Why delimitation may not be a panacea for Jammu & Kashmir

Few weeks back, Union Home Minister Amit Shah reportedly had a closed-door meeting with the Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satyapal Malik, Intelligence Bureau Director Rajiv Jain and Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba.

Among other things, the idea of carrying out a fresh delimitation of constituencies in Jammu & Kashmir was apparently discussed. This was ostensibly “to correct an inequity and anomaly of regional disparity long suffered by Jammu province,” in the backdrop that Kashmir region today has more seats (46) in the state assembly than Jammu (37) even though Jammu has a larger population. This sleight-of-hand perpetuated from the time of Sheikh Abdullah has ensured that the levers of political power remained always in the hands of the Kashmir-centric parties.

The last delimitation of Jammu and Kashmir was done in 1995 under Justice (Retd.) KK Gupta Commission. As the Constitution provides for delimitation every 10 years, the next delimitation of assembly constituencies should have logically taken place in 2005.

However, in 2002, the Farooq Abdullah government (for obviously ulterior reasons) froze delimitation until 2026 by amending the Jammu & Kashmir Representation of the People Act 1957 and Section 47(3) of the Constitution of Jammu & Kashmir.

So, if we have to correct that historic injustice against Jammu, there appears to be no option other than to carry out a fresh delimitation exercise, although all Kashmir centric political parties oppose this move. Look at this tweet of PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti to express her “disappointment”.

Interestingly, she calls “forced delimitation” an obvious attempt to inflict another emotional partition of the state on communal lines. Now, if Mehbooba Mufti is crying hoarse, delimitation should be a good move for the BJP. Isn’t it?

Well, I’m afraid it may not be so. Delimitation in practice can be a painfully long drawn process. First, a commission needs to be set up under a retired judge, who most political parties should preferably have faith in. Second, the commission will need office space and staff and sundry other support systems where after (only) it can get down to the business of hearing and examining political claims and counter claims. Going by how some commissions have functioned in the past, this process can easily consume years.

If it takes more than five years, then just like Ram Mandir or Article 35-A, BJP will have to go to the 2024 elections without doing much in Jammu & Kashmir. Unless that is exactly what the plan is—to not do much—delimitation, I’m afraid, will not change anything in the short term.

Supposing BJP gets hold of a really committed judge, who finishes the whole exercise within six months or so. And supposing Kashmir is restricted to 46 seats and Jammu gets, say, 53 seats. Is there still a guarantee that BJP will be able to form a government on its own in J&K? There are way too many parties competing for the vote share there. You have the PDP and NC in the Kashmir valley, and the BJP, Congress and Panther’s Party in the Jammu region. But things are not that clear-cut. NC also has a strong base in the Jammu region. And Jammu too has a substantial Muslim population which may or may not vote for BJP.

So, the short point is that even after a “successful” delimitation exercise, there is no guarantee that BJP will not be forced to form a coalition with either PDP or NC, who would agree to have a Hindu Chief Minister for the whole of J&K. And we all know what happened from 2015-2018 when BJP had formed a government with PDP hoping to keep Mehbooba Mufti under control whereas the reverse happened.

So, if not delimitation, what is the solution? Simple, it is trifurcation. Split the state of Jammu and Kashmir into three states: Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. This way you ensure that Jammu and Ladakh have their own governments and that they are no longer under the jackboots of the Kashmir centric anti-India parties.

Now the questions. How long will the process of trifurcation take? What if the State Government of Jammu & Kashmir says no? Will Jammu and Ladakh be able to survive as independent state/Union Territory? What will happen to the Kashmir valley?

All valid questions, for which I’m afraid there are no short answers. I’ve tried to deal with all these questions extensively in my novel Kashmir is free (available both as an e-book and paperback). But the short answer is that the process of trifurcation is constitutionally a much simpler process than delimitation and is a damn good idea.

Jammu and Kashmir is not a problem, mind you. The problem is only Kashmir. That is the festering, malodorous, cancerous part. Once you trifurcate, you can easily laser focus your attention on the cancerous part, and deal with it with all the resources at your command.

I wish the new Modi Government focuses more on this course of action than the chimera of delimitation.

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