India plans to redefine voting maps. Kashmiri fury

By Riyaz Masroor
BBC Urdu, Srinagar

Image source, Getty Images
Caption for the image

Protests against Indian rule have rocked Kashmir.

Indian-administered Kashmir is in turmoil over a proposal that the area’s electoral maps be redrawn.

This draft suggests an increase in Assembly seats which would allow the Hindu-dominated Jammu area to have a greater influence in the electoral politics of the disputed region.

The fear is that the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley will lose its right to choose their leaders. This could be a death sentence for pro-Indian politics in the region, according to mainstream politicians.

This is the latest in a series of measures to increase the feeling of alienation that people from Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region, feel towards the Indian mainland. The rest of India is almost entirely Hindu.

Relations between Kashmir and Delhi have been tense for decades but became worse after 2019 – when Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government stripped Jammu and Kashmir state of its special status and divided it into two federally-administered territories.

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The government also implemented restrictive measures including security restrictions and a communication blockade, which cut the region off from the rest of the world for several weeks.

Over the past three decades, thousands have been killed by an insurgency against Indian rule in Kashmir.

Kashmir is one the most militarised regions in the world. The alleged abuses of security forces by civilians has sparked massive anger, resentment and huge demonstrations.

How do you deal with constituencies?

Former Supreme Court Judge, Jammu and Kashmir Delimitation Commission has suggested six additional seats in Jammu and just one for Kashmir. This would increase their total number to 43 and 47 respectively, if it is passed.

To represent population changes over time, delimitation is the redrawing of boundaries for assembly seats.

This is a standard procedure to make sure that every constituency, regardless of whether it’s for state or parliamentary, has a nearly equal number.

This commission was established in March 2020. It was later extended this year due to delays caused by the Covid-19 lockdown. They also met with Jammu-and Kashmir politicians to get their opinions during this process.

This proposal follows repeated assurances from Mr Modi’s Government that Jammu and Kashmir will host assembly elections – the first in Jammu & Kashmir since 2016, when the previous government was overthrown – after the exercise has been completed.

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Delhi currently has a lieutenant governor in charge of the region.

Politicians in Kashmir, however, have raised questions about why Kashmir was chosen to participate now while the process will continue across India through 2026.

Why do we criticize the size of the seats?

The Kashmir valley, 56% of Jammu’s total population at the time, was represented in 55.4% of the state legislature in 1995. Jammu with 43.8% population had 44.6% representation.

Jammu was given 37 seats, while Kashmir received 46.

In 2011, the last census showed that Kashmir’s population was 1.5 million more than Jammu.

According to experts, these numbers suggest that Kashmir should have received 51 seats, and Jammu 39.

However, the commission is yet to reveal the method it used in arriving at these new numbers.

Jammu has proposed to reserve 16 seats for candidates of scheduled castes or tribes. Experts believe this will work again in Jammu’s favor, as Jammu is home to a larger population.

What critics are there?

The recommendations of the Commission were criticised by two ex-chief ministers in Jammu and Kashmir.

My concerns about the Delimitation Commission were not misplaced. “They want to pit people against one another by ignoring population census,” Mehbooba mufti wrote, who served as chief minister between 2016 and 2018.

Ms Mufti’s Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party(PDP) refused to meet the federal commissioner, claiming that the outcome was pre-planned.

Omar Abdullah (chief minister 2009-2015) also rejected the recommendation.

Twitter user sahib said that “The 2011 census does not justify the distribution of assembly constituencies with 6 going to Jammu, and one going to Kashmir”

Former minister Sajad Lone told reporters the exercise was shameful.

It’s an insult to those who died because they gave their lives for India. He said that there was no respect for Kashmiri politicians, who earlier advocated peacefully retaining India’s Kashmir.

Pro-Indian politicians including ex-state chief ministers were placed under house arrest when Modi’s government crackeddown on Kashmir. These leaders were seen as being betrayed by the people who supported India throughout the 30-year-old insurgency.

Jammu & Kashmir’s regional parties are always more powerful than those of national parties, such as the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) currently in power or Congress.

To form the previous governments, Congress and BJP allied themselves with regional parties like Mr Abdullah’s National Conference (NC), and PDP.

Unidentified political commentator spoke to BBC under condition of anonymity, saying that if this proposal were passed it would make life difficult for Kashmir valley regional parties.

“The BJP hopes to build a whole new political system where it doesn’t require allies from Kashmir in order to form the next government. This would leave Kashmir’s pro-India mainstream politics unimportant,” he stated.

Who supports the proposal?

The proposal was welcomed by the local BJP unit.

Ravinder Raina, Jammu and Kashmir BJP President said that the process was transparent and made its recommendations after studying both Jammu and Kashmir realities.

Harsh dev Singh of the Jammu-based Panthers Party (which campaigned for many years to abolish Jammu and Kashmir’s special status) feels Jammu has a right to more than six seats.

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Tarun Upadhyay, a Jammu-based journalist and freelancer says that the proposal will be accepted by the people of the area who feel discriminated against.

“For over a century, Jammu residents have had to demonstrate for their rights. “The power has always been biased towards Kashmir,” said Mr Upadhyay.

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