J&K–The road ahead

Ranbir Singh Pathania
Air in J&K is thick with a sense of déjà vu.
Separatists and politicians from Kashmir seem to have set Jehlum on fire while responding on Centre’s overtures regarding setting up of Delimitation Commission and abolition of Articles 35-A and Article-370. Nonetheless, lest the sky falls nobody shall catch larks.
Though, of late, red cherries and white tulips have begun to blossom in Kashmir and wolf-cries about ‘change of demography’ ‘threat to secular character of the state’ seem to have struck least chord with the people of Kashmir.
It looks as if it has been understood as if it is not a case of region v/s region but religion v/s religion. It is a quest for political justice which has come as a silver lining through the blackest cloud of exploitation, inequality and injustice, meted out by various political regimes in the State.
Everybody has guessing and procrastinating –
What new, is hidden up the sleeves of Amit Shah, the Iron Man of New India?
What is the road ahead in J& K?
Firstly, Delimitation Commission should be put into life with specified terms of reference – rationalization of Lok Sabha, Vidhan Sabha and Panchayat seats in J&K by adopting a fair/uniform criterion in delimitation of constituencies in the State proportionate to the electorate so that inequities and injustice could be plugged out. And a platform for a more strong and cohesive J & K is laid out. And come what may be the outcome, even if Jammu or Kashmir or Ladakh gain or loose. Let equity and justice prevail.
Fact remains that Kashmir accounts for 15.8% of the area and 54.9% of the population of the state. Jammu region accounts for 25.9% of the area and 42.9% of the population while the Ladakh region has 2.2% of the population but 58.3% of the area. (Reference from Census-2011).
Whereas, after accession to India, the State Constituent Assembly was constituted and Sheikh Abdullah arbitrarily carved out 30 seats for Jammu region and 43 seats for Kashmir region and two seats for Ladakh region. At present, 46 seats have been allocated to Kashmir, 37 to Jammu and 4 to Ladakh in the state assembly. Farooq Abdullah-led government, in 2002, stalled delimitation in J & K till census figures are published after 2026. And ultimately, it is now Sheikh’s grandson, Omar Abdullah, relentlessly calling the shots and trying to defend the ‘indefensible’.
Nonetheless, open fact remains that there are some stark anomalies in the size of constituencies, both for Vidhan Sabha and Lok Sabha. The average number of voters as well as area per state assembly seat as well as parliamentary seat in Kashmir region is far less than that in the Jammu region. And Ladakh on account of its gargantuan area, terrain and topography has to be judged on a different touchstone.
Secondly, let a Committee on rationalization of administrative units and fiscal allocation be constituted so that baggage of past fallacies and misnomers are wiped. Although a full-dressed report of Wazir Commission had recommended four districts for Kashmir and one for Jammu. But inequity was further perpetuated when in 2006, Azad-led regime created four districts each in Jammu as well as Kashmir. Equality cannot be amongst inequals. Lesser square kilometers and population constitute districts/tehsils in Kashmir. It is in this very backdrop, let us explore, if new districts could come up at Ramnagar, Billawar, Nowshera, Akhnoor/R.S. Pora, Nobra and one out of Kupwara and another constituting parts of Pulwama and Baramulla.
The letter and spirit of Finance Commission recommendations (Commission constituted in pursuance to Finnace Commission Act, 2006) made by Sh. Swami Raj Sharma and Sh. Sonam Dawa, Gajender Gadkar Committee, Sikri Commission, Wazir Commission need to be objectively honoured. Kashmir region with lesser area, population and contribution to State revenue collection has always got lion’s share on funds allotted to the State. And specters of discrimination and disparity have percolated in spheres of public employment, selection in professional courses, creation of infrastructure and promotion of tourism too. Even much-boasted-of slogans of ‘developing Jammu as an independent destination’ have ended up in cries in wilderness.
And, thirdly, if Article 35-A which has never seen the face of Parliament, goes off. Section 2 of J & K Constitution is amended in order to give succor and justice to daughters of this state, who marry outside the State;
Displaced persons of 1947, 1965 and 1971 who discarded ‘two-nation’ and ‘theocratic state’ theory of Jinnah and came to this state some fifty years back and their children have no right to employment and to acquire land in the state;
Valmikis and Gorkhas who came to the State on the assurance of Sheikh Abdullah, whose offsprings have been dilly-dallying with their fundamental right of citizenship as well as voting rights.
It sounds cynical as well as ironical. State preserves lands, houses and ‘state subject status’ for those people who have rejected the ‘secular state’ gospel of India and went to Pakistan. Rohingyas have been settled in Jammu and Ladakh regions with full connivance and contrivance of the successive local State Governments. And politicians from Kashmir region have been visiting these camps to enroll Rohingyas as party members too. Attempts are afoot to give voting rights to them and as time goes by and create another Assam-like situation in J&K.
I am reminiscent of pleading a case of Tehsil Majalta of Udhampur, where as many as thirty rounds of litigation by a lady who surprisingly came on the scene and disturbed a family of about 54 people, with many of them as ex-serviceman, who were living on a land maintained by evacuees department since 1947. However the case after coming back from Supreme Court of India was settled by the then Chief Justice of J & K High Court, J. Kalifullah-a judge with a humanitarian and compassionate eye-who got struck a compromise between the parties and granted possessory rights to the refugees over the said land in light of their long, continued possession. Post-script-Judges have a head and a heart which politicians-at-helm in J & K least possessed or posed like it.
And fourthly, there should be political reservation for STs in J & K. while Gujjars, Bakerwals, Gaddies and other tribes were given Scheduled Tribe status in 1991 and constitute 11 per cent of the state’s population, still have no political reservation in J & K. While in the rest of the country, we have seats reserved for STs.
The state of J & K forming crown of India is a unique one with Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh as three distinct areas with people in these regions speaking different languages, wearing different attires, having different cultures, feeding habbits, climates, topographies, developmental needs and political aspirations too. For the purposes of development as well as doling out ‘political justice’, the entire state has to be taken as one cohesive unit for purposes of study, analysis and making recommendations.
The road not taken as yet seems very simple – constitute a Delimitation Commission with specified terms of reference, abolish Article 35-A and special status of J&K, amend section 2 of constitution of J&K and accord state subject to displaced persons, Valmikis and Gorkhas, abolish M-form formalities for Kashmiri Pandits, allot voting rights to displaced persons of 1947, 1963 & 1971, and allocate 8-10 assembly seats of POJK to them, and finally, announce assembly elections immediately after conclusion of Amarnath Yatra.
Gathering lost threads from the baggage of chequered history and keeping ones ears close to the ground in J&K, and to be politically off the mark, stage seems set for abolition of 35-A and special status of the State, and ultimately, for coronation of a Chief Minister from BJP in the state. And it will be first time in the history of J&K that a Chief Minister from an area other than Kashmir shall lead the vanguard in the State.
What would be the stake and role of Jammu and Ladakh in the proposed Centre’s ‘Venture – III’ in J&K in J&K, the answer lies hidden but in the womb of future. Nonetheless, earlier two ventures of the centre – first, in replacing popular Maharaja rule with Sheikh Abdullah’s National Conference, and second, in clinching the ill-conceived and ill-materialized Indira-Sheikh accord – have rather confounded the confusion.
The ‘Yugpurush’ of Indian political firmament, Narendra Bhai Modi, with ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas Sabka Vishwaas,’ as his very hallmark, seems to be in a combative mood to take up the lost thread from Vajpayee’s pragmatism on the issue.
Let’s hope and pray, the jinx breaks this time.
As the maxim goes, ‘the churning is always for the nectar to rise’
(The columnist practices law at the J&K, High Court of Judicature)