for Jammu

Nishikant Khajuria It is now or never for Jammu, which seems optimistic to get justice and due political representation with the fresh delimitation of Assembly constituencies in J&K Union Territory. The delimitation was necessitated not because of persistent demand of Jammu region for the same but the increased number of Assembly segments and according political reservation for Scheduled Tribes like Scheduled Castes in the Union Territory, which came into existence after bifurcation of erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir State into two UTs. Amid war of words over criteria in delimiting the Assembly constituencies, Jammu claims to have all the reasons and logics to get its due share which has had been denied to the region ever since the end of Maharaja’s rule and establishment of alleged Kashmir centric democratic Governments in the erstwhile State because of unequal and `discriminatory’ distribution of LA seats. Reproducing the data here in support of Jammu for more Assembly seats or at least near equal to Kashmir Valley is not required as sufficient material in this regard has been purportedly placed on record before the Delimitation Commission and also published in the newspapers. Jammu has a strong feeling that population is not the only criteria used for delimiting territorial constituencies and due consideration must be given to geographical compactness, means of communication, terrain, and the like as per the Representation of Peoples Act so that people in different areas get equitable representation. On the other hand, Kashmir centric political parties are continuously arguing for population to be sole criteria in delimitation of the Assembly constituencies as they know that as per 2011 census, Jammu had less population. According to Sajad Lone of People’s Conference, who is considered moderate among the Valley politicians: “Area and stones don’t need representation; population need.” However, these Kashmir based politicians willfully forget that when the delimitation of Legislative Assembly segments was done last time in 1995, Gandhi Nagar constituency in Jammu district had 1,15,286 voters, Batmaloo in Srinagar had 74,601 voters and Gurez was carved out as a separate Assembly segment with only 9,900 voters. Jammu people feel that this was a deliberately unfair and unjust delimitation as Batmaloo is far smaller and better developed than Gandhi Nagar. If carving out a segment of Gurez was justified, why were Navapachi in Kishtwar, Mandi-Loran in Poonch, Koteranka in Rajouri, Lohai-Malhar of Billawar and several other areas not made into separate Assembly segments? The remote and hilly areas, backward in terms of having fewer roads, fewer medical facilities, fewer schools, have to be given due weightage while carving out constituencies. In Kashmir, almost 80 per cent of areas are plains while in Jammu, over 80 per cent areas are hills, or very remote mountainous terrain with only 20 per cent being plains. People hope that the Delimitation Commission will correct the historical wrongs in the days to come when it gives its recommendations taking due note of the gross irregularities committed in the past when there was no one to listen to other than Kashmiris. Gone are the days when the voice of Jammu was paid no heed by those at the helm of affairs. Jammu seems to have started asserting for its due share, particularly since Amarnath land row in 2008, which inspired for struggles to logical conclusion and led to success in 2009 Central University agitation and 2016 AIIMS agitation, etc. Since the BJP appeared to be most vocal over the issues of Jammu, people of this region made the party increase its tally in erstwhile J&K Assembly from two in 2002 polls to 11 in 2009 and then 25 in 2014. However, performance of the BJP as a ruling party was not up to the expectation of Jammu people who started realizing that notwithstanding a coalition Governments in J&K since 2002, real power remains in hands of Kashmir even if the alliance partner is BJP. Thus an urge for equitable representation and due share of power to Jammu is so prominent that BJP despite fulfilling its 70-year old most cherished agenda of scrapping Article 370, is not certain of winning back confidence of people in its bastion in the first ever Assembly polls for the Union Territory if the outcome of Delimitation Commission does not end unequal distributions of Assembly segments. Not only BJP and other Jammu centric parties but even National Conference seems not in a position to ignore this assertive urge of people from this region. This is the only reason that the party, whose focus always remains on aspirations of Kashmir and which has had been projected as number one enemy of Jammu, submitted two separate representations to the Delimitation Commission; one at Kashmir and other at Jammu. In the contradictory representations, Kashmiri leaders reiterated their stand of considering population as sole criteria for delimiting the Assembly constituencies while on the other hand, Jammu NC unit, led by Provincial President Devinder Singh Rana asserted for undoing injustice with this region and take into account area, terrain, connectivity etc in delimitation. The unprecedented courage exhibited by the Jammu based National Conference leaders is not a small development but has huge significance, which exhibits the resolve and assertiveness of this region for due political share. This compelling situation created by public opinion from this region, forced Farooq Abdullah to admit that both Kashmir and Jammu have different issues. In such an emerging situation when no political party can afford to continue ignoring the voice of Jammu people, the Delimitation Commission has apparently provided a big opportunity for this region to get justice after 70 years. With Modi Government at the Centre and Delimitation Commission on the job, Jammu must not miss this opportunity to get the decades long injustice undone. It is now or never! Such a conducive situation will rarely emerge when there is a Government at the Centre that has courage to take bold decisions like scrapping Articles 370 and 35-A; Assembly elections are round the corner and no political party can dare to ignore Jammu. The Delimitation Commission’s impartial and practical approach can permanently end injustice with the areas outside Kashmir Valley. And before the end, there is a word of caution for those who claim to be a votary of unity between the two regions and fear a reaction in Kashmir Valley in case Jammu gets its share. A mass movement for separate Jammu State is not ruled out if the delimitation exercise meets the fate of Wazir Commission, which had recommended the creation of three districts in Jammu and one in Kashmir but the then Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad gave four to each division in the name of equality and thus cunningly managed to favour the Valley once again