Updated: May 6, 2022 7:29:09 am
Finalising its order for the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the Delimitation Commission Thursday recommended seven additional constituencies — six for Jammu and one for Kashmir — taking the total number of seats in the UT to 90 from 83 earlier. This will increase the number of seats in the Jammu Division to 43 from 37 seats earlier, and that in the Kashmir Valley to 47 from 46 earlier.
Three other important takeaways from the order of the delimitation panel, chaired by retired Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai, are: i) reorganisation of the Parliamentary constituencies such that the five Lok Sabha seats now are made up of exactly 18 Assembly constituencies each, taking the total number to 90, ii) reservation of nine Assembly seats for Scheduled Tribes – six in Jammu and three in Kashmir, and iii) removal of the regional distinction between Jammu and Kashmir and treating it as one, as is reflected in the combining of Anantnag region in Kashmir with Rajouri and Poonch in Jammu to carve out Anantnag-Rajouri as a Parliamentary constituency.
A notification of the Delimitation Commission’s order was published in the Gazette of India Thursday. Besides Justice Desai, it was signed by the two other ex-officio members, Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra and Chief Electoral Officer of Jammu and Kashmir KK Sharma. The Commission also worked with five Lok Sabha MPs from J&K nominated by the Lok Sabha Speaker as Associate Members. They are: National Conference MPs Farooq Abdullah, Mohammad Akbar Lone and Hasnain Masoodi, Union Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh, and Jugal Kishore Sharma of the BJP.
The panel’s decisions are politically significant and have met with criticism amongst mainstream parties in the Valley. The Jammu region has got more seats relative to its population compared with the Kashmir Valley, and this violates the population criterion, is a key contention of these parties. The award of seats based on the 2011 census has meant that Jammu with 44 per cent population will get 48 per cent share in seats, while Kashmir with 56 per cent of population will get only 52 per cent share in seats. Earlier, the Kashmir region had 55.4 per cent share in seats and Jammu 44.5 per cent share in seats.
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“The Delimitation Commission has overlooked the basis of population and acted as per their wish. We outrightly reject it. We don’t trust it,” said PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti.
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.
Political analysts said if the BJP manages a grand show in the Jammu region like it did in the 2014 Assembly elections, it could well be the single largest party in the Union Territory since the Valley’s electorate will be split between many claimants – National Conference, PDP, Peoples’ Conference, Congress and Left.
Further, the new Assembly seats in the Jammu region have been carved out mostly in Hindu dominated areas; the only seat in the Valley that has been carved out is in frontier Kupwara district, a stronghold of Sajad Gani Lone-led Peoples’ Conference, which had allied with the BJP in the past.
The panel also recommended that the Legislative Assembly of the Union Territory have at least two members – one of them a woman – from the Kashmiri migrant community with the right to vote at par with nominated members like in the Puducherry Assembly. Besides, it also recommended some representation to Persons displaced from Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir. These are also likely to help the ruling BJP, political observers said.
The decision to remove border Poonch district and most parts of adjoining Rajouri district from Jammu Lok Sabha constituency and including them in the Anantnag parliamentary constituency will also help BJP, said political observers. BJP nominees used to trail in both Poonch and Rajouri in almost every Lok Sabha election and made up for this in Nowshera, Sunderbani tehsils besides Jammu and Samba districts, which are inhabited largely by Hindus.
Adding Poonch and Rajouri to Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency not only saves BJP from voters traditionally opposed to it, but also disempowers ethnic Kashmiri Muslims in Anantnag, political parties in the Valley claimed. With most ST seats falling in Rajouri and Poonch districts, it is likely the Anantnag parliamentary seat itself will be declared an ST constituency with its fate being decided by Jammu region (Rajouri and Poonch) voters. In the existing system, the Jammu parliamentary seat would have had to be declared an ST seat.
The delimitation order said that names of Assembly constituencies have been changed keeping in view the demand of local representatives. Tangmarg has been renamed Gulmarg, Zoonimar is Zaidibal, Sonwar is now Lal Chowk, Padder is Padder-Nagseni, Kathua North is Jasrota, Kathua South is Kathua, Khour is Chhamb, Mahore is Gulabhgarh and Darhal is Budhal.
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