Updated: May 6, 2022 10:34:40 am
On Thursday, a commission set up by the Centre submitted its final report for the delimitation of Assembly and parliamentary constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir. The changes have been opposed by all political parties barring the BJP.
Why was the commission set up?
Delimitation became necessary when the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019 increased the number of seats in the Assembly. The erstwhile J&K state had 111 seats — 46 in Kashmir, 37 in Jammu, and four in Ladakh — plus 24 seats reserved for Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. When Ladakh was carved out as a Union Territory, J&K was left with 107 seats, including the 24 for PoK. The Reorganisation Act increased the seats to 114 — 90 for Jammu & Kashmir, besides the 24 reserved for PoK.
In the erstwhile state, delimitation of parliamentary constituencies was governed by the Constitution of India and that of Assembly seats was carried out by the then state government under the Jammu and Kashmir Representation of the People Act, 1957. After abrogation of J&K’s special status in 2019, the delimitation of both Assembly and parliamentary seats is governed by the Constitution.
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The Delimitation Commission was set up on March 6, 2020 . Headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai, it has the Chief Election Commissioner and J&K’s Chief Electoral Officer as members, and J&K’s five MPs as associate members. The time given to the panel, initially one year, was extended several times as the National Conference’s three MPs initially boycotted its proceedings. The first draft recommendations on January 20 suggested an increase of six Assembly seats for Jammu and one for Kashmir; on February 6, it submitted its second draft report.
Next step: Assembly polls
With the final order now notified, all eyes will be on the EC and the Union government regarding the timing of Assembly elections. Though mainstream parties in the Valley have criticised the report, it is likely that this will make space for political engagement in the UT.
Why has the exercise been controversial?
Constituency boundaries are being redrawn only in J&K when delimitation for the rest of the country has been frozen until 2026. The last delimitation exercise in J&K was carried out in 1995. In 2002, the then J&K government led by Farooq Abdullah amended the J&K Representation of the People Act to freeze the delimitation exercise until 2026, as in the rest of the country. This was challenged in the J&K High Court and then the Supreme Court, both of which upheld the freeze.
Again, political parties in Jammu and Kashmir have been pointing out that the Delimitation Commission is mandated by the Reorganisation Act, which is sub judice.
Also, while delimitation as a rule is carried out on the basis of Census population, the Commission said it would take certain other factors into consideration for J&K, including size, remoteness and closeness to the border.
What changes have been made?
ASSEMBLY: The Commission has increased seven Assembly seats — six in Jammu (now 43 seats) and one in Kashmir (now 47). It has also made massive changes in the structure of the existing Assembly seats.
LOK SABHA: The Commission has redrawn the boundaries of Anantnag and Jammu seats. Jammu’s Pir Panjal region, comprising Poonch and Rajouri districts and formerly part of Jammu parliamentary seat, has now been added to Anantnag seat in Kashmir. Also, a Shia-dominated region of Srinagar parliamentary constituency has been transferred to Baramulla constituency, also in the Valley.
KASHMIRI PANDITS: The Commission has recommended “provision of at least two members from the community of Kashmiri Migrants (Kashmiri Hindus) in the Legislative Assembly. It has also recommended that Centre should consider giving representation in the J&K Legislative Assembly to the displaced persons from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, who migrated to Jammu after Partition”.
What do the changes in Assembly seats mean?
While the basis for delimitation is the 2011 Census, the changes mean that 44% of the population (Jammu) will vote in 48% of the seats, while the 56% living in Kashmir will vote in the remaining 52% of the seats. In the earlier set-up, Kashmir’s 56% had 55.4% of the seats and Jammu’s 43.8% had 44.5% of the seats.
Of the six new seats in Jammu, four have a predominantly Hindu population. Of the two new seats in Chenab region, comprising Doda and Kishtwar districts, Muslims are a minority in Padder seat. In Kashmir, the one new seat is in Kupwara, the stronghold of the People’s Conference that is seen as close to the BJP.
Reservation of seats for Kashmiri Pandits and displaced persons from PoK, too, would help the BJP. The Commission did not specify whether the seats for Kashmiri Pandits should be reserved from among the existing seats, or whether they should be given additional seats,
And what do the changes in parliamentary seats mean?
The restructuring of Anantnag and Jammu will change the influence of various demographic groups in these seats.
The Commission has reserved nine Assembly seats for Scheduled Tribes. Six of these are in the redrwan Anantnag parliamentary seat, including in Poonch and Rajouri, which has the highest ST population. Opposition parties anticipate that the parliamentary seat, too, would be reserved for ST.
The erstwhile Anantnag seat had a small ST population, but the outcome of the redrawn seat would be decided by Poonch and Rajouri. Political parties in the Valley see it as reducing the influence of ethnic Kashmiri-speaking Muslim voters.
On the other hand, had Poonch and Rajouri remained in Jammu Lok Sabha seat, it might have been required to be declared an ST-reserved Lok Sabha seat. Transferring out Rajouri and Poonch can potentially help the BJP consolidate the Hindu vote here.
Parties in the Valley expect that Baramulla’s restructuring will consolidate the Shia votes. That could help Imran Reza Ansari, a Shia leader in Sajad Lone’s Peoples Conference.
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