Delimitation of electoral constituencies

By K.N. Pandita

Delimitation of electoral constituencies in J&K has been a burning question since a long time. It has also been a contentious issue because of the peculiar demographic complexion of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir. (now UT). Jammu region has been complaining that it is under-represented in the law-making bodies. Since Kashmir region enjoyed a majority in the Legislative Assembly, the voice of Jammu was not heard.

The last delimitation was done in 1994 and then during the government of Farooq Abdullah in 2002, the Assembly passed the law of no delimitation till 2026 thereby quashing the 10-year term for revision.

After a long wait, the NDA government has announced the appointment of three-member Delimitation Commission headed by a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The name of the chairperson of the Commission has been announced and the two ex-officio members will be known very soon.

The government has indicated the terms of reference for the Commission. However, it also says that matters not falling within the scope of terms of reference could also be taken up by the Commission because its powers are vast and its decision cannot be challenged in any court of law.

We will not take up precisely what matters the Commission will be dealing with as these are already specified. But some matters not hinted at in the terms of reference must be highlighted so that the Commission focuses its attention on them as well.

In our view, two matters about the delimitation of constituencies are of much importance and peculiar nature. The first is the reserved 24 seats in the legislative assembly of J&K for the part of the erstwhile state illegally occupied by Pakistan. The point is that 24 seats were reserved according to the representation formula for the state assembly in 1957 when the Constitution of the State of Jammu and Kashmir was ratified. There was a lacuna in this formulation because a large number of Hindu and Sikh residents of PoJK had already left their homes and most of them had resettled in Jammu. A smaller number of them that had left PoK and come to Srinagar were pushed out of Srinagar to Jammu by Sheikh Abdullah who was functioning as Chief Administrator at that time.

The point is that the number of assembly seats that would have accrued to these migrated people should have been allotted to them in the overall calculus of Jammu region where they were relocated and should not have been left in limbo. They were treated unfairly, of course. Leave aside giving them the assembly seats according to their numbers they were not until recent times given even the permanent residence certificates and were denied all privileges that would accrue to them as normal residents of J&K.

Therefore justice demands that out of 24 seats reserved for the people of PoJK as many seats as is permissible under rules should be allotted to them and included in the quota of Jammu region but reserved for them exclusively at least for another fifty years. To come to brass-tacks, the following is the demographic table of the region PoJK according to the census report of 1941.

It is observable that the total number of Hindus and Sikhs in the regions overrun by the Pakistanis constituted 84,806 and 33,525 respectively in 1941. The annual growth rates turn out to be 1.28 per cent, 1.25 per cent and 1.24 per cent respectively for the above districts according to the 1941 census. Assuming that the growth rates of the previous decade are held, we find that the number of Hindus and Sikhs in Bhimber, Muzaffarabad, Bagh and Sadhnuti to be 87,391 and 34,591 respectively or a total of 1, 21982 souls.

There are no estimates of Hindus or Sikhs left today in the region and the entire population is assumed to have either been expelled or killed. Snedden, who surveyed the region in 2012, does not mention any Hindus or Sikhs in PoJK. Consequently, a rough figure would be 1.225 lakhs to be the number of Hindus and Sikhs who went missing from PoJK in 1947. This is the base figure of the Hindu and Sikh residents of PoJK.

However, thousands of Hindu and Sikh refugees had flooded the border towns (now in PoJK) in the wake of the partition. Balraj Madhok points out that Bhimber had at least 2,000 refugees, Mirpur at least 15,000 refugees, Rajouri 5,000 and Kotli, an uncounted number. Almost all refugees of these towns, except those in Kotli, were done to death.

Assuming that nearly 22 thousand Hindus and Sikh perished in the Pakistani attack in 1947, at least 90,000 Hindus and Sikhs of PoJK could find refuge in Jammu. They are all entitled to have their share in assembly representation. Further, assuming that a population of 15 thousand souls is entitled to one assembly seat,(as per the norm prevailing in J&K), 90000 people, the refugees from the PoJK are entitled to at least 6 assembly seats out of the 24 reserved ones for PoJK, which shall have to be added to the total seats allotted to Jammu region.

This is of crucial importance. They are part and parcel of the overall demographic complex of Jammu and if the Delimitation Commission overlooks their rights, it will be a big fallacy. It has a strong legal element also.

The second point which the Delimitation Commission needs to take into account is that of constituencies in exile for the internally displaced people from the valley in 1990. The office of the Relief Commissioner can provide the exact number of the persons settled in Jammu and other towns in the country. It is their 30th year of displacement with no signs of their return that soon. The system adopted for their voting at present is cumbersome, complicated and almost forbidding. It is for the Delimitation Commission to take a holistic view of displacement and how to preserve the rights of displaced persons to be integral to the political process of Jammu and Kashmir. Electoral constituencies for the displaced Pandits can be at more than one place (viz. Jammu) based on their dispersal/concentration. Delhi, Pune, Mumbai and Bangaluru should also be considered besides Jammu where their constituencies have to be approved. That is a justifiable way of ensuring devolution of political power to them and preserving their social-religious and political identity.

The Delimitation Commission must take into account the entire gamut of insurgency and the consequential ethnic cleansing of the valley. Naturally, a new methodology has to be evolved to bring the displaced people under the umbrella of democratic rights and political empowerment. The simple argument is that if Scheduled Tribes are justifiably going to be included in the reservation category for assembly seats, why not the displaced people from the valley. They fall in the category of “Scheduled IDPs” if the nomenclature is the criterion. By a conservative estimate they are entitled to 5-6 assembly seats as per the established norms.

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