Delimitation Proposals 'Disenfranchising People Of Kashmir': Omar

Srinagar- Lashing out at the Delimitation Commission over its draft recommendations, former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on Wednesday accused the panel of fulfilling the BJP's agenda of "disempowering" people of Kashmir, and said his National Conference (NC) will fight the move through democratic means.

The commission's proposal to increase the number of assembly seats in Jammu division by six and in Kashmir division by just one ignored the "overwhelming criteria" of population, the NC vice-president said.

"By increasing the seats in this proportion, you are actually disenfranchising people in Kashmir because the ratio of seat-to-population changes drastically," Abdullah told PTI in his first detailed reaction to the commission's draft recommendations.

The draft recommendations were presented in a meeting of the commission in New Delhi two days ago, attended by three MPs of the NC and two of the BJP. The commission has sought comments of the MPs who are its associate members by December 31.

The NC, PDP and other political parties largely based in the Kashmir region have vociferously opposed the draft proposals which will increase the number of assembly seats in Jammu division from 37 to 43 and Kashmir from 46 to 47.

Abdullah made it clear that the NC will not endorse the recommendations and if the commission doesn't amend the proposals, "we will make sure our dissent is part of the record".

Ruling out moving the Supreme Court because, "rightly or wrongly, you cannot challenge recommendations of a Delimitation Commission in a court", he said, "We have to try and build pressure through other democratic means."

He said the concerted plan of the Centre since 2018 has been to disempower people in Kashmir and the proposals of the Delimitation Commission "is just another step in that direction".

"We have time and again questioned the rationale for this delimitation...their justification for August 5, 2019 (decisions) was that you can't have one country with two systems and that Jammu and Kashmir had to be brought at par with the rest of the country, then why were we singled out for delimitation," he said.

Abdullah pointed out that many BJP leaders in Jammu were not happy with the 2011 census and said the government could have waited for a couple of years and then had a delimitation based on the census of 2021.

"Then we would have seen what the ratio is. So, they can't have it all their way. They want delimitation, but then they want to ignore 2011 census data. They can't do that and that's why we have said that the commission has not taken an objective view of this distribution of seats," he said.

He countered the argument in a section of media that the seats were being distributed because of geographical areas and said if that is the consideration, then why do Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra not have more seats than Uttar Pradesh. All these three states have larger territory than Uttar Pradesh which is the most populous state.

"...and in this (JK) case that is being ignored for political purposes and that is why we are opposed to it," he said and added that it was not justified because at the end of the day the main basis for delimitation is the census.

Abdullah refused to spell out the future course of action saying this is "something we will discuss internally within the party and also with those leaders that represent the party in the PAGD. They will also sit down and chalk out future strategy. I don't want to get into details right now," he said.

"...I don't think we should hoodwink the people by claiming that we will fight against it legally. There is no legal recourse and therefore, we have to try and build pressure we can through means other than legal means to get the commission to see the sense," he said.

Abdullah was also clear that the party would not approach other political parties outside the erstwhile state and said "our own experience has been that parties very seldom are happy to find common interests with the people of Jammu and Kashmir".

"Most political parties found no common interest with us after August 5, 2019 and therefore, I don't think it will serve any purpose. There are parties like the CPM, CPI that are part of the PAGD. So, yes definitely we would like to take them along with us but otherwise unfortunately this is our battle and we have to fight it," he said.

He said the delimitation commission recommendations were one of those rare occasions "when a proposed decision is being badly received on both sides of the Peer Panjal (Kashmir and Jammu). I think the BJP had oversold what they were going to do with this Delimitation Commission and, therefore, while people in Kashmir are unhappy with these recommendations because it's seen as aimed only at disempowering people here, there are large sections of population in Jammu that are unhappy with these recommendations too."

On the criticism from some political parties over the NC's participation in the commission meetings, he said, "We have...made our position very clear as to where we stand on these recommendations."

All political parties barring one met the commission when it came to Srinagar and Jammu.

"Now those who criticise our participation would also have criticised us for staying away when this report would have been presented.... So, these critics would criticise us regardless," he said.

Asked where do these recommendations stand with regard to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's assertion during a meeting in June this year on reducing the distance between Delhi and Srinagar, Abdullah responded, "That is a question for PMO to answer."

"Very little has been done to reduce the distance since that meeting. So let us not single out just these recommendations of the Delimitation Commission. There has been very little follow-up after that meeting to give shape to the words that were used there," he added.

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