Kashmir parties express unease over delimitation exercise

PDP, Awami National Conference boycott Commission; NC, Congress question timing.

As the J&K Delimitation Commission arrived in Srinagar on Tuesday on its four-day consultation tour of the Union Territory (UT), Kashmir-based political parties questioned the timing of the exercise and expressed fears of it being “politically motivated”.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Awami National Conference boycotted the panel.

A delegation of the National Conference (NC), which is part of the five-party Gupkar alliance, met the Commission headed by Justice (retd) Ranjana Prakesh Desai.

“The J&K Reorganization Act, 2019 is palpably unconstitutional. We have challenged the Act in the Supreme Court, which is before the constitutional bench. The two pillars of the State — Executive and Legislature — must out of respect to the third pillar, judiciary, avoid implementing and exercising powers under an Act that is under scrutiny,” the NC said in a memorandum submitted to the Commission.

The NC suggested that the delimitation be carried out after 2026 once the relevant figures of the census were published.

“Despite our basic reservations, the Commission has decided to go ahead. We request the delimitation exercise be free, fair and transparent, so that the unity and integrity of the State is safeguarded. Population has to be the only norm, as elsewhere in the country,” the NC added.

The Commission, under the J&K Reorganization Act, 2019, is mandated to carve out seven more constituencies to the 83-member UT Assembly. It will meet more parties and civil society groups in south Kashmir, Jammu and the Chenab Valley in the next three days.

A CPI (M) delegation, led by party’s J&K secretary Ghulam Nabi Malik, told the Commission the exercise should be carried out along with the rest of the country in 2026.

“There is a lot of mistrust among people. The perceived apprehension that the exercise is aimed at benefiting some sections of the population should be removed. What is at stake is the credibility of the institutions and process itself. This exercise has to be seen as free, fair and just. And for any electoral exercise, restoration of full statehood is a must,” Mr. Malik said.

He said the Commission assured the CPI (M) delegation that it will put the report in public domain and only after that the report will be finalised.

Boycotting the exercise, PDP general secretary Ghulam Nabi Hanjura, wrote an open letter to the Commission.

“The Commission lacks constitutional and legal mandate. There are apprehensions that the exercise is part of the overall process of political disempowerment of the people of J&K. The fact that while the delimitation process across the country has been put on hold till 2026, J&K has been made an exception. There are apprehensions that the process is aimed at realizing the political vision of a particular political party, and the views and wishes of the people of J&K would be considered the least,” Mr. Hanjura said.

He said the PDP has decided to stay away from the delimitation process and not be part of some exercise, “the outcome of which is widely believed to be preplanned and which may further hurt the interests of our people”. Another constituent of the Gupkar alliance, ANC, also boycotted the meeting.

Hours after the PDP decided to boycott the Commission, the party president Mehbooba Mufti said her mother had been served summons by the Enforcement Directorate in a money laundering case.

Meanwhile, J&K Congress delegation headed by president Ghulam Ahmad Mir, said, “Until the full statehood for J&K is restored, there would be no meaning for the Delimitation Commission to undertake any exercise. The initiation of political and democratic dialogue must begin with restoration of civil liberties of political parties and people.”

The Congress demanded that the draft proposal prepared by the Commission be distributed among all the political parties for giving suggestions and submitting objections.

“People have grave apprehensions of preconceived political prejudice governing the commission’s final recommendations,” the Congress leaders said.

Sajad Lone’s Peoples Conference also questioned the timing of the exercise.

“The rumour mills are in fact in a heightened state of frenzy suggesting that the whole exercise is being carried out to disempower people of a particular region. Though PC does not believe in such unsubstantiated and hypothetical narratives and has full faith in this Constitutional body, yet the party feels that there should be abundant transparency, noticeable impartiality and perceptible fairness on the part of the Delimitation Commission as regards the processes, methodology and principles employed,” the PC said.

The PC demanded that the Assembly constituencies should be delimited in such a way that the population of all constituencies is the same throughout J&K.

“This purpose can be achieved only by adhering to the average population principle for each and every constituency, which is 1,36,300 people,” it added.

Kashmir-based parties’ suggestions were in contrast to the Jammu-based parties and the BJP’s feedback to the Commission in February this year, where they stressed that topography, communications, accessibility and lack of contiguity be taken into consideration.

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