The Central government has stepped up its efforts to hold elections in Jammu and Kashmir as it has announced the process of setting up a Delimitation Commission for Jammu & Kashmir with the law ministry seeking nominations for the panel from the Election Commission of India and the new Union Territory.
The EC on its part has nominated election commissioner Sushil Chandra while other nominations are still awaited. The commission would be chaired by a retired Supreme Court judge. The Centre too has begun shortlisting names and will notify the Delimitation Commission in the near future.
It is believed that the next round of elections in J&K would only be held after the delimitation process is complete – redrawing boundaries and size of constituencies – on the basis of the 2011 census. Delimitation means the act or process of fixing limits or boundaries of territorial constituencies in a country or a province having a legislative body.
For the delimitation process, Jammu and Kashmir is set to follow the Puducherry model. The exercise which will be managed by the Election Commission of India will see the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly is to increase from 107 to 114 with due reservations for SC and STs, according to J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019.
Currently, Jammu and Kashmir has a total of 111 constituency segments out of which 24 seats are designated for the territorial constituencies of the state that were administered by Pakistan in 1947. These seats remain officially vacant as per section 48 of the state constitution. Therefore only 87 seats are filled or contestable in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly. Out of these 87 seats, the Kashmir valley region has 46 seats, the Jammu region has 37 seats and the Ladakh region has only 4 seats. After accession to India, the State Constituent Assembly was constituted under Maharaja’s Constitution of Jammu & Kashmir, but Sheikh Abdullah’s administration arbitrarily carved out 30 seats for Jammu region and 43 seats for Kashmir region and two seats for Ladakh region. This disproportionate allocation of seats was carried forward in the following delimitations.
Kashmir region with its higher number of seats has always dominated the state politics. However, now, delimitation can pave way for fair representation for the other two regions of Jammu and Ladakh and also clear the route for the first Hindu or Sikh CM of the State.
The last delimitation exercise in the state took place more than two decades ago in 1995 by a commission headed by Justice (retired) KK Gupta, when the state was under President’s rule. According to the Commission, the next delimitation had to be executed 10 years later i.e. in 2005 however, in 2002, Farooq Abdullah Government chose to put a hold on delimitation until 2026. For this purpose, Farooq Abdullah Government had made amendments in the Jammu & Kashmir Representation of the People Act 1957 and Section 47(3) of the Constitution of Jammu & Kashmir.
According to the 2011 census, the total population of Jammu Division was 5,378,538 of which Dogras were the dominant group comprising 62.55 per cent of the population. Jammu has 25.93 per cent of the area and 42.89 per cent of the population. Against this, Kashmir Division population in 2011 was 6,888,475 with 96.40 per cent Muslims. Though it has 15.73 per cent of the state’s area, it holds 54.93 per cent of the population. Ladakh has 58.33 per cent of the area accounting for 2.18 per cent of the population, a mere 274,289 people reside there, of which 46.40 per cent are Muslims, 12.11 per cent Hindus and 39.67 per cent Buddhists.
Delimitation in Jammu and Kashmir has long been one of Indian nationalists’ biggest demands as they pushed for the region of Jammu to have its rightful representation and not just be the winter capital wherein politicians look for a warmer alternative amidst the icy winters of Kashmir. Right-wingers also hope to see a Chief Minister from the minority community, that is a Hindu Chief Minister for once. Hence, the Centre has taken a great step and now the elections must be held as soon as the exercise is completed.