The draft proposal on redrawing the boundaries of assembly and parliamentary seats of Jammu and Kashmir has changed the electoral map of the newly formed Union Territory. Political parties contend that the draft proposal has serious discrepancies in terms of geographical continuity and population.
As examples, they cite Poonch and Rajouri districts, which were part of the Jammu parliamentary constituency. These have been merged with Anantnag parliament constituency in south Kashmir. But the distance between the two regions is more than 500 km if the route is via Jammu. An alternate route — Mugal road via Shopian district remains closed during winters and opens only in summer months.
The regional political parties, which have rejected the delimitation proposal, allege that the boundaries of seats have been redrawn only to help the BJP achieve its political objectives.
“The delimitation exercise is done to further the BJP agenda,” said former Chief Minister and People’s Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti.
The Delimitation Commission, she said, has “shown no regard to law and constitution”.
“Particularly, the majority community, be it in Rajouri, Kashmir or Chenab Valley, have been disempowered. In a sense they have been disenfranchised,” Ms Mufti added.
The Commission — headed by retired Supreme Court Judge, Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai — is redrawing 90 assembly and 5 parliament seats in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Commission had first come under criticism in December, after it proposed allotment of six more assembly seats to Jammu against just one seat to Kashmir — despite the higher population in Kashmir. Critics said this is being done to increase the number of seats in Hindu-majority Jammu.
But now, as the panel released the redrawing of boundaries of assembly seats, more serious discrepancies are seen.
For example, Kishtwar district, which has a population of 2.3 lakh, 40 per cent of them Hindus and 57 per cent Muslims. The district had two assembly seats, both Muslim majority. The draft proposal has now allotted three seats to the district — two of them carved out of Hindu majority areas.
Doda district has a population of more than 4 lakh, 45 per cent of them Hindus. Earlier, it had two seats — both Muslim majority. Under the draft proposal, two of the three seats are Hindu majority.
The electoral representation of Muslims in Jammu province has drastically come down — from 13 Muslim majority assembly seats to just 10 seats. The number of total assembly seats in Jammu is up from 37 seats to 43 under the proposal.
“In Rajouri, Reasi, Doda or Kishtwar, delimitation has altered the political complexion of Pir Panjal and Chenab regions. They have changed the whole demography of area,” said Guftar Ahmad, a Gujjar activist from Rajouri.
In Kashmir Valley, all 47 assembly seats have been redrawn. The only seat with a significant Kashmiri Pandit electorate, Habakadal in Srinagar, has disappeared. Pandit votes have been spread over different seats of Srinagar.
“With the dissolution of Habakadal segment, they have disempowered Kashmiri Pandits further and the chances of electing a Pandit from there has gone forever,” said Mohit Bhan, a Pandit leader.
The BJP has rejected the allegations and accused Ms Mufti’s PDP and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s National Conference of creating confusion.
“After the delimitation, the National Conference and People’s Democratic Party are shouting because their fiefdom and their dynastic politics is over,” said Yudhvir Sethi, the vice-president of the BJP in Jammu and Kashmir.
The five Members of Parliament from J&K (three from the National Conference and two from BJP) are associate members of the panel.
The commission has asked them to respond to the draft proposal before February 14. The recommendations or objections of associate members, however, are not binding on the Commission.
The Commission had said the 2011 census will remain the basis of delimitation and it will also take into account the political aspirations of various sections of society. It had also assured that accessibility, topography and proximity to the border in seat allotment will be factored in, but even those considerations appear to have been used selectively, political parties say.
As example, they cite the border district of Poonch, which often bears the brunt of hostilities from Pakistan.
Poonch has a population double that of the Kishtwar district. But it has only three assembly seats. The Surankote assembly seat in Poonch bordering Pakistan has a population of 1.88 lakh against 51,000 for the Paddar seat in Kishtwar district.