With the appointment of Amit Shah as the new Home Minister of India, the fears of Kashmiris seem to have come true. A week after Shah assumed charge as Home Minister, a high profile meeting between Governor Satya Pal Malik and Shah took place in Delhi. If sources are to be believed, the long-pending issue of delimitation was discussed in the meeting. As it became public, regional political parties in Kashmir including National Conference (NC), People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference (JKPC), Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement (JKPM) and others, warned New Delhi against this political misadventure. In a tweet, National Conference Vice President, Omar Abdullah wrote,
When delimitation takes place in the rest of the country the BJP is welcome to apply it to J&K until then we in the @JKNC_ will oppose, tooth & nail, any attempt to make changes without a mandate from the people of the state.
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) June 4, 2019
The raking up of delimitation issue, when the state is under President’s rule, is seen as a sinister attempt by BJP to ensure that the party maintains a stronghold in Jammu and Ladakh ahead of the upcoming Assembly elections. The Election Commission had earlier indicated that the JK Assembly elections would be held later this year. The election body is supposed to announce the date of the polls after the Amarnath Yatra.
Meanwhile, as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is creating a hype over delimitation, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has clarified that no proposal is on the table for the delimitation of Assembly seats in Jammu and Kashmir.
What is Delimitation?
Delimitation is a process of redrawing the constituencies or redrawing the boundaries of various Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies based on the recent census. A body known as Delimitation Commission or Boundary Commission is tasked to carry out the task. The last time Delimitation took place in Jammu and Kashmir was in 1995. Even then, the state was under President’s rule as it is now. The exercise was conducted by (Retd.) Justice K.K Gupta Commission. In 2002, Farooq Abdullah government had frozen delimitation by amending the Jammu and Kashmir Representation of People’s Act, 1957, under Section 47(3) of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir. Delimitation was frozen until 2026, “ provided that until the relevant figures for the first census taken after the year 2026 have been published, it shall not be necessary to constitute a Commission to determine the delimitation of Assembly constituencies in the State Assembly under this sub-section.”
Also read: BJP 2.0: An Indication of What Lies Ahead in J&K
National Conference has maintained that delimitation was done to “bring the state in line with the rest of the country.” The 84th Amendment Act, 2001, of India defers delimitation across India till 2026. According to the Article 82 and 170 (3) of the Indian Constitution, no fresh readjustment of constituencies can be undertaken until the figures of the first census taken after the year 2000 are published. These provisos were inserted by the Constitution (Forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976.
“There have been consistent demands, both for and against undertaking the exercise of fresh delimitation. Keeping in view the progress of family planning programmes in different parts of the country, the Government, as part of the National Population Policy strategy, recently decided to extend the current freeze on undertaking fresh delimitation up to the year 2026 as a motivational measure to enable the State Government to pursue the agenda for population stabilisation,” the statement appended to the Constitution said. Further, Clause (3) of Article 81, extends the deadline for delimitation from 2000 to 2026.
Speaking to NewsClick, Brig (retd) Anil Gupta, state spokesperson of BJP said, “BJP is committed to find a peaceful solution to Jammu and Kashmir and delimitation is a step further in ensuring that. Delimitation will end the hegemony of Kashmir over Jammu and Ladakh. If delimitation is implemented, there will be an increase in the number of Assembly seats from the Jammu region and will pave way for a Hindu Chief Minister or a Buddhist. We had a Chief Minister from Jammu, Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was from Doda district, but he was also a Muslim.”
Currently, the total Assembly seats are 87, of which Kashmir valley has 46 seats, Jammu region has 37 seats and Ladakh has 4 seats.
“Delimitation can result in a upside down with 37 seats in Kashmir and 46 in Jammu,” Gupta added.
Legal experts believe that the Centre cannot carry out the delimitation exercise without amending the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir, that is, Section 47. Speaking with NewsClick, advocate Shakeel Sufi said, “It’s a constitutional issue. It’s not an administrative issue that one decides and does it overnight. A massive exercise has to be undertaken for delimitation. The status quo cannot be disturbed like this. Also, there is no popular government. How can we decide the people’s voice without a popular government? I remember former Governor Vohra saying that such decisions should be thought of once there is a popular government in place.”
Also read: What Is Future of Kashmir?
It is believed that delimitation tops the BJP’s agenda as it will pave way for the right-wing party to have a strong foothold in state legislature and will further divide the state on communal lines. In 2008, BJP had raised the demand for delimitation for the first time, during the Amarnath land row.
Political commentator and editor of Kashmir Times, Anuradha Bhasin said, “Its too premature to comment on a fresh controversy. Amit Shah has maintained his quiet on it. He is well known for being outspoken usually, but he is quite discreet as of now. Don’t know how it will pan out. But if delimitation has to be done, it should be exercised on the entire country. Taking Jammu and Kashmir as a special case contradicts their own line and also exposes their hypocrisy. Moreover, BJP is known for creating hype by making their spokesperson whip up a hype, while the government itself maintains a distance. Modi has a policy of destruction. They rake up issues, deepen the divisive policy of the state and that is what this new controversy is aimed at.”