Four months after India and Pakistan agreed to a Line of Control (LoC) ceasefire, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s last meeting with nine pro-Indian political parties in Jammu-et – Illegally Occupied Indian Kashmir (IIOJK) had raised hopes that concrete measures could follow to ensure the course of justice in the region.
But, analysts and politicians in the region believe that the Modi government’s insistence on demarcating assembly constituencies, rather than building confidence, has raised fears that the Muslim population in the disputed territory is further disempowered by granting more seats to Hindu regions for the benefit of Hindu Nationalists, the ruling Bharatiya Janata (BJP) party.
The former state of the IIOJK which included Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh was the only predominantly Muslim state in post-independence India.
The leaders of nine parties arrived in New Delhi on June 24 at the invitation of Prime Minister Modi to convince him to reverse or at least modify the decisions taken on August 5, 2019.
The Modi government not only revoked the constitutional autonomy of the IIOJK, but also divided the region into two centrally administered territories, thereby accepting a half-century-old demand from extremist Hindu nationalists led by the Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh (RSS), which wanted a merger of this predominantly Muslim region into the Indian Union.
Therefore, the priority for these pro-Indian political leaders, placed in detention shortly after these measures, was to seek a return to the state, the restoration of a semblance of autonomy, the halt of alleged demographic developments in the event of repeal of the law on local citizenship, restoration and elections to the regional assembly so that a political structure is allowed to govern the region rather than leaving it to the mercy of non-local bureaucrats.
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But at the meeting, Home Secretary Amit Shah made it clear to them a road map which, in order, included: undertaking a constituency demarcation exercise for the assembly; conduct elections on the basis of new demarcations; and allow the new assembly to pass a resolution calling on the Indian parliament to restore statehood to the region.
Once this exercise is completed, the Indian Ministry of Interior will draft and then present the legislation to parliament.
Observers say that even if the state is restored, it will be with truncated powers, where law and order and the transfer of bureaucrats can remain in the domain of central government. As a result, they believe that the Chief Minister of the IIOJK, who previously held seventh on the Indian government’s official protocol list, will be pushed to 15th.
For the return of the repealed provisions of Section 370 which guaranteed a degree of autonomy and Section 35A which guaranteed a separate citizenship law for the region under the Indian constitution, Shah said that since the Supreme Court of India had already admitted the petitions against the government’s decision, the case was pending and therefore barred from discussion.
While in the rest of India, the exercise of new electoral boundaries will take place in 2026, the government established a commission under the leadership of former Supreme Court Justice Ranjana Desai in March. 2020 to redraw the boundaries of the seats of the provincial assemblies of the IIOJK, as well as the northeastern states of Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland.
When the commission’s mandate was extended for one year in March 2021, the northeastern states were removed from its terms and references, meaning it will now only demarcate the boundaries of the IIOJK.
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The move created suspicions that the central government, under the influence of Hindu nationalists, chose the region to reduce the assembly seats in the occupied Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley or to equalize it with the region in Hindu majority in Jammu – a claim championed by Hindu groups since 1950.
Legal scholar and Congress party leader Kapil Sibal said a constituency-demarcation exercise tends to favor the ruling establishment even if it is headed by a prominent judge.
“If the demarcation process takes place in a non-transparent manner to ensure that the political presence of the BJP is more likely to be successful, the trust that one seeks to build will be eroded,” he said.
The government defends the delimitation
However, government circles argue that the delineation is necessary because parliament passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act on August 5, 2019, increasing the effective membership of the assembly from 87 to 90 members. Ladakh, now a separate territory under central administration, had four seats in the old assembly.
The boundaries of the IIOJK assembly were last redrawn in 1995, based on the 1981 census, when the state was still governed by its own constitution.
The Boundaries Commission could not carry out its work because the main political party, the National Conference (NC), which has three members in Lok Sabha, or the lower house of the Indian parliament, had boycotted its work. The legislators were ex officio members of the commission. The biggest achievement of the June 24 meeting was CN’s consent to participate in the rest of the process.
In parliamentary democracies, the worldwide practice is to demarcate electoral districts according to the distribution of the population. The 2011 official census recorded a population of 6.8 million in the occupied valley and 5.3 million in Jammu Division. Based on the population distribution, the IIOJK division had 46 seats, nine more than Jammu which previously had 37 representatives in the assembly.
But, the BJP had proposed to the commission to use geography as a criterion rather than population, while demarcating the boundaries of new assemblage segments. Union Minister Jitendra Singh, who is also an ex-officio member of the commission, pointed out in his presentation that the Jammu region comprises 26,293 square kilometers (10,152 square miles) compared to the 15,520 square kilometers of the valley. occupied Kashmir and therefore deserves more seats.
But, analysts say that even if the seats in the Jammu region increase based on geographic criteria, they will increase in the two predominantly Muslim sub-regions of Chenab Valley and Pir Panchal. These two regions have large, sparsely populated mountain belts. The population of the Jammu region is also not homogeneous, with 31% Muslims, 18% Dalits, 25% Brahmins, 12% Rajputs, 5% Vaishyas or members of the business community, and 9 % others that include the Sikh community.
Proposal to reserve seats
It is also proposed to reserve 18 seats for Hindus of lower castes, called Scheduled or Dalit castes, and tribal groups.
Since the government distributed an equal number of district development councils to the two regions, defying population criteria, the same formula is also expected to be used to distribute 45 assembly seats to each region. Reserved seats should also be distributed evenly.
According to political observers, this new scheme of adding seats to the Jammu region and reserving seats, in addition to other measures, will limit Muslim representation in the new assembly below 50%. This will end forever the political domination of the disputed territory or of the Muslims in the regional assembly.
Renowned journalist and analyst Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal believes that by prioritizing the agenda of demarcation over building trust, the Modi government has sent the message that people do not really rely on its idea of democracy.
“The only thing that matters is the delineation of the constituencies within the IIOJK and this is presented as the very elixir of democracy,” she said.
Bhasin added that it is not difficult to understand that New Delhi’s obsession with the delimitation exercise while avoiding other commitments stems from a desire to carve out more Hindu-majority constituencies for the benefit of the BJP.
Reduction in the number of Muslims in the bureaucracy
The number of Muslims in the region’s bureaucracy has already declined over the years. According to figures from the IIOJK government, out of 24 secretaries in the region, only five are Muslims, with only 12 Muslims out of 58 senior officials. At the second level of the bureaucracy, Muslims represent only 42%. Among the police, only seven of the 66 senior officers are local Muslims, despite making up 68.5% of the region’s total population.
This formula for reserving majority Muslim seats for Dalits has been practiced in many Indian states in recent years with the alleged aim of controlling Muslim representation in legislatures.
In 2005, the official committee of Judge Rajinder Sachar reported this problem and recommended that these seats be reserved only for Dalits, of whom they represent nearly 30%.
In the seat of Nagina Lok Sabha in Uttar Pradesh (UP), reserved for Dalits, Muslims represent 43% and Dalits 22% of the electorate. A Muslim cannot participate in the elections from this seat. In contrast, the neighboring seat of Dhuririya, where Dalits represent 30% and Muslims are less numerous and should have been reserved, falls into a general category.
Ghazala Wahab, eminent security analyst and editor-in-chief of Obligate magazine, said the demarcation exercise was aimed at making Jammu more BJP-friendly.
“Although the share of seats between occupied Jammu and Kashmir can be rationalized, the larger goal is to ensure that in any constituency in the Jammu division, Muslims do not become a deciding vote. realized, it is likely that Jammu will be declared a state; Kashmir will continue to be a UT due to the security situation, ”she added.
Repeat the story
By selling the elections and the reestablishment of the assembly as the return of democracy to the world, rather than taking credible action, the Modi government is repeating the events of 1994, when then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao assured to Iran credible action on IIOJK if the country saves New Delhi from the ignominy it was about to suffer at the UN Commission on Human Rights.