Most political parties in J&K, with the exception of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on Thursday expressed disappointment over the final draft of the J&K Delimitation Commission, which has redrawn boundaries to add six additional constituencies to the Jammu division and one to the Kashmir division, to take seat strength to 90 in the Union Territory.
“Population is the fundamental criteria in any delimitation exercise while connectivity, contiguity and convenience are next to be followed. Here is the case where fundamental as well as the secondary criteria have been ignored. It is clearly designed to disempower and disenfranchise people,” National Conference (NC) leader and MP Hasnain Masoodi, who is also an associate member of the panel, told The Hindu.
The NC, which had earlier boycotted the panel but decided to participate after top party leaders met Prime Minister Narendra Modi at an all-party meeting in June 2021, termed the fresh draft as ”an attempt to ensure that the BJP gets an advantage in the elections”.
“How is it that electorate size in a constituency in Jammu is around 70,000 and over two lakhs in Kashmir?” Mr. Masoodi asked.
The NC has been maintaining that the delimitation exercise is “unconstitutional” in the face of the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019 under which the panel was set up will be challenged in the Supreme Court.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which boycotted the panel during its visits to J&K, said the party’s fears had come true.
“Our party from day one has looked at the delimitation exercise as an extension of the process started on August 5, 2019 to disempower people from a particular community and a region. The Government of India has used or misused independent institutions to turn the electoral majority into a minority by using geography, access as a ruse,” Naeem Akhtar, senior PDP leader and a close aide of Mehbooba Mufti, said.
He said it would be for the first time in the electoral history of the country that elections were being rigged long before even the first vote was cast. “It’s another sad chapter of history written by the rulers sitting in New Delhi,” he added.
Sajad Lone’s Peoples Conference said the delimitation report was a repeat of the past. “Same traditional entities are calling the shots behind the scenes. Kashmir has been discriminated against as in the past. No change. Only the degree of disempowerment is greater,” the PC said.
“Over the last six decades, Kashmir’s share of Assembly seats in the J&K Assembly increased from 43 to 47 while Jammu’s share rose from 30 to 43. We had hoped that Kashmiri parties stayed away and had not diluted the stigma associated with a people-less process, which was essentially a tool for disempowerment of Kashmiris,” the PC added.
Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader M.Y. Tarigami, also a spokesperson for the Gupkar Alliance, said the Commission had submitted its final report despite a Constitutional freeze on the increase or decrease of Parliamentary or Assembly seats.
“The exercise is bound to disempower the people of J&K in the long run,” Mr. Tarigami said.
Congress leader Saif-ud-Din Soz said that adding six Assembly seats to the Jammu region and only one seat to Kashmir “smacks of pre-determined erroneous assessment”. “A glaring folly is that it has recommended merging the Anantnag parliamentary constituency with the Rajouri and Poonch parliamentary constituency,” he added.
The BJP praised the commission.
“The panel has done a great job. I congratulate the panel headed by Ranjana Prakash Desai and its members for completing the process in record time. The panel met people and parties from all regions. They got in touch with people’s representatives, including Sarpanchs and Panchs, whenever they visited J&K,” BJP J&K president Ravinder Raina said.