J&K Delimitation: Leaders Lose Political Turf, Muslim Majority Areas Look Underrepresented

The draft shows a massive realignment of nearly all the Tehsils in most of the districts, which has seemingly eroded the voter base of several former legislative members.

A scenic view of the snow-clad valley at Pahalgam, in Anantnag on Sunday. (ANI Photo)

THE delimitation commission on Jammu and Kashmir has redrawn the electoral boundaries of the erstwhile state in a manner that has not gone down well with most of the regional parties, except for the Bhartiya Janata Party which has welcomed it. The draft shows a massive realignment of nearly all the Tehsils in most of the districts. This has seemingly eroded the voter base of several former legislative members who would for decades restrict their campaigns to these constituencies.

While the impact of the Assembly constituency realignment is bound to affect parties across the political spectrum, the parliamentary constituency realignment is going to hurt Kashmir-centric parties more, say political workers.

Of the five parliamentary constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir, a major reshuffle was seen in Anantnag. The report suggests that the Anantnag parliamentary constituency, which was earlier limited to the district of Anantnag, besides Pulwama and Shopian, has been extended to Rajouri and Poonch, hundreds of kilometers away from it. The last two regions were a part of the Jammu Lok Sabha constituency earlier.

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The commission said this was done because “it has seen the Jammu & Kashmir region as one single Union Territory”.

A senior worker of J&K Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) told India Ahead on Thursday, “This has been done to alter the electoral output from the parliamentary constituency as Anantnag was more or less a bastion of Kashmir centric parties, especially JKPDP which has repeatedly been winning elections from here.”

The delimitation act in itself says, “The Commission shall, in the manner herein provided, then, distribute the seats in the House of the People allocated to each State and the seats assigned to the Legislative Assembly of each State as readjusted on the basis… census to single-member territorial constituencies and delimit them on the basis of the census figures as ascertained, at the census held in the year 1.”

This meant that the commission had to either consider a census from 2021 or 2011. Since the process to this was kickstarted well before 2021, the 2011 census was considered for reference to give a seat share as per the population. Here as well, the experts argue that the commission, which PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti said is an extension of the BJP, flouted the prescribed criteria for seat allocation.

Since the delimitation was to be based on the 2011 Census, at least ten districts in Kashmir back then had a 56.2 per cent share of the population. At the same time in 2011, at least 10 districts in Jammu had a 43.8 per cent population share.

The look at this draft suggests that Kashmir has been allotted 52.2 per cent seats, which is lesser than its 56.2 per cent population share. Jammu which just had a 43.8 per cent population has been allotted 47.8 per cent seats.

While the delimitation commission has said that it would recommend seats be reserved for the Kashmiri Pandits, a look at the seat share also suggests that in Muslim majority districts, as per the 2011 census, lesser seats have been allotted for more people when compared with Hindu majority areas.

This can be exemplified in a manner that according to the 2011 census, J&K has a population of almost 1.25 crore people including Ladakhis. Subtracting the Ladakhi population brings down the total population of Jammu and Kashmir to 12.3 lakh – which ideally means that a little over 1,36,600 people have a candidate, as total seats are 90.

But districts like Poonch which has over 90 per cent Muslim population has got just three Assembly constituencies, though its population according to the 2011 census is 4,76,835. So, each candidate represents 1,58,945 people vastly above the ideal 1,36,600.

Similarly, Srinagar which has got eight constituencies comprising of 12,19,516 people as per the 2011 census with a 95 per cent Muslim population. The number of people here represented by a candidate rounds up to 1,52,439. Again, way above the ideal.

Similarly, Anantnag which has got seven constituencies has 10,78,692 people as per the 2011 census with a 98 per cent Muslim population. The number of people here represented by a candidate rounds up to 1,54,099. Again, surpassing the ideal 1,36,600.

A similar trend follows in Budgam, Baramulla, Ganderbal, Kupwara and other Muslim majority districts. The analysis thus reeks of underrepresentation in the Muslim majority districts as lesser number of candidates represented more people in them.

On the other hand, in the Hindu majority areas, it looks like over-representation is guaranteed by the three-member commission. Jammu (85 per cent Hindus) has a population of 5,02,197, according to the 2011 census. The seats allocated are 11. This means each candidate here represents 1,39,087 people, not much above 1,36,600 when compared to 1,58,945 people per seat in Pooch.

Similarly, Udhampur which has a population of 5,54,985 (88 per cent Hindus) gets 4 seats. This means each candidate gets 1,38,746 people to represent, again close to the ideal.

Regions like Samba have a Muslim population of just 7 per cent while the Hindu population is over 86 per cent and is highly over-represented. Samba’s total population and allocated seat share show that 1,06,299 people are represented by a candidate or a total population of 3,18,897 gets 3 constituencies.

A similar trend follows for Kathua (87 per cent Hindus) with 1,02,739 people per candidate, Kishtwar which has 57 per cent Hindus gets just over 76,000 people per candidate.

The only major exceptions here are Rajouri and Doda where the Muslim population is more than halfway mark yet gets seats more than ideal. But in terms of the parliamentary constituency, Rajouri has been merged with Anantnag, hundreds of kilometers away.

Also, according to the commission, it received a number of representations from the Kashmiri migrants and the displaced persons from Pakistan occupied J&K during the public hearing related to the delimitation process.

“The delegations of Kashmiri migrants represented before the Commission that they were persecuted and forced to live in exile as refugees in their own country for the last three decades. It was urged that in order to preserve their political rights, seats may be reserved for them in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly and Parliament. The Displaced persons from PoJK also requested the Commission to reserve a few seats for them in J&K Legislative Assembly,” the commission said.

Earlier, Congress leader Vivek Tankha along with various migrant activists had written to the Central government requesting to assign a constituency exclusively for Pandits.

The J&K migrant relief commission data for January 2021 shows that around 1,54,000 Kashmiri Pandits are living as migrants. The data also suggests around 40,000 families were registered in Jammu, and 20,000 in Delhi and other states.

But with regard to the Pandits being allocated a reserved seat, there is no provision as to how can this be done. While Schedule Tribes, who got nine reserved seats, are well enlisted among the reserved categories constitutionally, Kashmiri Pandits do not find any mention in it as the call for their reservation surfaced after their exile in the late 90s.