While India is ‘revelling’ in “Amrit Kaal”, things don’t look so good for Jammu & Kashmir. How else can one describe a state going through multiple whammies, has been deprived of statehood, and which has been placed under military boots with the freedom and liberty of its people severely curbed? The abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution on 5 August 2019 raised serious suspicions among Kashmiris that the basic objective of the majoritarian government at the Centre was to seriously upset the demographic balance of the Valley in order to bring it under their political control.
These apprehensions started seeming true when the Delimitation Commission, set up to redraw the assembly and parliamentary constituencies in Jammu & Kashmir, published its final report on 5 May 2022.
The current delimitation had to take into consideration only the population figures of Kashmir and Jammu, since Ladakh has been taken out. According to the census figures of 2011, the Kashmir Valley had a population of 69,07,623 (56.35%) while the Jammu division had 53,50,811 (43.65%). In the last assembly delimitation exercise held in 1995, when Jammu & Kashmir was a state, Kashmir was assigned 46 seats (55.5%), while Jammu and Ladakh were assigned 37 and 4 seats, respectively (44.5%).
Kashmir Under-Representated by 4%
But with six of the newly assigned quota of seven seats, the current delimitation exercise skews this distribution in favour of Jammu, and Kashmir has been allocated only one seat. While the number of assembly seats in Jammu division has gone up from 37 to 43 (47.78%) out of the maximum 90 seats, Kashmir has remained virtually static at 47 (52.22%). This under-represents Kashmir by almost 4% in the legislature.
The Delimitation Commission has recommended the nomination of “at least two members belonging to the community of Kashmiri migrants in the legislative assembly” and to give them power “at par with the nominated members of the legislative assembly of the union territory of Puducherry”. A similar recommendation has been made for displaced persons in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK), living in the region. The acceptance of these recommendations by the Central government – which is very likely – and the nomination of about half a dozen members with voting rights would skew the electoral prospects in favour of the BJP. It is pertinent to note that Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra, who went on to become the Chief Election Commissioner, is a Member of this Commission and party to all these recommendations.
Even before the ink dried on the Delimitation Commission report, the Election Commission, through Jammu & Kashmir Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Hirdesh Kumar, announced the revision of the electoral rolls of the Union Territory, which would add about 25 lakh new voters. This is a 33% jump in voter strength in three years, which is abnormal.
The need to have a domicile certificate of Jammu & Kashmir to become a voter has been done away with and according to the CEO, “An employee, a student, a labourer or anyone from outside who is living ordinarily in J&K can enlist his or her name in the voting list.”
It seems members of the armed forces posted in the region can also enlist as voters.
Manipulation Through the Back Door
No wonder political parties in Jammu & Kashmir have reacted vehemently against this blatant effort to manipulate a majority for the ruling dispensation through the back door. People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chief and former Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti, minced no words:
“Over 25 lakh non-locals are being inducted in the voter lists of J&K which is the last nail in the coffin of electoral democracy. J&K has become an experimental laboratory for the BJP. I want to say to the nation that BJP is not doing anything in the interest of the nation, they are just doing what they aim to do. They have subverted national interest. Rigging has become part and parcel of the BJP now. They are using money and power for it.”
But Jammu & Kashmir government officials denied the allegations and said:
"With the abrogation of Article 370 and applicability of Representation of the People Act 1950 and 1951, any citizen of India who has attained the qualifying age and 'ordinarily residing at a place is eligible to get registered in the electoral roll of that place, if not disqualified otherwise."
The officials said that prior to the abrogation of Article 370, which gave it special constitutional status, the assembly electoral rolls in the state were made under the ambit of the Jammu & Kashmir Representation of People Act 1957, wherein only permanent residents were eligible to get registered in the assembly rolls and get voting rights.
Indeed, that’s true. But for this, they should produce a Permanent Residence Certificate and a domicile certificate. Now, it has become a free-for-all.
The rigging of electoral rolls is also a threat. The linking of Aadhar with Voter ID, over which coercion has been reported recently, has made the task easy. This has prompted former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to taunt, “Is the BJP so insecure about support from genuine voters of J&K that it needs to import temporary voters to win seats?”
The Administration's 'Clarification'
The Jammu & Kashmir administration clarified that this revision of electoral rolls will only cover existing residents of the Union Territory and that the increase in numbers will be of the voters who have attained the age of 18 years as on 1.10.2022 or earlier. But this is unconvincing because the clarification remained silent on whether outsiders with domicile or without domicile certificates could register as voters.
Be that as it may, the entire exercise of creating new constituencies and revising the electoral rolls seems to be under the belief that abrogation of Article 370 is written in stone and all the challenges pending in the Supreme Court would either fail or fizzle out. This is so considering the way in which this matter has been dealt with by the Court. Petitions were filed under Article 32 of the Constitution, challenging the abrogation and the subsequent bifurcation of the state. The notice was issued on 28 August 2019. No stay was granted. Subsequently, the matter was heard in December 2019 and January 2020, when the court reserved its order for determining the preliminary issue: whether the matter should be referred to a larger bench or not. After around two months, on 2 March 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that there was no reason for referring it to a larger bench. Now, it is August 2022, and the case has not moved an inch.
In the meantime, the fallout of the Central government’s action has been disastrous. Jammu & Kashmir was crushed by ripping apart Ladakh from it and by being down-graded into a Union Territory.
The Delimitation Commission report facilitated gerrymandering of Assembly and Parliament Constituencies, and now, electoral rolls are being arbitrarily revised to manipulate a majority for a particular political dispensation.
These are in addition to serious violations of fundamental rights, freedom and liberty of the people of Kashmir. And yet, the Supreme Court, the country’s last bastion of justice, could not find time to take up the petitions challenging the vires of this alleged fraud on the constitution.
Taking Advantage of the Political Void?
Is it all a joint effort to manufacture a ‘new democracy’ amid a huge political void in the Valley? If so, the words of Peoples Conference chairman Sajad Lone would ring true: “This is dangerous. I don’t know what they want to achieve. This is much more than mischief. Democracy is a relic, especially in the context of Kashmir. Please remember 1987. We are yet to come out of that. Don’t replay 1987. It will be as disastrous.”
One only hopes this will not happen.
(The author is a former IAS officer and editor of the book “Electoral Democracy: An Inquiry into the Fairness and Integrity of Elections in India”. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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