Delineating Delimitation 

After the NC-PC rift during the DDC elections, there are now signs of growing differences between NC-PDP, as the delimitation process moves on

THE 24 June all-party meeting was described by some as ‘agenda-less’. It seems, however, there was an agenda after all: New Delhi wanted to expedite the delimitation process – which had started in spring 2020 after New Delhi constituted the Delimitation Commission for Jammu and Kashmir on 6 March 2020 – by bringing the main political parties of Jammu and Kashmir onboard. Except for PDP (which boycotted the commission), all other regional parties met the three-member Delimitation Commission at Hotel Lalit during its Srinagar visit on 6 July 2021. Whatever be the content (and rhetoric) of their memoranda, by meeting the commission these parties have lent a degree of legitimacy to the exercise which many believe is designed to further (politically) disempower Kashmiri Muslims. As senior journalist Muzamil Jaleel wrote in his recent commentary, “While the legislative and administrative measures [that disempower Kashmiris] are being introduced on a day-to-day basis, the delimitation process is an essential step to permanently disallow even a remote chance for a halt in or reversal of this process in future.”

In its August 2020 Declaration (signed by the six regional parties) the Gupkar Alliance had said that “there is unanimity amongst us that collective institution is the effective way to fight for these rights and tirelessly struggle to get back the special status and restore the Constitutional guarantees forcibly taken away, against our will.” But there is anything but unanimity amongst them. The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) was formed on 20 October 2020. But within three months of its formation, one of the constituent parties, Peoples Conference, pulled out from the Alliance on 19 January 2021, citing “a breach of trust between partners.” The main issue of contention among the alliance partners was which candidates should contest the District Development Council (DDC) elections as officially-mandated PAGD candidates. Journalist Jehangir Ali (The Wire 19 Jan 2021) quoted a PC leader who blamed National Conference president Farooq Abdullah (who is also PAGD president) for taking “decisions [of unilaterally nominating NC candidates as PAGD contestants] without consultations, thereby upsetting the constituent parties.” NC’s counter was that PC was able to secure 8 DDC seats in north Kashmir because of the Alliance’s support. In the end, the constituent parties, because they had their self-interests, fielded proxy candidates against the officially-mandated Alliance candidates. And in this way, they undermined their position as a political collective that was supposed to fight for the rights snatched by New Delhi on 5 August 2019. Insecurities, lack of trust, and self-interest forms a chink in the armour of the PAGD that RSS will further exploit to advance its ideological project in Kashmir.

After the NC-PC rift during the DDC elections, there are now signs of growing differences between NC-PDP, as the delimitation process moves on. After the 24 June all-party meeting, NC and PDP have started speaking in different tones. NC’s behaviour appears especially dubious. When an Aj Tak reporter asked Farooq Abdullah about his views on Mehbooba Mufti’s comments regarding Pakistan, he said “She is a party’s [PDP] leader and she speaks her party’s viewpoint. I can’t say anything regarding that. Their [PDP’s] agenda is different than my [NCs] agenda.” Was Farooq Abdullah appeasing New Delhi by distancing NC from PDP, which has adopted the approach of soft-separatism to gain traction with the discontented population in J&K and rehabilitate its image (because it had entered into an alliance and brought BJP to Kashmir)? PDP’s policy of soft-separatism was evident in the remarks Mehbooba Mufti made after her release in October 2020. In an interaction with media, Mufti had said, “When this [J&K State] flag of ours is restored, we will hold that flag (tricolour) also. But we will not hold any other flag till the time our flag, which was robbed from us, comes into our hold.” NC had distanced itself from her statement, reflecting the party’s policy of appeasement.

The NC, which has three MPs – Farooq Abdullah, Akbar Lone and Hasnain Masoodi – and hence some nominal role in the Delimitation Commission as “associate members”, first boycotted the delimitation commission on the grounds that the party has challenged the constitutional validity of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act (under which the delimitation exercise was being carried out) in the Supreme Court.  But, later, in late May 2021, these MPs went to meet the commission and become party to the exercise they initially opposed. Was this change of heart a tactical move, appeasement, opportunism or done under duress? If we follow the sequence of certain events that occurred in late 2020 and early 2021, it could be inferred that NC has adopted the approach of appeasement and its decision to support the delimitation commission is linked to the sustained pressures New Delhi has put on Kashmiri politicians to which many have succumbed easily without a fight.

NC boycotted the meeting with the Delimitation Commission in February 2021. In early March, NC’s president Farooq Abdullah approached the J&K High Court challenging the December 2020 order of the Enforcement Directorate that attached his properties worth approximately Rs. 12 Crore in an alleged money laundering case. On March 6, the Delimitation Commission for Jammu and Kashmir was constituted and a week later, on 13 March, Farooq Abdullah was released after 221 days of preventive detention. Was there a quid pro quo? That NC accepts the new order of politics and in return Abdullah’s money laundering case is put in the cold store?

What further raises suspicions about NC behaviour (that could potentially unravel the PAGD) are the separate memorandums that were submitted to the Delimitation Commission by two set of NC leaders. In Srinagar, the NC delegation comprised of Abdur Rehman Rather, Mohammad Shafi Uri, Mian Altaf, Nasir Sogami and Sakina Itoo, and their memorandum read that:

“We very humbly and respectfully submit that Jammu and Kashmir Constitution subsists notwithstanding enactment of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019 and C.O. 272 and C.O. 273 as the Constitution being outcome of exercise of constituent power cannot be abrogated or annulled by the Parliament or any other authority.”

NC’s policy of appeasement emerges in the last part of the Srinagar memorandum where the party says that “While reiterating our stand and without prejudice to the submissions made above, we request you and other Hon’ble members of the Commission to carry out the delimitation exercise in a free, fair and transparent manner so that the unity and integrity of the state is safeguarded. Population has to be the only norm as has been the practice here in the past in J&K and elsewhere in the country.”

In Jammu, the NC delegation was comprised of Devender Singh Rana, Mr. Surjeet Singh Slathia, Mr. Ajay Kumar Sadhotra, Mr. Sajjad Ahmed Kitchloo and Mr. Javed Ahmed Rana, and their memorandum read:

“We are confident that the Delimitation Commission shall work in the most transparent , judicious and fair manner providing justice to all in delimiting the constituencies as per the constitutional framework based on the basic tenants of Delimitation – population, geography, topography, area, physical features, contiguity, convenience of administrative units and facilities of easy communication and approachability of public convenience.”

While the Srinagar memo emphasises on “Population” as the criterion for redrawing constituencies, the Jammu memo looks uncannily similar to what New Delhi wants or what RSS linked groups have asked for. After the delimitation commission finished its four-day tour of Jammu and Kashmir, the commission member (and Chief Election Commissioner) Sushil Chandra said that “Though the population forms the base [for delimitation], the commission shall take into account constituencies’ practicality, geographical compatibility, topography, physical features, means of communication and convenience available.”

Only time will tell whether the policy of appeasement will win favour of New Delhi this time and bring NC to power, as has happened in the past. It is also to be seen how far will the policy of soft-separatism take PDP. With many of its senior leaders having defected, boycotting the delimitation commission and taking a confrontational stance suits the party at the moment. This is an investment in return for political capital, which the party is lacking currently.

Whatever will be the fate of the two main political parties of Kashmir, one thing is clear: Kashmiris are hurtling towards a dark future. Those who have become willing partners of New Delhi now must remember the words of journalist Muzamil Jaleel that “Once the delimitation process is concluded and a new assembly set up, that ‘elected’ assembly can vote to seek a truncated state with New Delhi’s encouragement or agree to a mechanism where the powers would still stay with New Delhi’s appointed Lieutenant Governor. That assembly can also be used by New Delhi to provide a “democratic stamp” on the decisions of August 5, 2019.”

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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Muhammad Tahir

The author is an independent researcher

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