The suspense is over. National Conference has joined the list of political parties which will be meeting the Delimitation Commission. The grand old party has named a five-member delegation led by former finance minister Abdul Rahim Rather to meet the Commission in Srinagar.
Last month, National Conference (NC) had sent feelers to end the boycott. It marked a significant shift in the NC’s policy post-August 5, 2019 when the Centre abrogated Article 370 and downgraded Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories.
In fact, National Conference had boycotted the first meeting of Delimitation Commission in February this year. Last year, when the Commission was set up, National Conference was quick to call for its boycott.
“The Delimitation Commission is a product of the J&K Re-organization Act 2019 which NC is challenging in and outside the Supreme Court. Participating in the commission tantamount to accepting events of August 5, 2019, which NC is unwilling to do. National Conference, therefore, rejects this process and its three members of the parliament will not participate in it,” National Conference said in May last year.
So what changed in a year? Neither Article 370 was restored, nor was statehood granted. So why National Conference, which heads the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), ended the self-imposed boycott.
Interestingly, National Conference (NC) is one of the parties which have challenged the August 5, 2019 decision in the Supreme Court. So far there has been no headway in the case. However, for the last two years, the party has increasingly been feeling isolated as the Centre is implementing its agenda steadily in Kashmir.
The leaders have realized that Article 370 is a passé. NC has been desperately trying to mend fences with the Centre. Despite being part of PAGD, the NC has not resigned from parliament.
Delimitation Commission appointed by the Centre shall have three members –serving or retired judge of the Supreme Court as the chairperson, and the Chief Election Commissioner or Election Commissioner nominated by the CEC and the State Election Commissioner as ex-officio members.
In February last year, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora named Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra as his nominee to the Delimitation Commission. On March 6 last year, the Centre appointed former Supreme Court judge, Justice (Retd) Ranjana Prakash Desai as head of the Delimitation Commission.
Under rules, all five MPs will be associate members of the Commission. In May 2020, Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla nominated NC MPs –Farooq Abdullah, Mohammad Akbar Lone, and Justice (retd) Hasnain Masoodi – as members of the Delimitation Commission. He also nominated two BJP MPs from Jammu–Jugal Kishore Sharma and Jitendra Singh – as associate members of the Commission.
The last delimitation in Jammu and Kashmir was conducted in 1995. Later Farooq Abdullah-led government had passed a law putting a freeze on the fresh delimitation of seats until 2026.
However, after the abrogation of Article 370, the Centre decided to conduct the delimitation afresh. Under the new scheme of things, seven more seats will be increased. The 24 seats reserved for PaK will remain untouched though there are demands that refugees settled in Jammu should be allowed to contest from these seats.
National Conference (NC) has proved to be all bluster and no muster. Last month NC president Farooq Abdullah clarified that his party was not against the delimitation process but the method adopted was not in consonance with the procedure.
PAGD, which held its meeting on Sunday, tried to skid safe by authorizing the members to take a decision to meet the Delimitation Commission. Not only NC, even CPIM which too had rejected the August 5, 2019, decision, has decided to meet the Commission. PDP, however, has decided to stay away but has shot off a letter to the Commission.
There is a dichotomy in the PAGD. On one side, they say that the all-party did not yield any positive outcome and on the other, they jumped on the invite to participate. Plus it took PAGD more than 10 days to reach the conclusion that it did not yield the desired result. It was a case of `grapes are sour’.
In fact, soon after the meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made no qualms when he called for expediting the delimitation process so that the assembly polls could be held in Jammu and Kashmir. It took 12 days for PAGD to react and say assembly election must be held only after the restoration of full statehood to Jammu and Kashmir.
For the Centre, delimitation is a priority and not statehood. Under the Reorganization Act, 2019, the Union Territory of J&K will have an Assembly while Ladakh will not.
PAGD has realized that they cannot fight the Centre. So they are trying to strike a balance. For domestic consumption, they continue to oppose the Centre. But when it comes to policy decisions, they will become partners.
(Author is senior editor at The Kashmir Monitor. Views expressed are personal. Email: [email protected])