The decision to boycott the meeting with the Delimitation Panel in Jammu and Kashmir has proved costly for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), as the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on July 6 issued a summon to the mother of former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti in an alleged money laundering case.
The PDP described the latest summon – which came almost immediately after the party’s decision to “stay away” from the meeting with the Delimitation Commission which is on a four-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir – as “political vendetta” aimed at silencing all forms of dissent in the restive region.
In an exclusive chat with The Federal, PDP’s president Mehbooba Mufti said, “these summons are just to threaten me into silence.”
Earlier, in a hard-hitting letter addressed to the chief of Delimitation Commission, Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai, the PDP had argued that the commission “lacks constitutional and legal mandate” and that “its very existence and objectives have left every ordinary resident of Jammu & Kashmir with many questions.”
The letter, a copy of which lies with The Federal, said “On 5th of August 2019, the constitutional and democratic values of our country were trampled upon with the people of Jammu and Kashmir being robbed of their legitimate constitutional (and) democratic rights by means of abrogation of Articles 370 and 35 (A) of the Indian Constitution, illegally and unconstitutionally.”
It said that on the same day, the people of Jammu and Kashmir were collectively “humiliated and demeaned by downgrading & (and) bifurcation of an almost 200 year old state, and act, with no precedence in independent India.”
The main contention of the letter signed by PDP’s general secretary Ghulam Nabi Lone Hanjura was that the outcome of the delimitation exercise “is widely believed to be pre-planned” and “which may further hurt the interests of our people.”
Kashmir-based parties fear that Jammu could end up getting more assembly constituencies than Kashmir which would then automatically hit at the political centrality of the valley. The widely held perception is that through the delimitation exercise the BJP-led Centre aims to snatch away the political centrality from the Kashmir Valley and pave the way for a non-Muslim chief minister in Jammu and Kashmir.
The overriding belief is that the BJP aims to increase the number of nominated members to the J&K Legislative Assembly with the aim to neutralise perceived political domination of Muslims. According to the 2011 Census, Muslims constitute about 70 per cent and Hindus roughly 29 per cent of J&K’s total population. Importantly, the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019, states that all constitutional provisions applicable to the Union Territory of Puducherry will also apply to Jammu and Kashmir.
Mufti argued that as far as the delimitation exercise was concerned, a majority of the people in Jammu and Kashmir have grave apprehensions with regards to the intent behind this hasty drill. “It seems to be one more leaf out of the BJP’s political agenda to further disempower the people here (J&K). Also, everything is pre-decided. This whole exercise of calling all parties for a 20-minute-long chat is to legitimise the process,” she told The Federal.
Importantly, the Peoples’ Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) had expressed “disappointment” over the outcome of their meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 24 in New Delhi.
Except for the PDP, the representatives of other Kashmir-based unionist parties like the National Conference (NC), Peoples Conference (PC) and Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Altaf Bukhari-led Apni Party met the Delimitation Commission.
National Conference’s five-member team comprising Abdul Raheem Rather, Mohammad Shafi, Mian Altaf Ahmad, Nasir Aslam Wani and Sakina I too met the Delimitation Panel to present the party’s viewpoint before it.
“Despite our basic reservations on the issue, we request you to carry out the delimitation exercise in a free, fair and transparent manner so that the unity and integrity of the state is safeguarded. Population has to be the only norm as has been the practice here in the past in J&K and elsewhere in the country,” the party said.
Ghulam Nabi Malik, CPI (M)’s J&K secretary, also presented his party’s viewpoint before the commission. According to communist leader Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami, his representatives reiterated the party’s stand that “whatever happened on August 5, 2019, is unacceptable. Along with revocation of the special status of the erstwhile state that day, J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019, was also passed by virtue of which a historic state was downsized and bifurcated.”
Tarigami said that his party found it appropriate to meet the Delimitation Commission and present its viewpoint before it in no uncertain terms. “We are not against delimitation, but want it to be carried along with the rest of the country.”
In 2002, Jammu and Kashmir’s Legislative Assembly had amended the J&K Representation of the People Act, 1957, and Section 47 (3) of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir and thus put a freeze on the delimitation process till 2026.
According to CPI (M), J&K Assembly’s decision was quite in tune with “the pan-India freeze on delimitation until the first Census after 2026. The Supreme Court of India as well as the Jammu and Kashmir High Court had upheld the decision of freeze on delimitation.”
Mincing no words, Tarigami demanded complete restoration of statehood before any election process in Jammu and Kashmir is commenced. “Restoration of statehood is not any favour, but our constitutional right. What is at stake is the credibility of institutions and processes. For this exercise to be seen as free, fair and just, full restoration of statehood for J&K is a must,” he told The Federal.
The Delimitation Commission had extended invites to the Kashmir-based unionist parties to attend the scheduled meetings of the visiting panel.
Meanwhile, the Peoples Conference led by Sajad Gani Lone submitted its memorandum to the Delimitation Commission and asked the constitutional body to be fair and objective in its methodology. “The party feels that there should be abundant transparency, noticeable impartiality and perceptible fairness on the part of the Delimitation Commission as regards the processes, methodology and principles employed in delimiting the assembly constituencies so that the exercise receives approval and appreciation from all and sundry,” said party spokesperson Adnan Ashraf.
Professor Siddiq Wahid, noted academic, historian and former vice chancellor of the Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST), argued that the August 5 decision “supremely internationalised the Kashmir issue and that there should be a strong feeling of embarrassment in India’s intelligentsia.”
According to political commentator Riyaz Ahmad, every institution was being used against the core interests of the people of Jammu and Kashmir with the aim to “further disempower them politically and make electoral space and traditional political players in the region redundant and powerless.”