A government commission redrawing electoral constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) said on Friday that the process will be fair and transparent, and based on consultations with all stakeholders, rejecting charges that the contentious exercise was pre-planned.
The delimitation commission remarks came on the last day of its four-day tour of Kashmir and was a response to charges by the Peoples Democratic Party, which stayed away from the panel’s meetings and alleged that the “pre-determined” exercise was meant to disempower the people of Kashmir.
“I don’t think anybody should have any fears. We are very confident that we will finish this in a transparent manner. Otherwise, we would not have come to spend three to four days here talking to so many people,” said former Supreme Court judge, justice Ranjana Prakash Desai, who heads the three-member panel.
The commission also said that delimitation will be conducted on the basis of the 2011 census and there was no current criteria on how to divide seats between Hindu-majority Jammu and Muslim-majority Kashmir. Other members of the panel are chief election commissioner Sushil Chandra and J&K’s election commissioner K K Sharma.
“We are very overwhelmed by the participation of various stakeholders in large numbers. We have taken note of their suggestions. This is our first visit and I assure you this is not our last. This process is a complex exercise and this commission will take all necessary steps to continue this engagement,” Desai said.
Speaking on similar lines, Chandra said: “We can assure you and as the chairperson also did, it will be an absolutely transparent process and we will take into account views of all stakeholders. That is why we visited Srinagar, Kishtwar and Jammu, and met 800 people from 290 groups,” he said.
“If something would have been on our minds or something was decided earlier, then this commission would not have come here. I would like to say very clearly that nothing has been prepared so far. We wanted to make an assessment and know the views of the people. If that was done then there was no need for us to come,” he said.
Quoting a Supreme Court Judgement, he said: “The delimitation is not a mere mathematical exercise. It must reflect the political aspirations of the society”.
“We see it as one Union territory. We don’t bifurcate (on the basis of) how much will go to the Valley and how much will go to Jammu. All will be done in a transparent manner and criteria will be implemented uniformly,” he added.
On PDP’s decision to stay away from the exercise, Desai said: “We can only interact with those who want to participate in the process… We wish that they all come.”
Delimitation is a controversial process that was mandated after the erstwhile state was bifurcated into two union territories on August 5, 2019. It is seen as the first step towards holding fresh elections in the region after seven years but local parties allege that the exercise will tilt the balance of power towards Jammu.
In the press conference, Chandra said the delimitation exercise will be carried out as per the 2011 census and will consider several features like geographical compactness, conveniences, accessibility, communication facilities and topography of the region.
“Earlier, the delimitation exercise in J&K was done as per 1981 census but in the rest of the country, the delimitation was done based on the 2001 census. Twenty-four seats of the legislative assembly of UT of Jammu and Kashmir shall remain vacant and the said area shall be excluded in delimiting the territorial constituency as provided under part V of Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019,” he said.
The commission was constituted in March last year to redraw the Lok Sabha and assembly constituencies of Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and Nagaland. The commission has nearly nine months left to complete the exercise. It will also carve constituencies to be reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for the first time in the UT.
The delimitation issue was discussed at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s landmark meeting with political leaders from J&K on June 24 — the first political outreach by the Centre in two years.
The Centre sought the completion of the delimitation exercise before assembly polls and restoration of statehood. After the event, the National Conference ended its boycott of the panel and met the members.
But the five-party People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) — of which both NC and PDP are a part — demanded the restoration statehood before elections.
The parties which met the commission included the NC, Congress, CPI(M), Apni Party and People’s Conference. While the majority of the parties suggested that population should be the main criteria for reorganisation of constituencies, the People’s Conference and CPI(M) demanded that the census figures of 2011 should be the benchmark for the exercise.
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