J&K Delimitation Proposals: Is BJP Trying to ‘Engineer’ a Win?
The proposals could give an advantage to erstwhile coalition partners BJP, PC, and even PDP.
The Delimitation Commission's proposals for redrawing constituencies in Jammu & Kashmir give a distinct advantage to Sajad Lone’s People’s Conference (PC) in the Valley, and some advantage to Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP), too.
It appears that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants to form a coalition with People’s Conference whenever elections are held. So far, it has seemed aligned with both People’s Conference and former PWD Minister Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party. Reading between the lines, a choice has evidently now been made.
Of course, the biggest beneficiary of the changes, mainly in the Jammu province, would be the BJP. All six new constituencies being carved out in that region are largely Hindu-dominated. The BJP, which has won a huge proportion of Hindu votes in the Jammu province in every election since 2014, would count on winning them all.
The irony is that all three beneficiary parties – the BJP, the People’s Conference, and the People’s Democratic Party – were together in a coalition from 2015 to 2018.
On the negative side, the proposed delimitation is likely to damage the National Conference’s (NC) prospects in a number of the new Assembly and Parliamentary constituencies.
North Kashmir Gerrymandering Benefits PC
The single new seat proposed in the Kashmir Valley is Trehgam, which includes the Lone family’s ancestral home. Obviously, that is to People’s Conference’s advantage.
The Kralpora area has been added to the nearby Karnah constituency. Since Kralpora is a People’s Conference stronghold, this shift gives the party another advantage. Although Karnah is estimated to have double the Kralpora’s votes, the latter often sees a higher turnout than Karnah. Also, Karnah’s votes generally get fragmented among several strong candidates, and hence victory has often been by relatively narrow margins. And though much has changed since then, People’s Conference founder Abdul Ghani Lone won the Karnah seat in 1983.
That’s not the only shift that benefits the People’s Conference. There’s almost a merry-go-round of different parties’ strongholds between various north Kashmir constituencies, each of which could suit the party.
The shift of National Conference strongholds, such as Kalaroos from Lolab in the far north to Kupwara constituency, will make it easier for either former PDP minister Abdul Haq Khan or former bureaucrat Shah Faesal. Both have been inactive of late, and it isn’t clear which party either might prefer.
It seems that even areas that are cheek by jowl with the Kupwara DC’s office are now to be in the Handwara constituency. Since many there have voted PDP in the past, their exit might boost the People’s Conference’s prospects in the Kupwara constituency, while these pockets may make little difference in Handwara.
Handwara has often had a strong People’s Conference-National Conference fight, but National Conference strongholds in the constituency are now being placed in the redrawn Langat constituency, where, in turn, they will make little dent in Langat’s strong anti-India sentiment. In fact, since Langat was originally a People’s Conference stronghold, the party may hope to regain it if (`engineer’) Abdul Rashid, the MLA for Langat in the previous two assemblies, remains locked up.
Kunzer's Redrawing Helps PC
Meanwhile, parts of Rafiabad that leaned towards former National Conference Minister Javed Dar have been pushed into the Kunzer constituency. Parts of the erstwhile Sangrama constituency, too, have been added to Kunzer in a way that some locals think could improve the prospects of former Minister Basharat Bukhari, who is now in the People’s Conference.
In addition, of course, the People’s Conference would hope to win Pattan, based on the Shia following of powerful party leader Imran Ansari. The party could win Uri, too, where it could field former police officer Raja Aijaz Ali to contest the legacy of the ageing leaders of the area, Mohammed Shafi Uri of the National Conference and Taj Mohiuddin of the Congress. People’s Conference had fielded Ali, who joined it in December 2018, in the 2019 parliamentary election.
PDP Strengthened in South and Central Kashmir
Some changes in south Kashmir are likely to help the PDP at the expense of the National Conference. For example, some villages (north of the Lidder) that were part of the Bijbehara constituency, and tilted towards the PDP in the past, have now been placed in the Pahalgam constituency, which used to witness keen and close fights between the National Conference and the PDP.
The way parliamentary constituencies have been carved could give the PDP traction in two of those, for example, the new Anantnag-Poonch-Rajouri seat.
Hiving Muslim-dominated Poonch and Rajouri off the Jammu division area is no doubt meant to turn the Udhampur parliamentary seat into a Hindu bastion.
Joining Anantnag district to Kishtwar district would have been more geographically congruous, but Kishtwar has a 40 per cent Hindu population, compared with 90 per cent Muslims in Poonch (and about two-thirds in Rajouri district). Also, joining Anantnag to Kishtwar could have helped the National Conference, which has a strong base among Kishtwar’s Muslim majority. Indeed, a putative National Conference-Congress alliance could have been very well placed in that scenario
If Jamaat-oriented voters in the Pulwama and Shopian constituencies vote in large numbers, they could give the PDP a leg-up for the Srinagar seat, too. In the new set-up, parts of the Budgam district – including Beerwah, the assembly constituency from which Omar Abdullah has contested a couple of times, and Budgam proper, the NC’s Shia stronghold – would be shifted from the Srinagar parliamentary constituency to the Baramulla constituency, while Pulwama and Shopian districts are added to the now-humungous Srinagar constituency.
Hindu Consolidation in Jammu
The six new assembly constituencies in the Jammu division are being carved in Hindu-dominated areas such as Ramgarh, Kathua, Udhampur, and Katra.
Paddar, the new constituency in Kishtwar district, too, would have a preponderance of Hindus (Paddar tehsil has a more than 80 per cent Hindu population). In Rajouri, too, a new seat is being carved around Sunderbani, where Hindus displaced from areas now across the Line of Control (LoC) settled in 1948.
Overall, these proposals look like a ‘Huge Advantage BJP’, ‘Substantial Advantage People’s Conference’, and ‘Advantage PDP’. All three parties were part of the coalition that was brought down on 19 June 2018.
Now, a strident Muslim voice and persona such as Mehbooba Mufti’s in the opposition might suit the BJP’s political projection far more than the restrained gravitas National Conference leader Omar Abdullah has adopted in recent years.
Sadly, the impression that the Centre wants to engineer an electoral outcome of its choosing could spur alienation. Abdul Hamid Malik, JK Zamindar (farmers) Forum president and one-time candidate for the Baramulla parliamentary seat, said a group of youth in north Kashmir told him soon after the delimitation proposals were revealed that “India doesn’t consider us their own”. He said he feared increased radicalisation as a result.
(David Devadas is the author of 'The Story of Kashmir' and 'The Generation of Rage in Kashmir' (OUP, 2018). He can be reached at @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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