‘Apartheid’: Parties fume at Delimitation panel’s seat revision plan for J&K

Regional parties in Kashmir have accused the Delimitation Commission of acting at the behest of the BJP-led Centre and said that by getting six new seats for Jammu, the government is trying divide Muslim votes in Kashmir and consolidate Hindu votes in Jammu to come to power

Political analysts say the BJP is trying to gain an upper hand in the region by splitting Muslim votes in Kashmir and consolidating Hindu votes in Jammu. Representative photo: iStock

The latest draft proposal floated by the Delimitation Commission to add six new legislative seats for Jammu province and just one for Kashmir, has left Kashmir-based parties fuming, with leaders accusing the panel of working at the behest of the ruling BJP.

Veteran political commentators have called the recommendations by the commission a part of the “project to legalise apartheid by depoliticising an entire population and erase its identity.”
On December 20, the Delimitation Commission on Jammu and Kashmir recommended six additional Assembly segments for Jammu and one for Kashmir while also reserving 16 Assembly constituencies for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Until the last elections in 2014, the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly comprised 87 segments – 46 in the Kashmir Valley, 37 in Jammu province, and four in the Ladakh region. On August 5, 2019, Jammu and Kashmir lost its special status, semi-autonomy and statehood, and reduced to a Union territory, while Ladakh was carved out of it to be made a separate Union territory.

‘Proposal biased against Kashmir, will make parties irrelevant’

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If the Delimitation Commission goes ahead with its new set of proposals, the new political map will render Kashmir-based parties redundant, experts say. While it would increase Jammu’s seat tally from 37 to 43, Kashmir will get a seat more than its present count of 46.

All significant Kashmiri political leaders, including two former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, have decried the proposal, accusing the commission of permitting the “political agenda of the BJP to dictate its recommendations.”

Also read: All is not well in J&K’s multi-party Gupkar Alliance

“The draft recommendation of the J&K delimitation commission is unacceptable. The distribution of newly created assembly constituencies with 6 (six) going to Jammu and only 1 (one) to Kashmir is not justified by the data of the 2011 census,” Abdullah said in a tweet.
Jammu and Kashmir’s population as per the census of 2011 was over 1.25 crore. This constituted nearly 69 lakh people in Kashmir, 53 lakh in Jammu province, and the rest in Ladakh.

“This (proposal) is totally unacceptable and disproportionate to the 2011 Census. The Delimitation Commission has asked us to submit our objection by December 31,” said Justice (retired) Hasnain Masoodi, senior NC leader and MP from South Kashmir.

“The draft proposal in its current form is unacceptable to us. It is biased against Kashmir. The delimitation commission’s recommendations have not used a scientific approach. The proposal is simply meant to serve the BJP’s political interest,” NC’s spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar said, adding that the party wouldn’t be a signatory to the proposal.

Mehbooba Mufti, PDP’s president, used strong words to reject the commission’s proposal while accusing the BJP of dividing Jammu and Kashmir on both religious and regional lines.

“My apprehensions about the Delimitation Commission were not misplaced. They (BJP) want to pitch people against each other by ignoring the population census and proposing 6 seats for one region & only one for Kashmir,” she tweeted.

“The entire delimitation exercise conducted in J&K has been done at the behest of the BJP with the aim to achieve the saffron party’s political and ideological goals. There is no justification for such a biased and prejudiced proposal. We categorically reject this proposal,” Suhail Bukhair, PDP’s spokesperson, told The Federal.

Interestingly, even the parties headed by Sajad Lone (People’s Conference) and Altaf Bukhari (Apni Party), which are labelled as ‘proxies’ and ‘Team-B’ of the BJP’ by the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (NC) and the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party (PDP), rejected the commission’s suggestions.

“The recommendations of the delimitation commission are totally unacceptable. They reek of bias. What a shock for those who believe in democracy,” said Sajad Lone in a tweet.

Similarly, the Bukhari-led Apni Party rejected the proposal, saying “it is against the wishes of the people of J&K.”

Key Kashmir watchers like Dr Siddiq Wahid fear that the move could shift political centrality to Jammu from Kashmir. “The action is no surprise, frankly. The project is no less than a blatant move to legalise apartheid by depoliticising an entire population and erase its identity,” Wahid told The Federal. He added: “Kashmir is the experimental vanguard, there would be more to follow in ‘inconvenient’ electoral locations.”

Riyaz Ahmad, another Kashmir-based political commentator and analyst, said that with this move, “Kashmir’s political dispossession is complete.”

Ahmad also called it the end of “unionist politics in Kashmir”, stressing that the move will pave the way for Jammu-based politicians to call the shots.

Is the BJP paving way for a Hindu CM?

Analysts are of the view that the latest recommendations by the delimitation commission offer clear advantage to the BJP. As and when the elections are held in Jammu and Kashmir, the Muslim vote in the Kashmir Valley will be fragmented among NC, PDP, PC and Apni Party while the Hindu vote in Jammu will be consolidated.

Another interesting element is the re-emergence of former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Ghulam Nabi Azad, also considered a Congress dissident now, on the altered political landscape of the Valley. During his recent tours to the valleys of Kashmir and Chenab, he reiterated that the focus should be on the reinstatement of statehood, and, for now, the larger issue of restoration of Article 370 should be put aside.

Azad’s statement riled up major political players operating in the region. They interpreted his remarks as shifting of goalposts and deviation from the main issue.

Also read: Centre reiterates commitment to restore J&K’s statehood

“Jammu and Kashmir has been without an elected government since June 2018. The reading down of Articles 370 and 35A was not one single event. It is a process. First by raising anxieties in relation to demographic changes and ownership of immovable properties, especially land, the BJP has now, in a single stroke, paved the way for a Hindu chief minister by reducing Kashmir-based politicians to political nobodies.”

All political parties have time until December 31 to submit their reservations to the delimitation commission. It would be interesting to see whether parties such as NC, PDP, PC and AP will walk the talk and match their rhetoric on Twitter in press statements when it comes to formally challenging the latest proposal.

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