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IIOJK Delimitations

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IIOJK Delimitations

Gerrymandering to achieve BJP’s objectives

On May 05, the Indian government published a new list of redrawn political constituencies for Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK). Finalized by a delimitation commission, headed by a former judge of the Supreme Court of India, Ranjana Prakash Desai — and consisting of two other ex-officio members, Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra and Chief Electoral Officer of Jammu and Kashmir KK Sharma — the report has recommended seven additional constituencies — six for Jammu and one for Kashmir — in the IIOJK Assembly, taking the total number of seats to 90 from 83 earlier. There will be 43 seats for Jammu – up from 37 earlier – and 47 for Kashmir valley, only one more from its previous share of 46 seats. For the first time, nine assembly constituencies have been reserved for the Scheduled Tribes, out of which, six are in Jammu region and three in Kashmir.
Background
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government broke up IIOJK, which originally comprised the mainly Muslim Kashmir Valley, the Hindu-dominated Jammu region, and the remote Buddhist enclave of Ladakh, into two union territories in 2019 as part of a move to tighten its grip over the disputed region.
Since then, due to Pakistan’s proactive Kashmir policy, many international organizations have been criticizing the Modi government for its inhuman acts of suppressing the voice of the Kashmiri people.
Moreover, the region has been without any elected political representation since June 2018. There were growing voices in India also that Kashmiris be given their rights as enshrined in the Indian constitution.
Amidst an ever-increasing pressure, Modi government appointed a delimitation commission in March 2020 and tasked it with redrawing the boundaries of the constituencies sending representatives to the state assembly. The panel was granted a one-year extension last year. In February, it was again given a two-month extension to complete its task. The panel had been expected to submit its report in March 2021, but was given many extensions. The first draft recommendations were released on January and the second draft report in February before the delimitation order was passed on May 5. During the consultative process, the panel interacted with representatives of political parties, citizens and civil society groups in the occupied valley.
BJP’s agenda
While some official statements suggested that the changes were meant to bring back representation to the people of the occupied territory, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and several top leaders of the ruling party made little effort to hide their real intentions. The BJP put out a statement guaranteeing positive changes and a better future for the occupied region, but only if it was voted into power. Indian Home Minister Amit Shah had made a cryptic statement that political rights would be restored when the “situation becomes normal”. But ‘normal’ for Shah is not what most people consider the word to mean.
What’s the new scheme?
i. Parliamentary constituencies have been reorganized such that all five constituencies in IIOJK will have an equal number of assembly constituencies for the first time – exactly 18 constituencies each, taking the total number to 90 – seven more from 83 previously.
ii. Of the 90 assembly constituencies seats in the Jammu Division will rise to 43 from 37 seats earlier, and that in the Kashmir Valley to 47 from 46 earlier.
iii. Nine seats have been reserved for Scheduled Tribes (ST), another first for IIOJK.
iv. Regional distinction between Jammu and Kashmir has been removed and they have been treated as one, as is reflected in the combining of Anantnag region in Kashmir with Rajouri and Poonch in Jammu to carve out Anantnag-Rajouri as a Parliamentary constituency.
Criticism
In India, assembly constituencies carved out on the basis of population form the basic unit of electoral representation to form the state government. According to the 2011 census, IIOJK has a population of 12.5 million people, of which Muslims form a majority with 68.31 percent while Hindus are 28.43 percent. The majority of the Hindu population is concentrated in the Jammu region.
Given that situation, the panel’s decisions have met with criticism amongst mainstream parties in the Valley. Some important objections in this regard are as under:
1. According to the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, the census of 2011 had to be the basis of delimitation, but the commission also took into account the political aspirations of various sections of society and factored in accessibility, topography and proximity to the border as part of the consideration to allot seats. In this way, the Hindu-dominated Jammu region has got more seats relative to its population compared with the Kashmir Valley. This violates the population criterion as in the new electoral map drawn by the delimitation commission, the average population of an assembly constituency in the Muslim-majority Valley will be 140,000, while it will be only 120,000 in Jammu.
2. While redrawing constituencies, the commission has merged the Poonch and Rajouri districts, which were part of the Jammu parliament constituency with the Anantnag constituency in south Kashmir. There is no geographical connectivity, and the distance between the two regions is more than 500 km via Jammu. Even the former allies of Modi’s BJP have called this a blatant gerrymandering – political manipulation of electoral seats with the intent of creating an undue advantage for a party or group within the constituency.
3. This move is an attempt to disenfranchise the Muslim majority of the IIOJK and the boundaries of seats have been redrawn only to help BJP achieve its political objective of installing a Hindu chief minister in the Muslim-majority region. The Commission itself has admitted that it was difficult to accommodate ‘competing claims from various sides’. It has also cited the region’s ‘peculiar geo-cultural landscape’. But let it be clear that no amount of verbal jugglery can hide the true intentions of the BJP government which is intent on subjugating Muslims across India and particularly in Kashmir.
Pakistan’s response
Pakistan’s National Assembly unanimously passed a resolution on May 12 whereby it denounced the latest Indian attempt of demographic engineering in IIOJK. The resolution, moved by Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, said the Indian attempt was aimed at artificially altering the electoral strength of the Muslim majority in IIOJK. The resolution categorically rejected the report of the so-called delimitation commission that seeks to convert the Muslim majority of IIOJK into minority and further marginalise, disenfranchise and dis-empower the Kashmiri population and advance the political and electoral objectives of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The resolution recalled that Jammu and Kashmir is an internationally-recognised dispute and a long-standing item on the agenda of the UN Security Council and declared that no facade of elections based on sham delimitation exercise could substitute the legitimacy and indispensability of a free and impartial plebiscite under the auspices of the United Nations. The resolution demanded that India should honour and fulfill the obligations under the international law, UN Security Council resolutions and the fourth Geneva Convention and refrain from bringing about any illegal demographic changes in the occupied territory.
Moreover, the Foreign Office of Pakistan noted that the delimitation exercise clearly appears to be an attempt to lend legitimacy to the unconstitutional actions of August 2019 carried out by the Modi government. If the occupied state’s major parties boycott the elections expected sometime this year, the BJP and its natural allies in far-right parties could easily form a government; and if they contest, they will have to accept the revocation of the state’s special status as being legal. The Foreign Office also handed over a demarche to the Indian Charge d’Affaires, conveying the Government of Pakistan’s categorical rejection of the report of the so-called ‘Delimitation Commission’. The FO called on India to refrain from bringing about any illegal demographic changes in the occupied territory, stop forthwith its oppression in the IIOJK, and let the Kashmiri people determine their own future through a free and fair plebiscite under the UN auspices as enshrined in the relevant Security Council resolutions.
What OIC said?
The General Secretariat of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) expressed “deep concern” over India’s attempts to redraw the electoral boundaries of Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK), altering the demographic structure of the territory and violating the rights of the Kashmiri people. The OIC said the delimitation exercises were in direct contravention of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and international law, including the 4th Geneva Convention.
“Referring to the long-standing and principled position on the Jammu and Kashmir dispute and relevant decisions of the Islamic Summit and OIC Council of Foreign Ministers, the General Secretariat reiterates its solidarity with the people of Jammu and Kashmir in their just quest for the right of self-determination, in accordance with relevant UNSC resolutions,” the statement said.
The OIC also called on the international community, particularly the UNSC, to take immediate cognizance of the “grave implications of such ‘delimitation’ exercises”.
Conclusion
The BJP is promising to reinstate Kashmir’s statehood after the elections, provided the ‘situation becomes normal’. Both these points are irrelevant and misleading as the statehood itself was controversial and there has never been a ‘normal’ in that region due to India’s consistent violations of human rights and disregard for the UN resolutions that call for a plebiscite in Kashmir to determine its future status. The implications of this delimitation will be far-reaching and will further aggravate the situation. This is sheer gerrymandering aiming to change the ground reality in an unfavourable way to Muslims. By doing this, the BJP is planning to win a majority in the next election to form its government in the occupied territories. There are plenty of proxies working for the BJP in India, and the Commission itself now appears to be a proxy since it has clearly no interest in considering the interests of Kashmiri Muslims who are in clear majority. The Pakistan Foreign Office has handed over a demarche to the Indian charge d’ affaires but this issue must be brought to the notice of the world community that needs to finally wake up and apply its pressure on India to refrain from such illegal chicanery in Occupied Kashmir.

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