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Sunday, August 01, 2021

Delimitation talks: PDP stays away, Congress says state first

The National Conference and CPM did not oppose delimitation, but stressed on the need for transparency in the exercise since, according to them, the events of August 5, 2019, and later, have broken the trust and confidence of the J&K people.

Written by Naveed Iqbal | Srinagar |
Updated: July 7, 2021 7:03:45 am
Cong leader Ghulam Ahmad Mir, other leaders talk to media after meeting the delimitation panel Tuesday. (Express photo by Shuaib Masoodi)

The Mehbooba Mufti-led People’s Democratic Party Tuesday said the Delimitation Commission lacked “constitutional and legal mandate” and stayed away from discussions with the panel which is currently in the Valley to deliberate with political parties, public representatives and UT administration officials and seek their inputs.

The two other key constituents of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) — National Conference and the CPM — however, met the Commission. On Monday, in its first joint statement since June 24, the PAGD had said it was “disappointed” with the outcome of the PM’s meeting and said that “any Assembly election must be held only after restoration of full statehood for J&K”.

Among the other parties that met the Commission on Tuesday were the Congress, BJP, Sajad Lone’s People’s Conference and Altaf Bukhari-led J&K Apni Party.

The National Conference and CPM did not oppose delimitation, but stressed on the need for transparency in the exercise since, according to them, the events of August 5, 2019, and later, have broken the trust and confidence of the J&K people.

After meeting the Commission, Congress state President Ghulam A Mir said delimitation of J&K was not required at the moment, and that such exercises meant little unless statehood was restored. “Until full statehood for J&K as part of the Union of India is restored, there would be no meaning for the Delimitation Commission to undertake any exercise. Unfortunately, the meeting called by the Prime Minister gave no concrete assurance in this regard. This is an essential confidence building measure…,” the party said in its memorandum to the Commission.

Restoring statehood, according to experts, could require an altogether new legislation to be introduced by the Central government. By enacting a legislation pursuant to Article 3 of the Constitution in Parliament, the Centre can restore statehood. Experts also said many amendments will be required to the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, to re-introduce many aspects of statehood.

Representatives of the BJP, on the other hand, said they felt assured after meeting the Commission and suggested that constituencies be limited within districts and not spread over to another district. The BJP has also sought reservation of seats for the ST population of the UT.

The CPI-M delegation told the Commission that sensitivities of J&K must be kept in mind while undertaking the exercise. “We are of the considered opinion that Census 2011 provides the guiding frame for the delimitation exercise. The exercise should help in bridging the gaps between communities and regions instead of further widening it. For that, the perceived apprehension that the exercise is aimed at benefiting some sections of the population should be removed,” a member of the delegation said.

NC’s provincial President (Kashmir), Nasir Aslam Wani said, “The J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019, is unconstitutional in our view. Ideally, the Commission should have waited for the outcome of the case in the Supreme Court where the party has challenged the abrogation of Article 370 and the Act.”

While NC has questioned the singling out of J&K for delimitation, it sought a transparent process reiterating that “people have lost faith in these institutions” and the Commission should attempt to restore that trust. “The main criteria of delimitation is to undertake the process as per the population in different areas. Will they repeat it when delimitation is done across the country in 2026?” he said.

According to the PDP, the constitutional and democratic values of a country were “trampled upon” on August 5, 2019. It said the delimitation exercise was part of the same process. In a letter to Justice (Retd) Ranajana Prakash Desai, Chairperson, Delimitation Commission, dated July 6, the party said it was disappointed with the lack of any outcome following the all-party meeting with the Prime Minister on June 24 in Delhi.

It also said since June 24, instead of confidence building measures, “the government has continued with its daily dictates to the people of J&K including the recent amendments and orders including those making every person a suspect (Govt employees antecedents verification order) and deepening the divide between two regions of J&K (the order related to Darbar move)”.

“(The) very existence and objectives (of the Delimitation Commission) have left every ordinary resident of J&K with many questions. There are apprehensions that the delimitation exercise is part of the overall process of political disempowerment of the people of J&K that the government of India has embarked upon… The very intent is under question,” said the letter signed by PDP General Secretary Ghulam Nabi Lone Hanjura.

The letter also said the party decided to stay away from the process of delimitation “and not be part of an exercise, the outcome of which is widely believed to be pre-planned and which may further hurt the interests of our people.” The communication also points out that since “no effort has been made to ease the lives of the people,” it gave credence to the people who had, in the first instance, described the June 24 meeting as “a mere photo opportunity.”

Meanwhile, Sajad Lone-led People’s Conference cautioned the Commission against “inventing” constituencies. PC’s memorandum stated that it believed in “meaningful cooperation”. “In the current Assembly, there are glaring deviations from the average figure worked out by dividing the total population or electors by 87 seats. Ironically, these deviations are seen more in urban areas where there is no justification or scope to have smaller constituencies even when one applies the non-population criteria.”

A delegation of the J&K Apni Party led by its Senior Vice President Ghulam Hassan Mir met the Commission. In its memorandum, the party said that views of all stakeholders need to be accommodated through dialogue and public hearings at district level instead of provincial level. “After delimitation, the effective strength of J&K Assembly seats will be 90 instead of existing 83. The distribution of the seats shall be as mandated by the Constitution.”

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