Recently the Delimitation Commission for J&K submitted its report to the Election Commission of India, which gives a boost to Jammu, but fails to leverage the strategy of playing Pakistan down in its Kashmir game. The commission also falls short of addressing the aspirations of the displaced Kashmiri migrants, especially the Kashmiri Pandits.
India has declared the entire J&K, including Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), Shaksgam Valley, and Aksai Chin as an integral part of the country. The J&K Constitution, enacted in 1956, had earmarked 24 seats in the Legislative Assembly for PoK. These were left vacant and not contested during state elections.
When J&K's Constitution was abolished on August 5, 2019, and its status changed, the Government of India retained provisions related to the PoK seats. Home Minister Amit Shah had said in Parliament: "When I say Jammu & Kashmir, I include PoK and Aksai Chin, both are included in the territorial boundaries of Jammu & Kashmir."
Passive on PoK, Missing Shaksgam & Aksai Chin
This spirit, however, seems to be missing in the Commission report. In the J&K Official Gazette of May 5, 2022, the Commission said: "As envisaged in Section 14(4) of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019 (34 of 2019) 24 seats have not been taken for the purpose of delimitation."
While not making any mention of the 24 Assembly seats allocated to PoK, it has also not taken up the other occupied parts of the original J&K -- Shaksgam Valley and Aksai Chin. Both were illegally given to China by Pakistan.
The Commission has also failed to earmark any Lok Sabha representation to these occupied areas. Interestingly, the Lok Sabha never provided for a Parliament seat in PoK, despite India declaring PoK to be an integral part of the country and earmarking Assembly seats for it.
Mentioning and highlighting the Assembly and Lok Sabha seats for the occupied areas is strategically important because it reinforces India's claims on the territories that lawfully belong to it following the signing of the accession treaty by the last Maharaja of J&K, Hari Singh, in 1947.
Giving voting rights to PoJK refugees
The Commission in its press note has recommended some representation for refugees from the PoJK areas, though the gazette notification does not mention this.
The press note says, "The Central government may consider giving the Displaced Persons from Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir some representation in the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly by way of nomination of representatives of the Displaced Persons from Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir."
The Commission should have specified this in the gazette as well. The reason for not doing so is intriguing. As the Narendra Modi-led government has been repeatedly talking about reclaiming the whole of Kashmir, the Commission could have delved deeper and calculatedly talked about the occupied areas.
Though the 24 Assembly seats meant for PoK are left vacant, the government can actually conduct elections to them by making the PoJK refugees vote from the areas where they lived before they took refuge in J&K.
The Delimitation Commission could have made the PoK seats active by enabling these PoJK refugees to vote from their places of origin. This way, India could have a tactical leverage of reaching out to the people in PoK and also reinforcing its claim and commitment.
The PoJK Refugee Forum, a common platform of refugee families from PoK areas -- Muzaffarabad, Mirpur, Kotli, Bhimber, Dev Batla, and so on -- has been arguing against keeping 24 seats vacant and holding elections for the rest 83 (erstwhile J&K State). The POJK community of displaced persons has been demanding their right to vote for the 24 vacant seats.
It is high time the Centre wakes up to this demand, which can be a game-changing move for the Government of India against Pakistan and China.
Kashmiri Pandits neglected yet again
The Gazette fails to mention the Kashmiri Pandits, who were made to flee Kashmir in 1990.
A press note talks about migrants and not specifically Kashmiri Pandits. The note says: "Provision of at least two members (one of them must be a female) from the community of Kashmiri Migrants in the Legislative Assembly and such members may be given power at par with the power of nominated members of the Legislative Assembly of Union Territory of Puducherry."
This recommendation is not a part of the Gazette notification and hence is not binding on the government.
Kashmiri Pandits, who make up the majority of displaced people from Kashmir, have once again been given the cold shoulder. The Centre has not come up with any policy for their return and rehabilitation, nor has the Commission provided any clarity about their representation in the Assembly.
Much like reserving Parliament and State Assembly seats for the SC/STs, the Commission should have set apart seats for the displaced Kashmiri Pandit community and mentioned it in the Gazette.
After the forced exodus, the community of over seven lakh people has spread out all over the country and outside. Many have not been voting from their places of origin in Kashmir and only a few thousands, who live in Jammu, have been able to vote from their original Assembly limits.
Having a representation in the Assembly needs a representational character for which the Centre needs to formulate a policy for the return and rehabilitation of the community in Kashmir. Thirty years after the exodus, none of the governments at the Centre has come up with any concrete policy.
Commission fails to address people's aspirations
The Delimitation Commission was meant essentially to redraw the boundaries of the Assembly and Lok Sabha seats. It has done so, but in sensitive places such as J&K, the spirit of the work matters more and it is here that it has fallen short.
It has failed to address the aspirations of a whole lot of communities who have been discriminated against over the decades and had felt that after a change in the status of the state, their status would improve. The Commission should have taken into account the views of the Supreme Court, which had said that "delimitation is not an exercise in mathematics. It should reflect the political aspirations of a society bound in a particular geography."
Being a border state with Pakistan and China actively meddling in it, J&K needs active interventions from the Centre to pursue a tactical leveraging policy. Giving lakhs of PoJK refugees and displaced Kashmiri Pandits a say in the new dispensation in J&K, the government can checkmate Pakistan-sponsored separatist elements and also reinforce its position on the international stage.