The contour of politics in Jammu & Kashmir is set to change again the next year 2022. The J&K Delimitation Commission has set December 31 as the last day for submitting objections on its proposal, and as per the brief the Commission is expected to provide its final recommendation by April 2022. If the promised restoration of statehood for this newly formed Union Territory comes through, which is most likely in the backdrop of the progress on delimitation exercise, Jammu & Kashmir will undergo a new era of politics.
Presently, the proposed increase of seven seats in J&K – six in Jammu and one in Kashmir division – is being opposed chiefly by the Kashmir based political parties, who find bias in the proposal in favour of Jammu and against Kashmir. The Commission has also proposed reserving nine seats for STs and seven for SCs, and “reservations” has aired by the political parties on this proposal of “reservation”. SCs and STs have, however, welcomed the proposals for increasing reservation, while other communities are opposing.
In the last dissolved Vidhan Sabha, PDP was the single largest party with 28 seats, while the BJP was the second largest party with 25 seats. National Conference had 15 and INC had 12 seats. Given this background, increase of six seats in Jammu region may make the BJP the largest political party in the state, hence the opposition of the draft delimitation proposals by the Kashmir based political parties.
With this draft proposal, political activities in the UT has begun after a long gap since August 2019 when the Parliament of India had done away with the Article 370 of the Constitution of India and with it the special status for the state. The state was put under Delhi’s rule. At that time, the state was split into two separate Union Territories – J&K and Ladakh through an instrument called Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act. The Legislative Assembly of the State, which was already dissolved by Governor since November 21, 2018. The Centre had promised to restore statehood for J&K at an opportune time.
The presence of all the three MPs of the National Conference and two MPs of the BJP, who are associate members in the panel, in the Commission’s meeting indicate that the political process in J&K has not only begun but moving, and the state may undergo legislative assembly election in coming months. The first meeting of the Commission was held on February 18, 2021.
Presently, barring the BJP, almost all mainstream political parties in the UT have opposed the proposal and have termed the draft proposal as “unacceptable”.
The J&K People’s Conference, one of the estranged constituents of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration has even criticized the National Conference alleging a “U-turn” by participating in the delimitation exercise.
Sajjad Lone, the leader of the J&K People’s Conference said, “The recommendations of the Delimitation Commission are totally unacceptable. They reek bias. What a shock for those who believe in democracy.” It must be noted that until recently it was being circulated in the political arena that Lone has reached an understanding with the BJP on delimitation.
Farooq Abdullah, the president of the National Conference has said that he had “reservations” about the recommendations which included quotas for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The vice-president of the party and his son Omar Abdullah has termed the recommendations “deeply disappointing” and alleged that the commission appears to have allowed the “political agenda of BJP” rather than the data (2011 Census) which should have been it’s only consideration.
People of Jammu regions are happy with this proposal because they have been alleging for a long time that their region had less number of seats than deserved. If the proposed increase is accepted, there would be a balance between the Jammu and Kashmir regions. It is alleged that it would benefit the BJP, the Kashmir based political parties allege. The proposal for increasing reservation is also considered beneficial for the BJP.
In this context the statement of the PDP president Mehbooba Mufti is worth noting. She has alleged that she had apprehensions about the delimitation and “they want to pitch people against each other” indicating the people of Jammu vs the people of Kashmir.
It should be noted that the Legislative Assembly was initially composed of 100 seats which was increased to 111 in 1988. Of these 24 were designated for Pak occupied Kashmir, which officially remained vacant as per section 48 of the then state constitution, now the Constitution of India. Since these 24 seats were not taken into account, the contestable seats remained only 87. After split of the state into two UTs in August 2019, 4 seats went to Ladakh and 83 seats remained in J&K. Kashmir had 46 seats while Jammu had 37. If the draft delimitation proposal is accepted, Kashmir will have 47 seats and Jammu 43, making the total seat is the Legislative Assembly of Jammu & Kashmir to be 90.
It is also worth mentioning here that the Legislative Assembly of the J&K state was bicameral prior to August 2019, when it was made unicameral and the Upper House, ie the Legislative Council was done away with. Another important change was made in the six years tenure of the Vidhan Sabha into five years in line with all the other states. (IPA Service)