Eagerly awaited visit of the Delimitation Commission is just over. Process of redrawing 90 Assembly Constituencies in the Union Territory has started. Kashmir was already wary of the Commission but Jammu had a lot of expectations and approached it with very high hopes.
Delimitation in J&K has been necessitated due to bifurcation of the State, changed borders, introduction of reservation for the Scheduled Tribes, extension of voting rights to West Pakistan Refugees and increase in the Assembly Segments. Though it was not compulsory to conduct delimitation just before the next Census (this year only) when public hearings will be restricted due to the Pandemic, yet it has started. Other things pre-decided, the only job of the Commission is, ‘redrawing boundaries’, and ‘adjusting the UT electorate into the new-frame’.
During their 6th July 2021 meeting with the Commission, majority of the Kashmiri deputations have unequivocally termed the delimitation exercise ‘unconstitutional’ because of the Parliament freeze till 2026. They have unequivocally demanded restoration of ‘Statehood’ before elections.
After the abrogation of ‘special status’, and re-organisation of the State, Kashmiri leaders are in a state of perplexity. Apparently they are feeling humiliated and are creating the same sense in the public imagination. Delhi bashing which is rooted in Kashmiri thinking and culture has got them together, e.g before DDC election floating a perception of victimhood and forming Gupkar Alliance.
Starting with Jammu at 37 seats and Kashmir at 46, the mandate of balancing this lopsided political structure will be a daunting challenge for Delhi and the Commission. Jammu is already at great disadvantage because it gives Chief Ministership to Kashmir on the platter. That is the reason Jammu has invariably thrown its lot with Delhi and put the powers that be in dilemma. Suspense of Jammu not having its Chief Minister even after adding 7 new seats remains.
Such lopsided political dynamics of J&K and its accruing discrimination is Jammu’s constant worry. Delhi should also be worried about this lacuna. Census 2011 is allegedly manipulated in favour of Kashmir and is vehemently contested in Jammu. Jammu deputations, by and large have projected the lopsided political power structure (46 vs 37), unprecedented discrimination, manipulated 2011 Census and under-developed vast geographical area in the forefront for seeking equity and justice from the Commission.
As per 2011 Census Kashmir’s population is 15,09,937 more than Jammu which Jammu refutes. Jammu’s population has been rising exponentially due to perineal mass, seasonal, forced and gun point threatened migration from Kashmir since partition. In geographical area Jammu is over 10,000 sq kms more than Kashmir.
Delhi is fully aware of this. Kashmir denies manipulations in the Census and refutes unprecedented migration. Commenting upon the geography, Kashmiris have stated that land, stones and deserts seek no representation, making it a binary Jammu versus Kashmir fight. Other assertions from Kashmir also smack of snobbery leaving little choice with Jammu but to react.
Surprisingly BJP deputation didn’t put across Jammu assertion of manipulated 2011 Census. BJP’s assertion of de-freezing 1/3rd of the 24 POJK reserved segments and fixing three seats for Kashmiri Pandits has also been given a cold shoulder. ‘Dogra Swabhiman Sangthan’, a regional party, however, put across that Jammu has so far placed its fate in the ideological aspirations of national parties which generally didn’t have meaningful time and space to champion sub-regional urgings. He thus argued sub-regional realities for seat distribution.
NPP sought equity for Jammu region i.e. half of the total seats because both the regions are reciprocal stakeholders in UT. Despite rigorous representation to the Commission, Jammu got snubbed at the hustings when Commission decried the overall plea reiterating that delimitation will be on the basis of 2011 Census population.
Notwithstanding these debilitating infirmities in the context of Jammu region, the redrawing of constituencies in totally diverse and mountainous areas, is an extraordinarily complex and contentious exercise. Done sincerely and transparently it can still alter the electoral dynamics of Jammu. Ironically Jammu’s high hopes are dashed at the very outset.
Instead of blaming others, let us get down to the brass-tacks. Society which can’t imagine a future for itself, Dogras in case of Jammu, is doomed to stumble till it falls. Having fallen, only hope for its rise comes from appeasing those who have charted a future. Visionless people are destined to stumble and seek recognition from anyone who seems powerful. Jammu is no exception. Ironically Jammu today is stumbling and yet rising for the support of others rather than its own people.
However in the path of stumbling frequently, the best Jammu did in the last 70 years was to come together to vote for BJP in 2014 and 2019 much like the other Indians. Hence they made BJP, a ruling party at the Centre, a device for gaining the lost political ground, a stakeholder sort of. Even then the end result is that Jammu is a perpetual loser despite riding a powerful national party.
Jammu had looked at this Commission as the last hope to do it justice. Out of the encompassing discrimination under Kashmiri rule, no light is visible at the end of the Tunnel. It will now be clear that Kashmir will rule Jammu till separation. ‘Separate entity’ as the solution to Jammu’s woes will actually come out now not so much for discrimination at the hands of Kashmiris but Indian establishment as well.
But sitting in Jammu and talking of discrimination can’t catch national imagination and hence Commission is oblivious to Jammu concerns. Jammu will be more restive if this Commission leaves it in lurch. An idea of ‘Separate Jammu State’ thus will gain momentum. BJP is expected to be watchful of this.
Suppression of a large region in a larger political context is not peculiar to Jammu. In the history of independent India many areas in the Northeast, hilly area of Uttrakhand, Gorkha enclave in West Bengal or Telangana, Jharkhand and our Ladakh suffered similar discrimination. But they asserted. While some got ‘Statehood’, others managed ‘Regional/Development Councils’ to correct the obvious inequitable allocation of sovereign resources.
In Jammu also such ‘regional legitimacy’ idea took birth at various times but got mired in well orchestrated religion-politics. The chimera of ‘Jammu Statehood’ was imagined decades ago but caught public attention after reorganisation of J&K. Jammu & Ladakh were looking at Trifurcation.
I wonder why the political dreams of Jammu always get the better of improbability rather than possibilities. Statehood still remains the predominant preoccupation of people of Jammu. Reality is, Jammu has not articulated its case in an easily understandable, persuasive and actionable fashion that resonates with the larger Jammu citizenry leave aside national attention. The Commission's snub is an opportunity for a wake up hue and cry.
Jammu must do an honest introspection for what is the immediate option. When Kashmiris call for a freeze on delimitation, restoration of Statehood first and elections later, they are securing political power for another 70 years. For Jammu, time has come to collectively define terms of political future in the UT/State and knock at Delhi doors.
The starting point could be to insist on a ‘Regional Council’. This can be done by compiling a ‘White Paper’ that actually quantifies the continued discrimination in terms of political empowerment, budgetary allocations, employment disparities and infrastructure development. After all, Jammu is as much a part of India and J&K as Kashmir is. When Kashmir gets undue attention despite its separatism, Jammu which is nationalist to the core feels hurt. Kashmir has tacit support of outside powers whereas Jammu has always looked at Delhi. Attempts to devalue the socio-economic groups and political aspirations of Jammu is unfair.
This is exactly what Jammu deputations have put across to the Commission. Would it be wished away just like that? Jammu needs to take the higher moral ground even if the Commission is insisting on looking at Jammu and Kashmir as a single entity and not separately. Jammu is and will always remain the vanguard of the nation’s defense. The Commission should know about the contribution and sufferings of Jammu in the nation building. Hence a grand ‘press conference’ during its next visit is one such option.
Kashmir is always in the national psyche. The Commission can’t be oblivious to this reality. Jammu has a big challenge of entering into the nation psyche beyond Delhi and Vindhyachal. If that is done tactfully, Jammu will get equity. Hence the need is to intensify the struggle against past injustice and inequity. To start with, ask ‘a regional council’ with consensus and seek constitutional arrangement for shared tenure of Chief Ministership rather than sit tight after the Commission's snub. Statehood can be taken up later at an appropriate time.
About the Author
Col J P Singh (Retd) is Jammu based freelance Columnist. He is Veteran of 1971 Indo-Pak War, Op Pawan (Srilanka) and Kargil War 1999. He is a fond reader of Dogra history, which is the history of J&K. Also a keen observer of local political developments. He is member of Maharaja Gulab Singh Memorial Trust, ‘Dogra Sadar Sabha’ & Co-Chairman of Maharaja Gulab Singh Coronation Memorial Committee and a promoter of Dogra History. He can be reached on Email: [email protected]
(Views expressed by the author are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Mission Victory India)