The proposed remapping of Assembly constituencies in the Union Territory (UT) by the J&K Delimitation Commission has got the entire spectrum of regional parties in the Kashmir Valley up in arms. At the core of their protest is the fear of a shift of political power to the Jammu region. The Commission has suggested six additional Assembly segments in Jammu , from 37 to 43, and one in the Valley, from 46 to 47. The political map is being redrawn not entirely on considerations of the population spread. Additional constituencies are being proposed , based also on factors of “inadequate communication” and “lack of public conveniences due to their excessive remoteness or inhospitable conditions on the international border”. Such considerations may have been applied in earlier instances too, but what makes the present situation unique is the shift of political power from the Muslim region to the Hindu region, and the fact that it comes after the reorganisation of the erstwhile J&K State into two UTs and the controversial elimination of its special constitutional status in 2019. The commission was constituted on March 6, 2020, by virtue of the Parliament Act under the provisions of Part V of the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019. It was mandated to redraw and delineate seven additional Assembly segments to the 83-member Legislative Assembly of the UT.
The commission has also suggested reserving seven seats for Scheduled Castes (Hindus) that mainly populate the Samba-Kathua-Jammu-Udhampur belt and, for the first time ever, earmarking nine seats for Scheduled Tribes, which is likely to benefit the Rajouri-Poonch belt with the highest concentration of STs, mainly non-Kashmiri speaking Muslims. The commission is yet to reveal the names of the districts where these seats have been carved out, and the ST/SC reservations earmarked and methodology. If population is the sole criterion, then the seat share for the Valley, with a population of 68.8 lakh (2011 Census) would stand at 51 and the Jammu region with 53.5 lakh population at 39. The allocation seems to enhance the electoral prospects of the Jammu-based parties at the cost of the Kashmir-based ones. Valley parties have opposed the draft as “unacceptable” and “divisive” and question its legality. There is a national freeze on delimitation, and the constitutional challenge to the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019, is still pending before the Supreme Court. The situation in Ladakh, which was carved out in 2019 as a UT without a legislature, is also comparable. Political groups are demanding statehood and special constitutional guarantees on land, jobs, demography and culture. Continuing arbitrariness and heavy-handed measures to repurpose the politics of J&K may appear successful momentarily, but that may not be the sustainable route. A democratic path will necessarily involve more conversations and accommodative measures.