On March 6, 2020, the Union Ministry of Law and Justice (Legislative Department) issued a notification in the exercise of power under Section 3 of the Delimitation Act, 2002, constituting a Delimitation Commission, with former Supreme Court Judge (Retd) Ranjana Prakash Desai as its chairperson. The Commission submitted its report on May 5, 2022. It increased assembly seats in Jammu Province from 37 to 43 and Kashmir’s seats from 46 to 47 in the 90-member House. In addition, the Commission merged Jammu province’s Poonch district and almost two-third of Rajouri district with Kashmir’s Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency to form a new Anantnag-Rajouri parliamentary constituency.
Kashmiri politicians, without any exception, including Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah (NC); Mehbooba Mufti (PDP); GM Mir, Saifuddin Soz and Ghulam Nabi Azad (Congress); Altaf Bukhari (JKAP); MY Tarigami (CPIM); and Sajad Lone (PC), condemned the Delimitation Commission and its recommendations. They said the recommendations were a conspiracy hatched by the Narendra Modi government to “disenfranchise Kashmiri Muslims and help BJP capture state power”. They termed the recommendations as “divisive and unacceptable”, asserted that they will “create a wedge” between communities, and warned that they will further “alienate Kashmiri Muslims”. They also threatened that they will challenge the whole exercise in a court of law, even though Kashmir got more than 50 percent seats in the Assembly. And Muslim activists in Kashmir – Haji Abdul Gani Khan and Mohd Ayub Mattoo – did challenge the constitution of the Delimitation Commission and the recommendations it made.
The petitioners sought a declaration that the increase in the number of seats from 107 to 114 including 24 seats in PoJK in J&K was ultra vires constitutional provisions and statutory provisions, particularly under Section 63 of the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019.
Their plea said that the last Delimitation Commission was set up on July 12, 2002, in the exercise of powers conferred by Section 3 of the Delimitation Act, 2002 after the 2001 census to carry out the exercise throughout the country. The plea had further said the Commission had issued guidelines and methodology for the delimitation of Assembly and Parliamentary constituencies vide a letter dated July 5, 2004, along with the Constitutional and legal provisions. “It clearly stated that the total number of existing seats in the Legislative Assemblies of all States, including UTs of the National Capital Region and Pondicherry, as fixed based on the 1971 census shall remain unaltered till the first census to be taken after the year 2026,” their plea also said. To be more precise, the petitions sought to declare as unconstitutional the notification dated March 6, 2020, constituting the Delimitation Commission to take up Delimitation in the UT of J&K and States of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and Nagaland by the Centre.
The people of Jammu province were also not happy with the Union government. The parties like the Ikkjutt Jammu Party (IJP) tore into the Modi government. The upshot of their opposition was that the delimitation of the Assembly constituencies based on what they called the “fudged 2011 census” will again re-establish the Kashmiri hegemony and domination over Jammu province further hurting their socio-cultural and politico-economic interests. They urged the government to order delimitation based on the 2021 population figures. They expressed the view that Jammu province would get a minimum of 50 seats in the 90-member Assembly if the Assembly constituencies were delimited based on the 2021 population figures and geographical area of Jammu and the nature of its terrain, accessibility taken into consideration as per the Representation of People’s Act.
The land area of Jammu province is two-time that of Kashmir and the bulk of the terrain of Jammu province is difficult and treacherous. But the people of Jammu province never got a fair share of representation in the Assembly and Lok Sabha. Sadly, all the successive delimitation commissions made unjust, invidious, and humiliating distinctions between Jammu province and Kashmir and give a disproportionate and preponderant share of representation to Kashmir so that it could control the Civil Secretariat and the Legislature, which discusses and decides questions of supreme importance to the well-being and happiness of people.
Dismissal of petition
The Supreme Court on Monday (Feb 13, 2023) dismissed the petition challenging the government’s decision to constitute the Delimitation Commission for redrawing the Legislative Assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. A bench of Justices S K Kaul and A S Oka upheld the arguments advanced by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and delivered the verdict. Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Union government, argued that “the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019 does not preclude the establishment of Delimitation Commission by the Central government”.
However, while pronouncing the judgment, Justice Oka said “nothing in this judgment shall be construed as giving an imprimatur to the exercise of power under clauses one and three of Article 370 of the Constitution”. The bench observed that the “issue of the validity of the exercise of power relating to Article 370 is the subject matter of petitions pending before the Apex Court”.
Sharp reaction on Kashmir
It was expected that anti-Jammu and essentially separatist Kashmiri leadership will react sharply against the SC verdict and it did happen and instantly. PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, inter-alia, said: “We have rejected the Delimitation Commission from the outset… Delimitation was a ‘tactical process of rigging before the elections. That’s what they have done, converting the majority into a minority, in favour of the BJP.” “The challenge to the Reorganisation Act (under which the delimitation process was carried out) is pending, and the challenge to abrogation of Article 370 is pending before the SC. If all that is pending, how can they (the SC) give a verdict on this petition?” she asked.
The NC of Abdullahs said: “The SC verdict has hurt us. We are not heartbroken by this. We are sure, whenever the Supreme Court hears our petition on abrogation of Article 370, we have enough ammunition in our arsenal that will tilt the case in our favour because we are not asking for anything outside the Constitution of India”.
As for the spokesperson of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), a conglomeration of several Kashmir-based outfits, including the NC and the PDP, and CPIM state secretary M Y Tarigami, he, among other things, said: “There is nothing much to say about the Supreme Court decision on delimitation other than that it is another disappointment for the people of Jammu and Kashmir… Carrying out the delimitation process under the J&K Reorganisation Act is unacceptable. It is just delimitation in the name of delimitation. They have virtually disrupted the unity of people of Jammu and Kashmir”.
The Sonia Congress also took the plunge and said that “the SC verdict has disappointed people of J&K (read Kashmir); the delimitation exercise was unfair and was conducted to give political benefit to the BJP”.
The senseless opposition in Kashmir to the SC verdict and Delimitation Commission and its recommendations once again established that the wedlock between Jammu province and Kashmir is unnatural. There is hardly anything that Jammu supports and Kashmiri leadership doesn’t oppose tooth and nail. And it has been happening ever since 1846 when J&K State came into being and Kashmir merged with the Jammu kingdom. The only difference is that between 1846 and 1947, the Kashmiri leadership would fight for the separation of Kashmir from Jammu, and post-1947, it has been opposing the demand seeking separation of Jammu from Kashmir, saying Jammu also belongs to Kashmir. The Narendra Modi government would do well to take cognizance of the nature of relations between Jammu province and Kashmiri leadership and further reorganize J&K UT like it reorganized the erstwhile J&K state in August 2019 to create UT of Ladakh and convert the remaining J&K into UT.
1. Text in Blue points to additional data on the topic.
2. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.
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