June 24, 2021 witnessed Prime Minister Narendra Modi chairing a meeting with 14 top political leaders from Jammu and Kashmir. This direct political engagement was to pave the way for delimitation, redrawing of constituencies followed by assembly elections and ultimately statehood at a future date. Notably, the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), at times referred to as Gupkar Alliance or Gupkar Gang because of their links with Pakistan and terrorist organizations, also attended the meeting. This was a major event after government scrapped J&K’s special status on August 5, 2019 and divided the state into two Union Territories.
Former Chief Ministers Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah (both National Conference), Ghulam Nabi Azad (Congress), Mehbooba Mufti (PDP), former Deputy Chief Ministers and heads of all political parties in J&K attended the meeting. Prime Minister Modi asked the political leaders attending the meeting to participate in the delimitation process and said, “Our priority is to strengthen grassroots democracy in J&K. Delimitation has to happen at a quick pace so that polls can happen and J&K gets an elected Government that gives strength to J&K’s development trajectory.”
After the meeting PM Modi tweeted: “Today’s meeting with political leaders from Jammu and Kashmir is an important step in the ongoing efforts towards a developed and progressive J&K, where all-round growth is furthered … Our democracy’s biggest strength is the ability to sit across a table and exchange views. I told the leaders of J&K that it is the people, especially the youth who have to provide political leadership to J&K, and ensure their aspirations are duly fulfilled.”
Three National Conference Members of Parliament including Farooq Abdullah had been boycotting meetings of the Delimitation Commission, indicating they will join the meetings if the Chairman of the Delimitation Commission addresses their concerns since their case against Centre scrapping the special status of J&K and delimitation is pending before the Supreme Court. However, after the meeting on June 24 chaired by the Prime Minister, Farooq Abdullah told media. “The Central government is keen to restore an elected government in Jammu and Kashmir at the earliest. The Prime Minister has talked about an early delimitation process. That means they are looking at following that up with Assembly elections”.
Concurrently, Omar Abdullah told media that some of the participants at the meeting pointed out that it would have been good had an exercise like this been carried out before August 5, 2019. Notably, Omar Abdullah told reporters, “Why has Jammu and Kashmir been singled out for delimitation? We said delimitation was not needed. In other states, delimitation will be taken up in 2026, why has Jammu and Kashmir been singled out? If August 5 (2019) was to unite the state with India, then delimitation process defeats the purpose as we are being singled out.” But Omar forgets that after the state was divided into two Union Territories J&K and of Ladakh in 2019, government had already said J&K would have an elected legislature and elections would be held soon after delimitation.
The Delimitation Commission is headed by a retired Supreme Court judge and includes the Chief Election Commissioner or Election Commissioner and state election commissioners. Five MPs from J&K are associate members though their recommendations are not binding since the Commission is an independent body and the executive and political parties cannot interfere in its functioning. The strength of the J&K assembly was 87 before 2019 including four seats in Ladakh. 24 Assembly seats are vacant as they fall under Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). According to the J&K Reorganization Act of 2019, the new J&K legislature (UT of Ladakh excluded) will have 90 seats, seven more than earlier after the delimitation.
J&K is not being singled out for delimitation as is being alleged by Omar Abdullah. In the last delimitation (1994-1995) number of seats in the J&K assembly was increased from 76 to 87; increased in Jammu from 32 to 37 seats and in Kashmir from 42 to 46 seats. There was no census in the state in 1991 and after the 2001 census J&K’s National Conference Government passed a law putting on hold delimitation till 2026, in line with Centre ruling the same for rest of India. But delimitation in J&K is necessary now because after losing special status both Lok Sabha and assembly seats are to be demarcated under the Constitution of India whereas earlier the delimitation of assembly seats was governed by the J&K Constitution and J&K Representation of the People Act, 1957. Therefore, a fresh Delimitation Commission was set up in 2020.
There is no denying that J&K State Governments of yore were treating Ladakh and Jammu in step motherly fashion despite liberal funds allotted by the Centre. This had resulted in calls from these regions for the Centre to allot funds directly to them rather than through the J&K State Government. Apprehensions of the Gupkar Alliance are unfounded because Kashmir’s population is over 68 lakh against 53 lakh in Jammu as per the 2011 census. Therefore, Kashmir will always have more seats in terms of the population ratio. On the other hand, it is the Jammu region that should be having reservations about delimitation with apprehensions of continued step-motherly treatment by future state governments. This is an issue that the Centre and the Delimitation Commission will need to closely examine especially since it relates to not just allotment of funds but also spread of radicalization and support to terrorists. In addition is the issue of return and resettlement of Kashmiri Pundits to J&K which the BJP has promised since long.
The Prime Minister has indicated his desire to see elections in J&K at the earliest. This would imply that the Delimitation Commission already on extension due to the pandemic will galvanize into action. It remains to be seen if after attending the Prime Minister’s meeting, Farooq Abdullah and the others who had been boycotting meetings of the Delimitation Commission will change their attitude. If they continue to be non-cooperative, it could be a signal for uptick of terrorist activities in J&K. Pakistan anyway has been retained on the FATF ‘Grey List’ cannot hope in hell to get off that list in October.
Pakistan-supported by China will continue to target J&K particularly during the delimitation process and elections as and when held, drawing on resentment against abolishing the special status of J&K. The ISI and the Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) are already in league with Chinese intelligence. With American plans to retain only 650 troops in Afghanistan, a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is only a matter of time. Thereafter, Pakistan would focus on fomenting more terrorism in J&K which would also help divert attention from the casualties’ Pakistani security forces are suffering in actions by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The ISI will try to augment the so-called ‘Resistance Front’ in J&K with Pakistan-based terrorists, Afghan/Taliban volunteers and even jihadi-terrorists from Turkey.