The Union Home Ministry’s recent decision to call for the delimitation file from the Jammu and Kashmir law department has fuelled speculation on whether the upcoming state Assembly election would have to wait till the fresh delimitation of Assembly seats in the strife-torn state.
The Election Commission has said that the schedule for the Assembly election would be announced after the conclusion of the annual Amarnath Yatra which begins on July 1 and will end on August 15.
Political circles in the state believe that if the plan to hold a fresh delimitation of Assembly seats is approved by the Governor, who under President’s Rule assumes all constitutional and executive powers in the state, the holding of Assembly elections would be delayed further and could even be pushed to 2020.
If a fresh delimitation is ordered in the state, the process has to be undertaken and completed by the Election Commission.
At present, the state Legislative Assembly, which is the lower house of the state’s bicameral legislature, has 87 seats. Of these, 46 are in the Kashmir Valley, 37 in the Jammu division and four in the Ladakh division.
Another 24 Assembly seats have been reserved for those territorial constituencies of the state which are at present in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, which according to the state’s Constitution, is an integral part of Jammu and Kashmir.
There has been a growing demand from Jammu-centric mainstream political parties especially the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that the current delimitation of Assembly seats in the state has caused damage to the administrative, economic and political interests of Jammu and Ladakh divisions.
“The last delimitation of Assembly seats has been completely pro-Valley and that too by overlooking the interests of the Jammu and Ladakh regions,” said Kavinder Gupta, former Deputy Chief Minister and senior BJP leader.
The last delimitation of Assembly seats was done in J&K in 1992-95.
BJP leaders strongly believe that at present the delimitation of Assembly seats is heavily skewed in favour of the Kashmir division at the cost of Jammu and Ladakh regions.
They argue that the Kashmir division accounts for 15.8 per cent of the area and 54.9 per cent of the population while Jammu division accounts for 25.9 per cent area and 42.9 per cent of the population while the Ladakh division has 2.2 per cent of the population, but 58.3 per cent of state’s area.
BJP leaders further argue that the last delimitation exercise was done in 1992-95 and possibly the full impact of the migration of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley was never fully factored in.
The focus of the BJP leadership is that the Jammu and the Ladakh divisions must get more Assembly seats through a fresh delimitation and it is generally believed that the Home Ministry calling for the delimitation file from the state law department is to “address the injustice done to Jammu and Ladakh regions of the state”.
Kashmir-centric parties like the National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party and others argue that fresh delimitation cannot be done in J&K as it is due only after 2031 census like in the rest of the country.
The Farooq Abdullah-led state government in 2002 chose to freeze delimitation until 2026 by amending the Jammu and Kashmir Representation of People Act 1957 and Section 47(3) of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir.
Valley-centric political parties argue that this was done only to bring J&K at par with other Indian states where the next delimitation is due only after 2026.
These parties also argue that the basic intention behind another delimitation around this time is to redraw the political, economic and administrative map of the state on communal lines.
Delimitation by Jammu-centric political parties is also sought to give voting rights to refugees from West Pakistan who came here after the India-Pakistan wars of 1947, 1965 and 1971.
At present, these refugees living in the Jammu region have voting rights in the parliamentary elections, but not in the state Assembly polls.