The delimitation commission headed by Justice (retired) Ranjana Desai was constituted by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led New Delhi government in March last year. The main aim behind the setting up of the delimitation panel was to give representation to the ‘unrepresented’ sections and regions of the union territory. Voices in the Jammu region had always alleged that they were underrepresented in the assembly.
On the other hand, the Kashmir centric parties felt the delimitation exercise would favor Jammu and ultimately result in more seat share for the region where BJP wins the maximum electoral seats. After the initial boycott, most of the major political parties of Jammu and Kashmir barring the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), however, met the five-member delimitation panel during its ongoing visit to the union territory. Now that they decided to meet the panel members, the discussions should have ideally revolved around delimitation.
However, the statements made by the political parties after the meeting on Tuesday pointed out that they had done no prior homework and had no agenda in mind. Most of them made vague and conflicting statements after the meeting.
Some even gave an impression that they had met a parliamentary delegation tasked to discuss the ‘Kashmir issue’. Take the case of the Congress delegation that met the panel for example. Given the mandate of the commission, raising issues of statehood or the release of political prisoners made no sense.
“Restoration of Statehood for Jammu & Kashmir is a sine qua non for conducting the Delimitation process. Until the full Statehood for Jammu & Kashmir as part of the Union of India is restored, there would be no meaning for the Delimitation Commission to undertake any exercise,” the Congress memorandum presented to the panel stated.
If Congress felt that the restoration of statehood was necessary before the delimitation exercise that has already been set in motion, why did it meet the panel? It could have chosen the boycott path of the PDP or the Awami National Conference (ANC) that is trying hard to make itself relevant in the present political scenario. In sharp contrast, the Congress at the same time stated in its memorandum: “It is, as such, incumbent upon the Delimitation Commission, which is a Constitutional body, to stand by the test of equity, equality, fairness and transparency as per the mandate given to it by the Parliament of India and to conduct the delimitation exercise with utmost integrity, in accordance with the established and time-tested principles and without a shade of bias and unfairness towards the ruling party at the Centre.” Therefore, Congress opposed and supported the panel in the same breath.
Just like the Congress, the National Conference too came up with dichotomous statements. It first stated in its memorandum that the delimitation exercise should not have been conducted till the Supreme Court decided on the pleas challenging the constitutional validity of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act 2019 and other related orders.
It also said the ‘delimitation exercise would be a credible effort in strengthening democracy only after full statehood is restored to J&K’. It again raises the same question – why meet the delimitation panel then? The rebel National Conference leader Aga Ruhullah Mehdi has already lauded the PDP for staying away from the delimitation panel. The parties are free to boycott and protest against the delimitation process. However, if the leaders decide to meet the panel, they have to come up with views regarding the delimitation process. Raising issues that are outside the purview of the delimitation panel makes no sense. The centre has already called the delimitation process a precursor towards holding of elections and restoration of statehood. If Congress and NC feel that statehood should be restored first, then meeting the panel only contradicts their own stands.
Amid the conflicting statements, the NC also said the population had to be the ‘only norm as has been the practice here in the past in J&K and elsewhere in the country for the holding of the delimitation exercise. Peoples Conference (PC) leader Khursheed Alam too suggested that the commission should be done as per the population of the region. “Delimitation exercise should be done as per the population. Land, deserts, and stones don’t need representation. It is the people who need representation and the decision should be taken as per the population. The report should be compiled on the basis of the 2011 census,” he said in an apparent reference to the vast area of the union territory of the Ladakh region.
In a write-up for a national daily, former finance minister Haseeb Drabu too had called for the distribution of Assembly constituencies on the basis of ‘population rule’. “With the population as the base, the allocation can be tempered by giving some weightage to its density. If the inverse of population density is used, it will work as a relevant surrogate for the area, since low population density will get a higher weightage,” he had remarked.
In the given context, the Kashmir-based mainstream political leaders willing to engage with New Delhi have to present a strong case before the panel. In case the apprehension that Jammu would be given a ‘lion’s share’ comes true, the stature of the mainstream leaders of Kashmir will get reduced further. They have already been left in no-man’s land after the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019. The engagement with the delimitation panel has to be proactive if they wish to ensure transparency in the number of seats allocated to the two regions of Jammu and Kashmir. The Valley-based leaders have to find out ways to make themselves relevant once more in the changing political scenario. Seeking statehood or release of political prisoners before the delimitation panel will achieve nothing.
(Views expressed are personal. Email: [email protected])