On a day the delimitation commission started its exercise to hear views of political parties about delimiting constituencies; the BJP described any talk against it as “the greatest sin.”
“Spreading canards against the delimitation commission is the greatest sin,” senior BJP leader Kavinder Gupta said.
The delimitation commission headed by Justice (Retired) Ranjana Prakash Desai, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sushil Chandra Sharma and State Election Commissioner (SEC) KK Sharma, is scheduled to meet political leaders in Kashmir on Tuesday and Wednesday. It will have detailed interaction with deputy commissioners of Kashmir at Pahalgam and Srinagar on July 7. The Commission will be in Jammu on July 8 for two days and it will interact with political parties and deputy commissioners of Jammu.
“Opposition parties are doing great disservice to the people of the country by concocting baseless allegations against the Delimitation Commission, which is doing its job with utmost dedication and impeccable integrity to rationalize constituencies in J&K to ensure justice to people and add more vibrancy to the Indian democracy,” Gupta, who was former deputy chief minister in PDP-BJP government, said.
Gupta said the BJP government at the centre never believed in imposing its ideology forcefully and through deceit. “Those raising fingers against BJP Government for misusing the aforesaid commission for party’s benefit must be feeling guilty conscious as they used to do the same during their regimes in the country,” Gupta said.
The political parties have been expressing fear that Delimitation Commission will act against Muslim majority of J&K and convert into a political minority through gerrymandering of Muslim majority constituencies in Jammu, giving more seats to Jammu and reserving seats for special categories.
“Like all other matters, once delimitation of the constituencies will be completed in J&K and the outcome will be made public, the people will themselves come to know about the sinister plan of opposition parties to create an atmosphere against the BJP by spreading canards against working of the Delimitation Commission,” Kavinder said.
The delimitation commission was constituted on March 6, 2020 for a period of one year. However, it didn’t visit J&K since it was established. On March 4, the Union ministry of law and justice issued a notification extending the tenure of the commission by one year. The commission’s term was coming to end on March 5, 2021.
The Delimitation Commission is a panel that was set up last year to redraw the electoral constituencies of Jammu and Kashmir and four northeastern states— Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. However, the one-year extension was only been ordered for Jammu and Kashmir.
After the All Parties Meeting on June 24 with the Prime Minister, former chief Minister Omar Abdullah said, “Almost all the speakers were unhappy with a move to single out Jammu and Kashmir for the delimitation. If the whole exercise of August 5, 2019 was to bring Jammu and Kashmir at par with the other parts of the country than by having a delimitation commission independent of the other parts of the country in J&K, you are setting us apart from other parts of the country. The delimitation exercise has led to a lot of suspicions,” Omar said.
On February 18, the Delimitation Commission on Jammu & Kashmir held the first meeting. The NC MPs from Kashmir, Dr Farooq Abdullah, Hasnain Masoodi, and Akbar Lone, who are also associate members of the Commission, did not attend the meeting saying the exercise is “unconstitutional”. Since the Delimitation Commission has been constituted under Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, the NC initially described the exercise as unconstitutional as it has challenged the law before the Apex Court.
In the absence of the Legislative Assembly, the NC and BJP Lok Sabha members were nominated as associate members of the Delimitation Commission without having any voting rights.
Since the population of Kashmir Valley is higher than Jammu, Jammu politicians have been long insisting that instead of population, geography should be made criteria. Of the 33.6 million living in J&K, according to 2011 census, 68.3 per cent are Muslims and Hindus are 30 percent. While Kashmir Valley is over 95 percent Muslim, Jammu is 65 percent Hindu and 35 percent Muslim.
Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act says that the number of seats in the Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir would be increased from 107 to 114 including 24 seats which are reserved for Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) while the election will be held for 90 seats.
Before August 5, 2019, the State of Jammu and Kashmir had 111 seats including 24 reserved for PoK, and elections were held for 87 seats. With the creation of Ladakh as Union Territory, four seats of the region were reduced and the Assembly was left with 83 seats. In the previous Assembly, Kashmir had 46 seats, Jammu 37, and Ladakh four.
Delimitation of the Assembly constituencies was last held in 1994-95 during the president’s rule in Jammu and Kashmir. At that time seats of the erstwhile State Assembly were raised from 76 to 87. Jammu region’s seats were increased from 32 to 37, Kashmir’s from 42 to 46, and Ladakh’s seats increased from two to four.
However, the then National Conference government had frozen delimitation in 2002 in accordance with the decision taken by the then NDA government.