In the course of its deliberations in union territory of Jammu & Kashmir, the Delimitation Commission met with leaders from the Peoples Conference, National Conference (NC), CPI, CPI (M), Panthers Party, Congress, BJP, Apni Party and Bahujan Samaj Party. The Commission also met with district election officers from Anantnag, Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian. The Commission also met with various delegations of the people of the union territory from both regions to know their views on issues connected with the delimitation of constituencies.
The purpose of this interaction was to gather first-hand information about conduct of the exercise of carving out new constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir so that the unrepresented or inaccessible people are brought within the ambit of the electoral process in the union territory.
The first question is whether the Delimitation Commission is satisfied with the technicalities of the existing constituent assemblies in the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir, something against which the allegations of bias and discrimination are levelled by the stakeholders since long. The very fact that six new constituencies in Jammu region and one in Kashmir has been recommended indicates that there are definitely technical discrepancies in the existing assembly constituencies which should have been addressed but are not. If the argument is that the terms of reference did not ask for re-examination of existing constituencies, it is implied and the Delimitation Commission should have sought clarification before undertaking the assignment.
The Delimitation Commission has published the draft report and views and observations have been invited to reach it by the end of December 2021. Our experience is that the draft reports are seldom changed partially or fully. The whole thing has been undertaken with hectic haste perhaps the government is in great hurry to constitute an elected government.
Most of the leaders of political parties have found the report unacceptable mostly on emotional rather than nationalistic and realistic count. One impression hyped by the valley-based leadership is that there is a hidden attempt to reduce the representation of the Muslim majority community of the valley by manipulating constituencies in the Jammu region. In simpler words, it is dubbed as a report biased against the valley.
Secondly, the question hotly debated in political circles is whether the report does justice to all segments of the population of the union territory or not. Perhaps the significance of the report will squarely rest on the criterion proposed and the practice followed. There appears a gap between the precept and practice. From the point of view of the internally displaced community of Kashmiri Pandits, the report does not provide them any space in the election process of this country. I will try to elucidate the point.
Similarly, the refugees/migrants from PoJK (Pakistan-occupied Jammu & Kashmir) numbering in lakhs were denied state citizenship ever since independence. Only after the abrogation of Article 370, their seven decades long woe was remedied. Twenty-four assembly seats are reserved for that illegally occupied part of the state. The refugees from PoJK who have now got the domicile status are entitled to proportionate number of assembly seats from this reserved quota of twenty four seats. The draft report is totally silent about their right to reservation of the number of seats due in their favour. Why discriminate against them again?
Constituting a Delimitation Commission for the UT of J&K was necessitated by the J&K Reorganization Act 2019. The conversion of J&K into a union territory did away with the state constitution along with amendments that were made to it from time to time. Therefore the validity of the order under which the exercise of delimitation of constituencies was disallowed till 2026 has lost its validity. J&K State Reorganization Act 2019 notwithstanding, the Article 370 was willfully and practically struck down by the J&K Assembly when (a) the Hindu religious minority of the valley was subjected to genocide and ethnic cleansing in 1990 in violation of the fundamental rights of the people in the Indian Constitution and also in the Constitution of the State of J&K, and (b) when thousands of Rohingya Muslims were illegally resettled in Jammu in violation of the permanent statehood law.
Regrettably, the Delimitation Commission is silent on the electoral status of several hundred thousand internally displaced Kashmiri Pandits despite several of their delegations having interacted with the Commission in the course of its field work in both regions.
It has to be noted that firstly, the Commission has unjustly ignored the protest lodged by the internally displaced community of Kashmiri Pandits against the authorities deliberately making incorrect entries in the census records about the community such as Gerrymandering, tampering with numbers and creating hurdles in the voting process etc. Secondly, the Commission has clearly said that besides the 2011 census as the basis of their recommendations, they have taken other factors also into account as well as mandated by Section 9(1)a of the Delimitation Act 2002 read with Section 60(2)(b) of the J&K Reorganization Act 2019.
The Section desires the factors like (a) geographical features (b) public convenience etc. among others to be taken into account. Yes, the Commission has taken into account factors such as “hardships faced by persons living in areas adjoining the international border like Samba and Kathua” as stipulated in the Act and consequently reorganized the constituencies thereof. But it has chosen to ignore the people who fall in the category (a) geographical features (b) public convenience of the same Act. Obviously because the Kashmiri Pandits though falling in this category of the Act are not a vote bank owing to their insignificant numbers, therefore, remain ostracized. Specific mention of Kathua and Samba for special category of borderline areas could be possible (and rightly indeed) because these constituencies had a staunch patriotic leader of high status to lend weight to their cause. The internally displaced persons had no such support whatsoever and could be ignored without a whimper. Had they even an iota of support from the state, they would not have been refugees in their own country.
Unfortunately, an entity called Delimitation Commission that was authorized to recommend enfranchisement of the deprived people of this country has chosen to disenfranchise those who have been subjected to genocide and ethnic cleansing in a secular and democratic India to which their home state acceded in 1947. Such is the apathy of the Commission of their cause that it did not care even to reflect on numerous man-made hurdles created in their way of casting their vote. Imagine an exiled Kashmiri Pandit (KP) from a village in Baramulla eking out a living in a far off town in Maharashtra or Karnataka being asked to vote for any candidate of his original constituency in the Baramulla from where he was forced out 33 years ago and the prospective candidate was not even born at that time. Is there any rationale in this policy of the Election Commission of India? It is simply telling the hapless KP that look Kashmiris have thrown you out of your home and we the Election Commission of India supporting the Kashmiris throw you out of voting domain of India. Is this the equal treatment to Indian citizens promised by the Indian Constitution?
One may ask where the logic of abounding humanitarianism demonstrated by the BJP in supporting permanent residence for PoJK refugees has vanished in thin air in denying them the eligible number of seats out of the reserved quota; or how has their grand slogan of “sab ka sath sab ka vikas” become counterproductive in the case of the extirpated community of Kashmiri Pandits. If the Delimitation Commission has considered the class of population suffering from the shelling of their homes on the international border as eligible criteria for delimitation, does not the populace that has been subjected to genocide and ethnic cleansing deserve to be considered by the same token? Why has the Commission ignored the democratic rights of Kashmiri Pandit internally displaced persons (IDPs) when it was charged with the duty of establishing the rights of the people to the democratic process, is a moot question.
There is still a chance that the Commission sheds bias and rises above certain human weaknesses. It has to remember that it is entrusted with a pious mission by the nation and the piety should not be allowed to be desecrated by anti-national mindset.