As rumours of Jammu and Kashmir Assembly delimitation loom, state politicians warn of major negative impact

The power shift in New Delhi, especially the appointment of Amit Shah as new Home Minister of India, has stayed true to speculation in the Kashmir Valley. Word had it that following the Lok Sabha election results, the Centre was likely to announce some big plan in Kashmir. No sooner than Governor Satya Pal Malik flew to New Delhi to meet and brief Shah about Kashmir, the loose talk became plausible.

On the heels of the Shah-Malik meet, the reports of delimitation of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly began doing the rounds.

The delimitation of Assembly seats is said to be on the agenda of Shah. And for that, reports said, he already met Intelligence Bureau director Rajiv Jain and Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba, apart from Malik. The idea, as per the reports, is to effect a change in the composition of the Assembly through reservation to Scheduled Tribes, including Gujjars, Bakerwals, Gaddis and Sippis. They form 11 percent of the population in the state.

 As rumours of Jammu and Kashmir Assembly delimitation loom, state politicians warn of major negative impact

File photos of Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti. PTI

Once that happens, it will expand the Assembly seat share for Jammu. And with Kashmir traditionally boycotting polls, the move is feared to pave the way for a Hindu chief minister — something that has been on the BJP's wishlist for a long time.

"With a Hindu chief minister in the saddle, the BJP will try to achieve its constitutional motives and render Jammu and Kashmir's special position hollower still," said Shakir Malik, a Srinagar-based political worker. Notably, after Partition, Jammu and Kashmir's prime minister Sheikh Abdullah carved out 30 seats for the Jammu region, 43 seats for Kashmir region and two seats for the Ladakh region. At present, the Assembly has 87 elected seats with Kashmir having 46 seats, Jammu 37 and Ladakh four.

The last time a delimitation exercise in the state took place was in 1995, when the state was under President's Rule. Now, with the state once again under President's Rule (in place since 18 December last year), the move is seen as politically motivated. In 2002, the Farooq Abdullah government had frozen the delimitation until 2026 by amending the Jammu and Kashmir Representation of People Act 1957 and Section 47(3) of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir.

But now, the governor's intervention can change it, if he sets up a delimitation commission.

"In that case, the BJP will hope to gain a larger foothold in the state legislature," said Mushtaq Kamil, a political commentator, "And we all understand what that means for the Muslim-majority state."

Amid fears, the controversial move has already made Kashmir-based unionists warn New Delhi against any such political misadventure.

Former chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted:

A freeze on delimitation, Omar said, has been applied to the entire country until 2026 and contrary to the way some "ill-informed TV channels are trying to sell it, [this] isn't just a Jammu and Kashmir-specific freeze".

"The same was challenged & upheld in both the High Court of J&K & the Supreme Court," he continued on Twitter, "It’s rather surprising that the BJP, which talks about bringing J&K at par with other states by removing 370 & 35-A now wants to treat J&K differently from other states in this one respect."

Omar's rival and former BJP ally, Mehbooba Mufti said that the move will inflict another emotional partition on the state.

"Distressed to hear about GoI’s plan to redraw assembly constituencies in J&K," Mehbooba tweeted, "Forced delimitation is an obvious attempt to inflict another emotional partition of the state on communal lines. Instead of allowing old wounds to heal, GoI is inflicting pain on Kashmiris."

However, many voices from Jammu termed the move long overdue.

"The #NewKashmirPolicy of Hon’ble Home Minister @AmitShah will bring justice to migrants from valley as well as West Pakistan refugees in Jammu & Kashmir," former top cop of the state, SP Vaid tweeted, "Delimitation has been a long pending demand by the people of Jammu region."

Updated Date: Jun 05, 2019 13:12:16 IST