Following the abrogation of Article 370, the Central government has set up the delimitation commission under the J&K Reorg Act, 2019 to redraw the boundaries of assembly and parliament constituencies in the Union Territory. Headed by Retd Supreme Court judge, the commission was set up in Mar 2020 and was assigned to complete the delimitation exercise within a year, but when the commission could not complete the exercise within the timeframe, its term was extended till May 2022.
As a well known fact, Delimitation exercised in J&K in the past have been slightly different from those in the rest of the country because of the regions special status, which was scrapped by the Centre in Aug 2019. Until then, delimitation of Lok Sabha seats in J&K was governed by the Constitution of India, but the delimitation of the State Assembly seats was governed by the Jammu & Kashmir Constitution and Jammu & Kashmir Representation of the People Act, 1957. Assembly seats in J&K were delimited in 1963, 1973 and 1995. The last exercise was conducted by the Justice (Retd) K K Gupta Commission when the State was under President’s rule and was based on the 1981 Census, which formed the basis of the state elections in 1996.Since then, there has been no delimitation. There was no census in the state in 1991 despite the consensus constituting body has deliberated its course thrice between 1991 to 2014 and no Delimitation Commission was set up by the state government after the 2001 census, as the J&K Assembly passed a law putting a freeze on the fresh delimitation of seats until 2026.
The Commission has been mandated to delimit the constituencies of the Union Territory in accordance with the provisions of the J&K Reorg Act, 2019 and Delimitation Act, 2002, by the Union Ministry for Law and Justice on 06 Mar 2020. The Commission will base its final report on the2011 Census and will also take into account the topography, difficult terrain, means of communication and convenience available for the ongoing delimitation exercise. The commission is mandated to carve out seven additional seats for the 83-member Assembly of the Union Territory (UT).
The increase in seats is seen as part of a move to ensure that there is electoral parity between the two regions of Kashmir and Jammu, which had 46 and 37 seats respectively. Once the draft proposal is implemented, seat share of Kashmir will come down to 52.2 per cent while seat share of Jammu will rise to 47.8 per cent. The commission has adopted a criteria rarely applied before. Instead of population and area, it has accorded primacy to hardships faced by the people along the Jammu border area due to treacherous terrain, remoteness and the shelling from Pak. Inter- regional gulf has always existed and for all practical purposes. The two regions have been in existence as two diverse political units within the same state not only in terms of the political aspirations and the nature of identity politics but also in terms of the logic of their politics. While the logic of Kashmir’s politics has been defined by Union-state relations, the logic of Jammu’s politics has been defined by the inter-regional relationship (Kashmir as the reference point for Jammu’s political marginalisation). The interests of one region have been seen as inimical to those of the other and vice-versa. A full scale harmony is very difficult to achieve, where the proposal may bring massive changes in the existing assembly segments, adding new constituencies and liquidating some constituencies.
Also, as per the historical resolution unanimously passed by both houses of Indian Parliament, the Government of India has maintained principled and consistent position on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir and that the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of the Indian Union including the part of the territory of the State which is under the forcible occupation of Pakistan, namely POK and GB. This position has been reaffirmed by the Resolution on Jammu & Kashmir adopted by the Parliament of India on 22 February, 1994. In keeping with the national will embodied through nation’s parliament, provision for allocating and demarcation of additional seats shall be conditioned for areas of POK and Gilgit-Baltistan regions so that once integrated with Union of India, transparent political voices can aspire for bonhomie and growth.
It is anticipated that all political parties, except for PDP may ultimately agree to the exercise of the Delimitation Commission with initial resistance. PDP is likely to emerge as the party most strongly opposing the Delimitation Commission. However, it is likely that the PDP shall be singled out and isolated to offer very limited or no opposition to the move. The party may suffer division or may undergo leadership change during the process. The shift in the electoral map of J&K is a prelude to the assembly elections, as the Home Ministry had opined that the polls will be held once the Delimitation Commission completes its report. Despite severe objections, the political parties in Kashmir may not boycott the polls and for that reason they may think of coming together, sinking all their differences and joining hands for larger self interests.
The Legislative Assembly was initially composed of 100 members, later increased to 111 by the then Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir (Twentieth Amendment) Act of 1988. Of these, 24 seats are designated for the territorial constituencies of the state that came under Pakistani control in 1947. These seats remain officially vacant as per section 48 of the then state constitution and now also in The Constitution of India. These seats are not taken into account for reckoning the total membership of the assembly, especially for deciding quorum and voting majorities for legislation and government formation. Hence the total contestable and filled seats of the assembly remained 87 of which there are presently 83 seats after the separation of Ladakh as a union territory which had 4 seats. The Kashmir valley region has 46 seats, the Jammu region has 37 seats. Delimitation started for all the constituencies of the assembly prior to the next Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly election. The interim delimitation report has added additional 6 seats to the Jammu division and 1 seat to Kashmir division, thus making the total tally 90.