Jammu & Kashmir’s Delimitation is the first test of Amit Shah

Amit Shah, Home Minister of India. (Photo: PTI)
Amit Shah, Home Minister of India (Photo: PTI)

As new Home Minister of India, Mr. Amit Shah has generated astronomical hopes in the hearts of those crores (billions) of Indian citizens who have been waiting for a decisive end to the violence and turbulence going on in Kashmir for past over seven decades. There is no shortage of Indians who believe that Shah is the new incarnation of Sardar Patel who has returned to complete his unfinished agenda of a seamlessly unified India.

Over past few years he has acquired the image of a skilled surgeon who picks up his scalpel only after he has identified the fountainhead of the ailment. No surprise he has decided to start with a fresh delimitation of electoral constituencies of J&K.

Truly speaking, problems in Jammu & Kashmir started on the day when Jawaharlal Nehru arbitrarily appointed Mohammed Sheikh Abdullah as the ‘Prime Minister’ of J&K immediately after Maharaja Hari Singh signed the accession of his State into newly emerging Republic of India. He did so despite absence of any public mandate in favour of the Sheikh.

Sheikh Abdullah’s Arbitrary Delimitation

Even before his government appointed the first Delimitation Commission in 1952 for holding elections in India, Nehru had already delegated this job of delimitation in J&K to Sheikh Abdullah in 1951. And Sheikh, without going through a proper exercise of appointing a Delimitation Commission, arbitrarily decided to have a State Legislative Assembly with 100 members. Out of these 100 seats he assigned 43 to Kashmir Valley, 30 to Jammu region and 2 to Ladakh. He decided that remaining 25 seats would be left vacant till the day Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) comes back to India.

Unlike rest of India none of the four basic factors namely population, terrain, judicious assigning of reserved seats and reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes were applied. Fact being that Kashmir Valley forms about 8% of the original J&K and less than 16% of the part remaining in India. Jammu forms about 26% and Ladakh 58% of the State remaining with India.

This was a clever ploy of Sheikh to permanently keep the majority legislative power of the State Assembly in the hands of Kashmir Valley. Although mainland India has had four delimitations in 1952, 1962, 1972 and 2002, yet J&K was never asked to hold a proper delimitation in past seven decades. In 1993 the State constituencies were reorganized during Jagmohan’s Governor’s Rule but it was done without a systematic delimitation exercise. Rather, this ‘delimitation’ only helped in further perpetuating Kashmir Valley’s manipulated majority in the Assembly.

Total number of seats was increased to 111 but 24 seats were left permanently vacant in the name of lost POK areas. Out of the functional 87 seats 46 were given to Kashmir, 37 to Jammu and 4 distributed equally among the two bifurcated regions of Leh and Kargil of Ladakh. A provision of seven reserved constituencies too was made for Scheduled Castes but all of these seats have been taken from Jammu’s share while not a single reserved seat was kept in the Kashmir Valley.

Communal Social Engineering

A close scrutiny of this exercise in redrawing the new constituencies exposes a communally biased social engineering exercise which ensured that odds were heavily loaded against non-Muslim candidates wherever possible. For example in the Zanskar constituency of Kargil in Ladakh, three Muslim majority areas of Langhartse, Barsu and Bartoo which have no geographic contiguity with the Zanskar Valley but contribute 60% of total population of this constituency, were taken out of the Kargil constituency and added to it. Interestingly the Supreme Court refused to take up the case of Zanskar citizens, who challenged this reorganization, citing its limitations due to Article 370. Similar communal manipulation is quite visible and resented by non-Muslims in many constituencies of Jammu like Poonch Haveli, Kalakot and Rajouri.

Constitutional Rigging

This reorganization exercise of 1993 has lead to an anomaly which many in the Jammu and Ladakh regions term as permanent ‘constitutional rigging’.  The average voter size of a constituency in J&K was 83,053 during the last Assemble elections of 2015, but 22 constituencies of Kashmir Valley have far less voters than this average. For example Gurez has only 17,554 voters, Karnah has 32,794, Khanyar 50,849 and Habbakadal has 54,484 voters. Compare it with Jammu constituencies: Gandhi Nagar has 166,132, Jammu-West 151,311, Rajauri 112,732 and Leh has 67,736 voters. And thanks to perpetual and forcible ejection of non-Muslim population from the Valley to Jammu and other parts of India over past seven decades, the population of Jammu region is today far above that of Kashmir.

It is not surprising that Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference used its brute majority (57 out of 87 total seats) in the following elections in Sep 1996 to amend the J&K Representation of the People Act 1957 and its Section 47(3) which, strangely, provides that “until the relevant figures for the first census taken after the year 2026 have been published, it shall not be necessary to readjust the total number of seats in the Legislative Assembly for the State and the division of the State into territorial constituencies under this sub-section.” When put to practice in letter and spirit, this law means that 2032 Assembly elections can be held under a new delimitation only if the 2031 census data is ‘published’ and fresh delimitation is completed before these elections. Which only means that any new attempt to amend the ongoing ‘manipulated majority’ of Kashmir valley can be undertaken only for Assembly elections of 2038.

Impact of Manipulated Majority

It is no rocket science to understand how and what kind of political-social havocs and inhuman practices have been played in Jammu and Kashmir under this manipulated electoral democracy. The road roller majority of Kashmir Valley has been used to adopt and impose dozens of many such laws and rules which will put even Hitler’s Nazi Germy to shame.

Just a few examples: The arcane laws of J&K prohibits the following groups of people from voting in J&K Assembly, Panchayat or Cooperative elections– Migrant of Partition days (1947); POK refugees who settled or were forced to settle outside the State; Gorkha soldiers of Maharaja Hari Singh’s Army living in the State for over 100 years; Safai Karmcharis (cleaners) who were especially brought in personally by late Sheikh Abdullah from neighboring Punjab  in 1950s; even Central government officers (including IAS, IPS) who serve the state government on deputation as well as the children of all these groups, born over past 70 years. These groups of people cannot even seek admission in higher educational institutions in the state or apply for jobs in the state departments. (Unlike the migrant Kashmiri Pandits who have been given remote voting rights, the POK refugee community and its descendants, numbering over a million today, have no right to the vacant 24 Assembly seats). A law passed on the strength of Kashmiri majority bars women citizens of the State from marrying men from other parts of India. Yet another law passed by the Assembly openly invited Pakistani citizens who had migrated during Partition to return and take possession of their old properties as legal ‘State Subjects of J&K’.  It is surely this Kashmiri majority in Assembly which, instead of punishing stone pelters and attackers on Indian forces, offers them government jobs (including in police services).

No surprise that Mr. Amit Shah has identified delimitation as the real fountainhead of all political troubles in the state of J&K. This job is surely not going to be easy because he is bound to be opposed and condemned by all those forces who subscribe to a systematically built Kashmiri narrative or have deep vested interests in keeping the pot of troubles boiling in the state. But then, the job of his previous incarnation (late Sardar Patel) also was no easy either.

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