For the sake of the people of the beleaguered former state of Jammu and Kashmir, which has not had an elected popular government since June 2018, the final report submitted by the Delimitation Commission to redraw its election map must be welcomed, despite its several shortcomings. The state of Jammu and Kashmir was bifurcated subsequently in August 2019, the region of Ladakh separated and notified as a Union Territory and its special status under Article 370 and Article 35(A) withdrawn.
Besides the absence of an elected government, these highly contentious series of steps that have changed the status of Jammu and Kashmir, including the inner balances between the erstwhile regions of Ladakh, Jammu and the Kashmir valley, have left the people dismayed and discontented.
The process of delimitation took the route of considering the two reasonably distinct regions of Jammu and Kashmir, with their sui generis demographics and political orientations, as a single unit in making new recommendations.
This, along with the abrogation and abolition of the state’s historic autonomy, are bound to lead to sustained political slugfests, with critics raising allegations of gerrymandering by the BJP-led government to pursue its manifesto and political agenda.
Post the panel’s recommendations, all the five Lok Sabha constituencies will have an equal number of Assembly seats, for the first time. Reservations of nine Assembly seats for the Scheduled Tribes (STs) are a first, and certainly most welcome.
The changed composition of the state Assembly, vis-à-vis the two distinct regions, 47 to Kashmir Valley and 43 to Jammu, a rise of six seats for the predominantly Hindu region, will still ensure a majority for the Valley but with a vastly reduced numerical edge. A curious method deployed has been to ensure each Assembly seat is drawn to ensure it is restricted to a single administrative district.
Another positive, welcome, move is to recommend additional seats to be added to the Assembly for Kashmiri migrants, and people who reside in India after having been displaced from the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Singularly, a reservation of a seat to ensure the representation to displaced people is a highly progressive move and can help assuage historic feelings of collective hurt and a memory filled with dark pain.
While the census of 2011 was used as a statistical basis for the process of calculations for the delimitation (India could not conduct a normal census in 2021 due to the pandemic), the panel also met with people of all sub-sections of the people to factor in socio-economic dimensions and aspirations, as well as steep inequalities and differences.
It is now imperative for all sections of society to back the plan. The Centre and the Election Commission must ensure the promise of the BJP government made in Parliament by home minister Amit Shah that elections would be held soon after delimitation is completed must be kept.
No people in a democratic society must be denied a popular government for too long. There would never be a possibility of a perfect solution or a consensus on such contentious issues, with such marked diversities of worldview, but restoration of a popular government could be a first on which we all agree upon, and one which we hope for....