In an indication that the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir may see Assembly elections in due course, the government has set the ball rolling for delimitation of Assembly constituencies in the erstwhile state.
Based on a request from the Ministry of Legislative Affairs (MLA), Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora has nominated Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra as his representative in the proposed delimitation commission for J&K, the Election Commission (EC) said on Monday.
The commission, sources said, is likely to be officially announced soon after being fully constituted and will begin work thereafter. Delimitation of constituencies in a state may take months, and even a year — it is only after this process is complete that elections would be held in J&K, government sources said.
Home Minister Amit Shah, while announcing reorganisation of the state into UTs of J&K and Ladakh on August 5, 2019, had said that delimitation of Assembly constituencies of the erstwhile state would be carried out based on 2011 Census.
According to J&K Reorganisation Act, passed by Parliament last year, “…the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly of Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir shall be increased from 107 to 114, and delimitation of the constituencies may be determined by the Election Commission in the manner hereinafter provided.”
Arora had earlier told the media that it was incumbent upon the government to form the delimitation commission, and CEC would just send his representative.
Notably, 24 of the total seats in J&K remain perennially vacant as they are allotted to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The reorganisation Act also says Lok Sabha will have five seats from the UT of J&K, while Ladakh will have one seat.
The delimitation of Assembly constituencies in J&K has been a pet project of both the Sangh and the BJP. The party believes, and has openly said earlier, that even though the population in Jammu has increased over the years, Kashmir continues to have a disproportionately larger share of Assembly constituencies. This has effectively meant that only a party strong in Kashmir Valley is able to lead the state government.
The demand for delimitation of J&K was raised by BJP first in 2008 during the Amarnath land row. The BJP in J&K has been raising the issue of reorganisation of the state so that Jammu gets a larger share of seats in the 87-member Assembly. As of now, Kashmir region has 46 seats, followed by Jammu region with 37 and Ladakh with four. Even Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, during his tenure as the CM, had tried to push for delimitation but could not get the PDP on board.