Srinagar: The Delimitation Commission set up by the Narendra Modi government to redraw parliamentary and assembly constituencies of Jammu and Kashmir has left the National Conference (NC) in a bind over whether it should participate in the exercise or not.
The government had on 6 March constituted the commission, to be headed by former Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai, to redraw Lok Sabha and assembly constituencies of Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland.
In J&K, the commission will redraw the constituencies in accordance with the provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act.
The National Conference is in-principle against the exercise and the reorganisation Act since it is a consequence of the scrapping of Article 370, carried out last year by the Centre. Many of NC’s senior leaders were arrested, and some of them later charged under the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA) on the grounds that they attempted to foment trouble over the government’s decision.
The commission had last week written to the Speakers of the Lok Sabha and the assemblies of the four northeastern states and J&K to name associate members for the panel. Since J&K currently has no legislative assembly, the members of Parliament (MPs) from the newly created UT can be inducted.
Of the five MPs from the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, three are from the NC and two are from the BJP. Four associate members have to be chosen from J&K, but they don’t necessarily have to be an elected representative.
If NC MPs are chosen as associate members, it will amount to acceptance of the constitutional changes brought in through the reorganisation Act, which it is currently contesting in the Supreme Court.
If party MPs are not chosen, it would mean it will go unrepresented on the panel.
Speaking to ThePrint, NC leaders said they will hold a meeting on how to move things forward, while the BJP said all MPs of J&K might not necessarily be chosen as associate members, hinting that the NC could be kept out of the exercise.
Political observer Ibrahim Wani, an assistant professor at the Institute of Kashmir Studies, University of Kashmir, said the NC will, in all likelihood, be part of the exercise to redraw consistencies given that it will be fighting the next assembly elections. The party has so far not given any indication that it intends to boycott the polls in protest against the scrapping of Article 370.
“The associate members do not have voting rights or they can’t sign any decision of the Delimitation Commission, but they can give dissenting proposals which, in the long run, could be balanced out by proposals of the other two associate members who might be BJP MPs,” Wani told ThePrint.
“It would be interesting afterwards to look at the NC’s dissenting proposals, if any. The party could see being invited to the commission as an opportunity to create some space for itself,” he added.
How the numbers stack up
Section 60 of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act states the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly of the Union Territory of J&K shall be increased from 107 to 114. Out of these, 24 seats are reserved for Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
The erstwhile state of J&K had 87 seats in the assembly and six in Parliament, which got reduced to 83 and five, respectively, after it was bifurcated to make Ladakh a separate UT. So effectively, the seats will go up from 83 to 90 for J&K.
While Kashmir views the exercise as a move to tilt the balance of power towards Jammu, by increasing the assembly seats, in Jammu, it is being regarded as a move correcting Kashmir’s historical ‘dominance’ over Jammu.
The NC has three MPs in Kashmir, and has not opposed the exercise of delimitation, which will end up raising the number of parliamentary and assembly seats. However, the inclusion of its MPs as associate members will put the party in a tight spot given that it has maintained its protest against the scrapping of Article 370 and the Act itself.
Among the NC leaders who were detained ahead of Centre’s move to introduce the Act were party president and current Srinagar MP Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar, who is the party vice-president and a former J&K chief minister, and party general secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar, who continues to be detained under the PSA.
The regional BJP unit has strongly advocated the delimitation exercise. Currently, two of the five MPs from the UT are from the BJP and represent Jammu, including Union Minister for the Development of the North Eastern Region Jitendra Singh.
Wani said it will be interesting to see how NC will balance the situation given the exercise will likely see the number of seats in Jammu increase to counter mainstream parties in Kashmir.
“Whenever elections happen, NC will contest. Now, for instance, after delimitation, one party wins 30-40 seats in Jammu, it would need few independents or support from one smaller ally party in Kashmir to form coalition government, thus undermining established regional powers.
“That is the reason you see the emergence of so many parties in Kashmir while none in Jammu. I believe no party will be able to win a majority in Kashmir. In Jammu, it might be the opposite. In both cases, the mainstream parties of Valley will be facing a difficult situation,” Wani added.
Our struggle is to uphold Constitution: NC
Two of the NC’s parliamentarians, from Anantnag and Baramulla constituencies, petitioned the Supreme Court last year challenging the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act. In their plea, they noted that the delimitation exercise was supposed to take place in 2026 under amendments made to Section 47 of the scrapped J&K Constitution, and Articles 82 and 170 of the Constitution.
“We haven’t received any communication yet from the Lok Sabha Secretariat. Once we do, all the NC MPs will sit together and decide how things have to go,” said Justice (Retd) Hasnain Masoodi, the Anantnag MP.
“I am a petitioner before the apex court. I have questioned the constitutionality of the decision taken on 5 August as well as the Reorganisation Act. I have pleaded that the decision not only has trampled on the Constitution of India, it is in violation of the Constitution, and the unilateral decision is not in the interest of the country.
“It is unethical. I have made my stand clear and so has the party. So, once we question the very decision taken (by the Centre), once we seek the quashing of the Reorganisation Act, our actions now will be consequent to our demands,” Masoodi said.
“Our struggle will be the struggle to uphold the Constitution of India,” he added.
A senior NC leader, who did nit want to be named, said, “If due process is not followed or if the exercise witnesses ill intent, the Centre and the J&K administration will be called out. It will not be a cakewalk for them.”
Commission will do the main work, BJP says
The BJP, though, has been keeping its cards close to the chest.
Ashok Kaul, BJP general secretary for Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh UTs, told ThePrint: “Firstly, it is not necessary that all the MPs will be included in the panel. For instance, if the same exercise was to be carried in Uttar Pradesh, where there are 80 MPs, would all of them be in the panel? Secondly, the job of the MPs is secondary, meaning they will have to assist. The main work will be done by the three members of the commission selected by the government.”
He added, “And lastly, even if there are MPs in the panel with opposing ideologies, it shouldn’t interfere in the process as all the rules and procedures are already laid (out).”
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