A report that the Home Minister in the newly elected government of India is reviewing the delimitation of constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir has brought a host of reactions from different parts of the country, whether affected directly or not. Most curious is the variety of responses from within the state ranging from hope of redress for long standing grievance to panic at what is seen as an assault on autonomy guaranteed by no less than the Constitution of India and thus on the very raison dêtre of the States accession to India in October 1947.But surely, considering that the Honble HM has not clarified what he is reviewing and what action is planned except to make known that reservation of constituencies for SC as required under the law will be considered, all such conjecture is not only premature but unjustified.
Jammu & Kashmir is a state like all states of India, with a multi-ethnic religious and cultural composition. The majority community in the State is a minority in some districts. The Constitutional structure of the country seeks to balance the interests of all sections of the Indian community, but contradictions have arisen leading to tensions, even conflict as India has evolved into what it is today, a modern nation state. At the heart of the conjoining of these diversities is the assurance that the interest of each section is represented and secure. The electoral system from Panchayat to Parliament is the means through which this is sought to be guaranteed democratically.
In J&K there are 6 parliamentary constituencies, three in the Kashmir Division, two in Jammu and one in the newly created Ladakh Division. Whereas the first is predominantly Kashmiri Muslim, the second has a majority Hindu but with a substantial and ethnically diverse Muslim population Kashmiri, Pahari and Gujjar, the latter being listed as Scheduled Tribe (ST), and Ladakh Division, classified entirely as ST, with a majority Muslim population but one of its two districts with a Buddhist majority.
Conversely, J& K State with a total land area of 226,236 sq km has the largest land area of the three divisions in the highland plateau of Ladakh, larger than both remaining Divisions combined and even the state of Kerala, which is represented with 16 seats in Parliament. The highest population growth rate is in the districts of Kashmir Division with Anantnag district recording a 38.58 % decadal growth in the last census followed by Ganderbal with 36.50%, then Kupwara in the northwest followed by the Muslim majority districts of Jammu Division. The largest extant district in population is indeed Jammu, winter capital of the State as played up in the media, bur this is followed in succession by Srinagar, Anantnag and Baramulla followed closely by Kupwara and Budgam, all within fast growing Kashmir Division.
The population of J&K is again according to the 2011 census 68.31 % Muslim and 28.47 % Hindu. And although this figure is almost identical to the balance post independence, the demographic distribution stood at 64.19% Muslim and 32.24 % Hindu in 1981. Since then the Muslim population has steadily increased. The investment of Sheikh Abdullahs government in public health and education in the 70s and early 80s is what brought the turnaround in health and life expectancy amongst Kashmiris earlier among the poorer of J&Ks communities ridden with infant mortality and affliction. Today J&K enjoys the lowest poverty line of any state in India.
So what is it that a review of delimitation expects to achieve? Redistribution on the basis of population? Kashmir is a slim densely populated Valley with settlements now scaling river and crag up ridges and mountainsides and hence stands to benefit most from such exercise. If the criterion is to be size, the hill areas of Jammu located in the Pir Panjal foothills of the mighty Himalayas as would the lofty Ladakh plateau, all primarily Muslim would gain, as it would consideration of connectivity. A concerned government ofcourse has the responsibility to keep such issues under review so as to ensure that every section of the citizenry finds representation in proportion to its size. This is hardly the tamasha as the review being made by the incoming HM has been made out to be by the visual media. And if indeed government in its wisdom were to decide on appointing a Delimitation Commission, such a Commission would be required to undertake extensive study and consultation before arriving at any recommendation, which will give every section of the affected population the opportunity to register its views.
Surely then for residents of Kashmir the answer lies not in beating breasts but in ensuring their own full participation in the electoral process, abysmal in recent times, ensuring election of a legislative assembly that fully represents their aspirations. But because the challenge of administering J&K today is loss of trust in government, a challenge manifested in the quality of debate that the country is now witnessing on delimitation the government would be well advised to act in accordance with its own objective oft reiterated by no less than prime minster Narendra Modi by cleaving to transparency and accountability to allay mistrust. This is even more essential at the present time when the State is under direct administration by the Centre through perhaps the most outstanding set of civil servants that the country has, serving and retired who today man the positions of Advisors and Chief Secretary of J&K.