On 5 May 2022, before the expiry of its twice extended term, the Delimitation Commission finally submitted to the government its recommendations on 90 Assembly Constituencies in J&K. The Gupkar Dialogue forum decided not to cooperate with the Commission claiming that the exercise undertaken by the commission was neither needed nor legal. However, the J&K State Reorganization Act of 2019 empowered the government to proceed with the delimitation exercise in the interests of helping the people of the state enjoy their democratic rights without any hindrance.
Long back in the early 1950s, the systematization of electoral constituencies in the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir was initiated by the National Conference, the largest political party at that time. On 1 May 1951, Dr Karan Singh, the then Sadr-e Riyasat, issued a proclamation directing the formation of an assembly of elected representatives of the people of the state. For this purpose, the state was divided into constituencies containing a population of 40,000, or as near thereto as possible, and each electing one member.
However, the 1951 elections were allegedly rigged. No women were registered as voters in the 1951 elections. A lone woman candidate who did contest lost her deposit. The NC led by the Sheikh won all the 75 seats. On 31 October 1951, Sheikh Abdullah addressed the assembly for the first time, and called on it to frame the state’s constitution and to give “a reasoned conclusion regarding accession”.
The State Constitution came into force on 26 January 1957. Part II, section (3) of the constitution states “The State of Jammu and Kashmir is and shall be an integral part of the Union of India”. In 1956, the Assembly finalised the constitution, which declared the former Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir to be “an integral part of the Union of India”. Elections for the maiden legislative assembly were held in the next year,
Hindsight shows that the delimitation of assembly/parliamentary constituencies lacked fairness in certain instances. The unfairness was reflected in the physical construct of the constituencies. Since J&K Constitution does not recognize any community or segment of the population as a “minority” one could infer that full justice could not be done to the religious, linguistic, ethnic and other minorities without recognizing their identity. The State government refused to declare any section of society as a minority. Amusingly, the State government never objected to the Muslims of the State deriving benefits from their status as a national minority. The paradox often baffled political pundits in Kashmir.
From day one, people of the Jammu region and their leadership began complaining of discrimination against them regarding the delimitation of constituencies but successive governments argued that while delimiting the constituencies all pre-requisites were adhered to. Nevertheless, the complaint has persisted without remission.
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 the Ladakh region was declared a Union Territory by the State Reorganization Act of 5 August 2019, 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.
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 20 January 2022 suggested an increase of six Assembly seats for Jammu and one for Kashmir; on 6 February, the Commission submitted its second draft report.
Controversy had raged on the issue of allowing or not allowing delimitation exercise in the light of the order passed by the Union Government of freezing delimitation till 2026. The Supreme Court verdict also disallowed de-freezing of the reorganization of constituencies. However, the Reorganization Act of 5 August 2019 supervened and the task of delimitation of constituencies in the UT of J&K has been carried forward.
In the erstwhile state, the 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 the abrogation of J&K’s special status in 2019, the delimitation of both Assembly and parliamentary seats is governed by the Constitution.
During its extensive study of the issue for more than two years, the Delimitation Commission met almost all who mattered in J&K official and non-official circles besides a large number of delegations from various segments and regions of the State. The issues like those of Gerrymandering, exclusivity, displacements, 1947 refugees, backward classes, etc., were seriously analysed and addressed.
Briefly, the highlights of the recommendations are (i) 9 Assembly Constituencies reserved for ST and 7 for SC in a House of 90. The 7 SC seats fall in the Jammu region and out of 9 ST seats 6 fall in the Jammu division and 3 in the Kashmir division (ii) 13 out of 16 seats for ST+SC go to Jammu and 3 to Kashmir (iii) Overall, Kashmir region gets 47 seats and Jammu region gets 43 seats (iv) At least 2 members (one of them a female) from the community of Kashmiri migrants in the Legislative Assembly. Such members may be given power at par with nominated members of the Legislative Assembly of Puducherry. (v) Central government may consider giving the displaced persons from POJK some representation in the J&K by way of nomination to their representatives. (vi) recommended changing the names of some constituencies both in the Jammu and Kashmir Valley division (vii) and shifting some tehsils from one Assembly constituency to another. (viii) The number of seats to be reserved for ST and SC in the Legislative Assembly was worked out based on the 2011 Census (ix) Anantnag Parliamentary Constituency in Kashmir has been brought to par by adding the Rajouri and Poonch Assembly Seats that fall in Jammu region.
Commenting on the nature of the task it had been called upon to perform, the report says, “The peculiar geo-cultural landscape of the UT of J&K presented unique issues arising due to factors like competing political aspirations of the geographically and culturally distinctive regions.” Dissenting political parties which include NC, PDP, Congress, CPI and other splinter groups have criticised the entire exercise and some have characterised it as politically motivated. It is strange that these parties have been in power for decades only through the democratic process and now when out of power they are denigrating the very process which had brought them power. Instead of welcoming a long-awaited measure of empowering all segments of people and all regions with their democratic rights, the opposition is playing low politics of self-aggrandisement and parochial and sectarian outreach. They fail to feel the pulse of changing India.
With the final order now notified, all eyes will be on the Election Commission (EC) and the Union government regarding the timing of the Assembly elections. Though mainstream parties in the Kashmir Valley have criticised the report, this will likely make space for political engagement in the UT.