It seems that the Modi-led BJP Government at the Centre is all set to ensure political justice to the oppressed people of Jammu and Ladakh, who have been at the receiving end of the Abdullahs and Muftis’ stranglehold on the rest of the State
Among numerous problems that plague Jammu & Kashmir (j&k), regional and political discriminations top the list. Not very long ago, there was a popular perfection that J&K means Kashmir only. Many official documents of the government including the media very often referred to the state as Kashmir. Even, the important organs of the state including police, administrative services, broadcasting media are even today referred to as Kashmir Police Service, Kashmir Administrative Services, Radio Kashmir, DD Kashmir etc. The media, while reporting incidents in the Jammu region, still headlines them as events happening in Kashmir. This misconception has been created deliberately by the Kashmiri rulers, who have ruled the state since its accession to India and the end of the princely rule ensured Kashmiri dominance over the other two regions of the state.
Both Jammu & Ladakh have opposed the Kashmiri hegemony since early 1950s when the Constituent Assembly was formed and thereafter Sheikh Abdullah-led government began to rule the state. The Kashmir-centric leadership with the covert blessings of Jawaharlal Nehru at the Centre began systematic degradation and destruction of Jammu and Ladakh much to the annoyance of the Maharaja and Dogras. Ladakh was also taken for granted and neglected due to its being a Buddhist majority area.
To ensure control of the legislature, Sheikh Abdullah played the biggest fraud on the people of Jammu and Ladakh, ignoring the basic principle of proportional representation since Jammu had larger area and almost equal population with Kashmir However, Sheikh Abdullah, who enjoyed absolute power, institutionalised and imposed his hegemony through arbitrary allotment of seats among the three regions of the state when the state constituent assembly was convened in 1951. Elections were held arbitrarily without any formal authority and women were debarred from enrolling as voters. A total of 100 seats were allocated for the constituent assembly, while 25 were reserved for the residents of Pak Occupied areas (POJK). Elections were held for the remaining 75 seats. There was no delimitation done, nor any yardsticks were laid down for distribution of seats to the three different regions of the state. The figure of 75 was also borrowed from the Maharaja to whom goes the credit of establishing first elected legislature known as Prajasabha in 1934 which had 75 members (both elected and nominated including the members of Maharaja’s cabinet). Out of the 75 seats for which elections were to be held to elect the Constituent Assembly, 40 were allotted to Kashmir, 33 to Jammu and two to Ladakh.
Dr Farooq Abdullah, who returned in 1996 as the state’s chief minister, played the biggest democratic fraud by passing a resolution in the state assembly freezing delimitation till 2026 To ensure control of the legislature—the power-centre in a democracy — Sheikh Abdullah played this biggest fraud with the people of Jammu and Ladakh ignoring the basic principle of proportional representation since Jammu had larger area and almost equal population with Kashmir. Ladakh though had the largest area but was sparsely populated. Praja Parishad, the political party of Jammu, objected to the political discrimination and boycotted the elections. The National Conference (NC) won all 75 seats and Sheikh was elected as the Prime Minister of the state. The last session of the constituent assembly was held on January 25, 1957 and the new Constitution of the state came into force from January 26 of the same year. A bicameral Legislature was envisaged for the state.
In the meanwhile, first delimitation commission was constituted in India in 1952. However, J&K has not constituted even a single delimitation commission till date while rest of the country has benefitted on four occasions so far. In J&K delimitation has been done only once in 1995, ordered by then Governor Gen KV Krishna Rao. Delimitation Commission is tasked with redrawing the boundaries of the various assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies based on a recent census. The last census was held in 2011. In view of Article 370, the delimitation commission ordered by the Government of India does not have jurisdiction over J&K. But no such commission has been ordered by the state government as well for obvious reasons.
Till 1988, the strength of the assembly continued to be 100 with 75 elected members. The number was increased to 111 vide the Constitution of Jammu & Kashmir (20th Amendment) Act of 1988. Of these, 24 seats are designated for the areas under illegal occupation of Pakistan and remain officially vacant as per section 48 of the Constitution and are not taken into account for voting and deciding quorum of the House. The elections are thus held for 87 seats of which Kashmir has the majority share of 46 seats, Jammu 37 seats and Ladakh 4 seats. Once again the region wise distribution of seats was done arbitrarily to perpetuate Kashmiri dominance. The term of the assembly is for six years, contrary to the rest of the country where the legislatures have a five year term. There is no justification for the same except to emphasise the state’s presumed special status and flaunt Kashmiri identity. However, the delineation for additional 11 seats was done only in 1995, on the orders of then Governor, by Justice (retd) KK Gupta, who allotted six seats to Kashmir and five to Jammu. Logically, the next delimitation should have been held in 2005.
Following in the footsteps of his father, Dr Farooq Abdullah, who returned in 1996 as the State’s Chief Minister, played the biggest democratic fraud by passing a resolution in the state assembly freezing delimitation till 2026. Concerned with the rise of growing anger among the people of Jammu & Ladakh regions against Kashmiri dominance, Farooq amended the state’s Constitution through 29th Amendment of 2002 inserting a new para in Section 47 (3) of the Constitution freezing fresh delimitation till first census taken after the year 2026. As a matter of fact, no fresh delimitation is possible till 2031 because that is when the census would be due after 2026, a evil plan of Farooq to ensure continuation of Kashmiri hegemony. While Section 49 grants political reservation to SCs, STs (Gujjars, Bakarwals, Gaddis) which form more than 12% of state’s population are denied the political reservations. Going by Abdullah’s dubious plan the justice cannot be provided to the tribal communities of the State till 2031.
24 seats earmarked for the people of POJK are also ostentatious and it serves no purpose except strengthening our claim on the illegally-occupied part of the state. About 8-10 seats out of these should also be allotted to Jammu since all the POJK refugees are settled in Jammu region. Using his guile and influence, Sheikh Abdullah did not let any of the refugees from Mirpur-Muzaffarabad belt settle in Kashmir though going by geographical proximity, Kashmir should have been the natural habitat of refugees fromMuzaffara-bad. The displaced community of Kashmiri Pandits should also have reserved seats in Kashmir.
Though the government has not taken any official decision regarding the delimitation, organisationally and ideologically this government is well aware of the pitfalls of this structural anamoly. By empowering the people of Jammu & Ladakh, vital stakeholders, the separatist forces will be hit hard and pave way for return of peace and normalcy to the troubled region. Apart from removing the injustice and anomaly of regional disparity long suffered by people of Jammu, who form 44% of the population of the State and occupy 26% of State’s total area as per the 2011 census, the fresh delimitation will also provide representation to all reserved categories in the state assembly.
It is not intended to raise any finger on the validity of the Census 2011, but the people need to know about the two glaring observations in the census that question the large gap of about 15 lakh between the populations of two regions. First, the entire migratory population of Gujjar, Bakerwal and Gaddis that account for 12% of total population (14,93299) and is a floating population has been included in the population of Kashmir region. Second, about two lakh Kashmiri Pandit population is also included in Kashmir’s population. The fact is known world over.
KPs migrated in the early nineties and 66% of them are staying in Jammu region and the rest are settled in Delhi and other parts of the country. Hardly a few thousands KPs continue to stay in Kashmir. The point to highlight is that if factual position is taken Jammu region has more population than Kashmir.
Also while constituencies in Kashmir are delineated for about 40000 population, many in Jammu have an electorate of a lakh plus. While Kashmiris want to reap the benefit of floating population to show that the region is more populated than Jammu, but when it comes to granting them political reservations, they simply deny them the same. This clearly explains the political dynamics of state which were heavily skewed in favour of Kashmiris.
Since the State is under President’s Rule legislative powers of the legislature are vested with the Indian Parliament and executive authority is with the President of India in accordance with Article 356 of the Constitution of India. Therefore, in order to amend section 47 of the state’s Constitution, approval of the Parliament will be needed based on which the President will issue the Presidential Order paving way for the constitution of Delimitation Commission.
In order to protect multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-religious and inclusive ethos of state, it is necessary to bridge the widening distrust between the three regions of the state which are equal stakeholders in contributing towards peace and stability in the State. Regional disparities have to end first before other measures can be taken. All eyes and hopes of the people of Jammu & Ladakh are on Modi 2.0 Government.
(The writer is a Jammu based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst)