The earliest possible date for Assembly polls in the new Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is around March next year, officials in the Home Ministry indicated, as the Election Commission (EC) held its first meeting on Tuesday for the delimitation exercise, necessitated under the new Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act.
The EC held “internal discussions” on the matter and “formal communication was awaited from the Ministry of Home Affairs”, an EC official said.
Senior sources in the government told The Hindu that the delimitation exercise undertaken by the EC, with help from the Home Ministry, is the first step towards holding Assembly polls in the Union Territory. Details set out in the Reorganisation Act on the strength of the new House etc. will have far reaching consequences for politics in Jammu and Kashmir.
“First of all, the new Assembly, under the Reorganisation Act is to have 114 seats, of which 24 have been kept aside for areas under Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), which means elections will be conducted for 90 seats. The old Assembly had a strength of 111 seats (again 24 kept aside for PoK) with four seats for Ladakh region. That means seven extra seats will be added to the effective strength of the House. Which part of J&K will these seats be from remains to be decided,” sources said.
The delimitation exercise will also take into account reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as provided for under the Constitution, and that could tip the scales in favour of one region.
There is also a significant population of those who were displaced during Partition in 1947-48 and settled in Jammu, who have had no no voting rights so far in the Assembly polls; a ball park figure puts the number of these persons at around eight lakh.