Regional Discrimination: A Major Issue in J&K

by June 6, 2019 0 comments

Delimitation of constituencies in Jammu & Kashmir is essential to end regional discrimination and dominance of one particular region over the other two

Among the many problems that engulf Jammu & Kashmir, regional discrimination tops the list. Not very long ago, there was a misconception in the country that Jammu & Kashmir means Kashmir. Many official documents of the Government, as also the media, very often referred to the State as Kashmir. Even the important organs of the State, which included police, administrative services and broadcasting services, are even today referred to as the Kashmir Police Service, Kashmir Administrative Services, Radio Kashmir and DD Kashir. The media, while reporting incidents in the Jammu region, still headlines them as happening in Kashmir. This misconception has been created deliberately by the Kashmiri rulers, who have ruled the State ever since its accession with India, to ensure Kashmiri dominance over the other two regions of the State.

Both Jammu and Ladakh have opposed the Kashmiri hegemony ever since early 1950s when the Constituent Assembly was formed and thereafter, the Sheikh Abdullah-led Government began to rule the State. The Kashmir-centric leadership, with the blessings of Congress-led Nehru Government at the Centre, began systematic degradation of Jammu region in order to express their annoyance against the Maharaja and Dogras. Ladakh was also taken for granted and neglected for being a Buddhist majority area.

However, Sheikh Abdullah, who enjoyed absolute power, institutionalised the hegemony through arbitrary allotment of seats among the three regions of the State when the Constituent Assembly was convened in 1951. The elections were held arbitrarily without any formal authority to conduct elections and women were debarred from enrolling as voters. A total of 100 seats were delineated for the Constituent Assembly. While 25 seats were reserved for the residents of Pak-occupied areas (POJK), elections were held for the remaining 75 seats. There was no delimitation done, nor any yardsticks were laid down for the distribution of seats to the three different regions of the State. The figure of 75 was also borrowed from the Maharaja to whom goes the credit of establishing in 1934 the first elected legislature known as Prajasabha, which had 75 members (both elected and nominated, including the members of the Maharaja’s Cabinet). Out of the 75 seats for which elections were to be held to elect the Constituent Assembly, 40 were allotted to Kashmir, 33 to Jammu and two to Ladakh.

To ensure control of the legislature, Sheikh Abdullah played this fraud with the people of Jammu and Ladakh, ignoring the basic principle of proportional representation since Jammu had larger area and almost equal population with Kashmir. Though Ladakh had the largest area, it was sparsely populated. Jammu Praja Parishad, a political party in Jammu, objected to the discrimination and boycotted the elections. The National Conference (NC) won all 75 seats and Sheikh Abdullah was elected as the Prime Minister of the State. The last session of the Constituent Assembly was held on January 25, 1957, and the new Constitution came into force from January 26. A bicameral Legislature was envisaged for the State.

Meanwhile, a delimitation commission was constituted in India in 1952. However, J&K has not constituted a single commission till date while the rest of the country has benefitted on four occasions so far. In J&K, delimitation has been done only once in 1995, ordered by the then Governor Gen KV Krishna Rao. Delimitation Commission is tasked with redrawing boundaries of various Assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies based on the last Census of 2011. In view of Article 370, the Delimitation Commission ordered by the Government of India does not have jurisdiction over J&K. But no such commission has been ordered by the State Government as well for obvious reasons.

Till 1988, the strength of the Assembly continued to be 100 with 75 elected members. The number was increased to 111 vide the Constitution of Jammu & Kashmir (20th Amendment) Act of 1988. Of these, 24 seats are designated for areas under illegal occupation of Pakistan and remain officially vacant as per section 48 of the Constitution and are not taken into account for voting and deciding quorum of the House. Elections are, thus, held for 87 seats, of which Kashmir has the majority share of 46 seats, Jammu 37 seats and Ladakh four  seats. Once again, region-wise distribution of seats was done arbitrarily to ensure continuation of Kashmiri dominance. The term of the Assembly is six years, contrary to the rest of the country where the legislatures have a five-year term. There is no justification for the same except to emphasise the State’s presumed special status and flaunt Kashmiri identity. However, the delineation for additional 11 seats was done only in 1995 — on orders of the then Governor, by Justice (retd) KK Gupta, who allotted six seats to Kashmir and five to Jammu. Logically, the next delimitation should have been held in 2005.

Following in the footsteps of his father, Farooq Abdullah, who returned in 1996 as the Chief Minister, played the biggest fraud by passing a resolution in the State Assembly, freezing delimitation till 2026.  Concerned with the rise of growing anger among the people of Jammu and Ladakh regions against Kashmiri dominance, Farooq amended the State’s Constitution through 29th amendment of 2002, inserting a new para in Section 47 (3) of the Constitution, freezing fresh delimitation till first Census taken after the year 2026. As a matter of fact, no fresh delimitation is possible till 2031 because that is when theCensus would be due after 2026, a master stroke of Farooq to ensure continuation of Kashmiri hegemony. While Section 49 grants political reservation to SCs, the STs (Gujjars, Bakarwals, Gaddis), which form more than 12 per cent of the State’s population, are denied the political reservations. Going by Farooq’s dubious master stroke, justice cannot be provided to the tribal communities of the State till 2031. Around 24 seats earmarked for the people of POJK serve no purpose except to strengthen our claim on the illegally occupied part of the State. About eight-10 seats out of these should also be allotted to Jammu since all POJK refugees are settled in Jammu region. Using his guile and influence, Sheikh Abdullah did not let any of the refugees from Mirpur-Muzaffarabad belt settle in Kashmir though going by geographical proximity, Kashmir should have been the natural habitat of refugees from Muzaffarabad. The displaced community of Kashmiri Pandits should also have reserved seats in Kashmir.

Der ayad durust ayad (better late than never) is a popular saying. The initiative being taken by Modi 2.0 Government, with Amit Shah heading the vital Home Ministry, is a welcome step to end regional discrimination and dominance of one particular region over the other two. This is vital to bridge the growing divide between the three regions to ensure unity of the State. By empowering the people of Jammu and Ladakh, vital stakeholders and separatist forces will be hit hard and pave way for return of peace and normalcy to the troubled State. Apart from removing inequity and anomaly of regional disparity long suffered by people of Jammu, who form 44 per cent population of the State and occupy 26 per cent of the State’s total area as per the 2011 Census, fresh delimitation will also provide representation to all reserved categories in the State Assembly.

It is not intended to raise finger on the validity of the Census 2011, but the people need to know two glaring observations in the Census that question the large gap of about 15 lakh between the populations of two regions. First, the entire migratory population of Gujjar, Bakerwal and Gaddis that account for 12 per cent of the total population (14,93,299) and is a floating population has been included in the population of Kashmir region. Second, about two lakh Kashmiri Pandit population is also included in Kashmir’s population. The fact is known world over. Kashmiri Pandits migrated in the early 1990s and 66 per cent of them are staying in the Jammu region. The rest are divided between Delhi and other parts of the country. Hardly a few thousands Kashmiri Pandits  continue to stay in Kashmir. The point to highlight is that if factual position is taken, Jammu region has more population than Kashmir.

Also, while constituencies in Kashmir are delineated for a population of 35000-40000, many in Jammu have an electorate of lakh plus. While Kashmiris want to heap the benefit of floating population to show that the region is more populated than Jammu, when it comes to granting them political reservations, they deny them the same. This explains the political dynamics of State which were heavily skewed in favour of Kashmir. Since the State is under President’s Rule, legislative powers of the legislature are vested with the Indian Parliament and executive authority is with the President in accordance with Article 356 of the Constitution. Therefore, in order to amend Section 47 of the State’s Constitution, Parliament’s approval will be needed based on which the President will issue the Presidential Order, paving way for the Constitution of a Delimitation Commission. In order to protect multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-religious and inclusive ethos of State, it is necessary to bridge the widening distrust between the three regions. Regional disparities have to end first before other measures can be taken. All eyes and hopes of the people of Jammu and Ladakh are on Modi 2.0.

(The writer is a Jammu-based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst)

Writer & Courtesy: Anil Gupta

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