The demographic changes in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) through the Delimitation Commission manifest the nefarious designs of Hindutva supremacy in the region. The move not only disempowers the indigenous Kashmiri Muslims, but also intensifies Islamophobic trends within the Indian society.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under the leadership of Mr. Narendra Modi has created a perception of “peace as a zero-sum game,” among the Indian public. The BJP proponents have used lack of communication, false perceptions and hypernationalism, to create a conducive environment for Hindutva extremism by employing ideology, political capital, realpolitik, and geopolitics in India. This has reduced their appetite for peaceful coexistence with all alternate voices or ideologies. The parochial Hindutva approach has made Pakistan and Islamophobia a political dividend for them, an election winning slogan. It would be pertinent to mention that Islamophobia is used as a strategic weapon by the BJP leadership to not only further their Hindutva policies but also to delegitimize the Kashmiri freedom struggle by equating it with the rhetoric of “Islamic terrorism.” Despite deploying nine hundred thousand occupying armed forces, BJP’s Kashmir policy aims at diluting the intensity of the conflict through state-sponsored terrorism, while applying forceful constitutional changes, ethnic and religious cleansing, creating fear, political remapping, use of excessive torture/violence, human rights violations, economic terrorism, identity politics and electoral engineering.
Using the aforementioned tactics, BJP is trying to fulfil the promises made to radical Hindu voters to bring IIOJK under Hindu rule. The illegal occupation and colonization of IIOJK by India complements their ideology of greater India (Akhand Bharat) and satisfies their territorial definition of nationalism. Historically, BJP has always been critical of Congress for their inability to dissolve and dilute the Kashmir conflict. Here it would be noteworthy to mention that before 2014, the political presence of BJP was negligible in IIOJK. However, it was only after creating a working relationship with Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Domestic Party, BJP found little space in the political structure of IIOJK. But soon after the revocation of article 370, Mehbooba Mufti openly criticized the decision, leading towards her house arrest by BJP along with other Kashmiri leadership. After losing all political sympathizers in IIOJK and realizing the inability of Hindu vote bank to bring BJP into power, BJP strategized the political remapping of the region to facilitate the Hindu population, encourage Hindu vote bank and construct space for BJP in the political structure of IIOJK. Such non-democratic, radical and authoritarian orientation of BJP is the reason that international institutions like V-Dem, now consider India as an electoral autocracy which is continuously declining further on democratic values and scales.
Despite deploying nine hundred thousand occupying armed forces, BJP’s Kashmir policy aims at diluting the intensity of the conflict through state-sponsored terrorism, while applying, forceful constitutional changes, ethnic and religious cleansing, creating fear, political remapping, use of excessive torture/violence, human rights violations, economic terrorism, identity politics and electoral engineering.
Against the will and wishes of the indigenous Kashmiri population, the BJP government constituted a three-member Delimitation Commission on IIOJK, headed by Justice Ranjana Desai in May 2020, to materialize the BJP’s political ambitions in IIOJK. Only a day before the given deadline, on May 5, 2022, the commission issued final orders of delimitation of political constituencies of the IIOJK, published in The Gazette of India. There also were two other ex-officio members, Chief Election Commissioner, Sushil Chandra and Chief Electoral Officer of Jammu and Kashmir, K.K. Sharma of the said commission. The Commission also worked with five Lok Sabha MPs from IIOJK, nominated by the Lok Sabha Speaker as Associate Members. Those members were Farooq Abdullah, Mohammad Akbar Lone from National Conference, Hasnain Masoodi, Union Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, and Jitendra Singh and Jugal Kishore Sharma of BJP. Indicating the manipulative politics of BJP, the commission consisted of only likeminded puppet members and was neither inclusive nor democratic.
This Delimitation Commission can be compared with the Radcliffe Award, which was constituted by the Britain for the demarcation of Sub-continent. However, the decisions of the said award only benefitted India, leading South Asia towards the deadliest genocide (Jammu Genocide was one of them), which caused brutal killings of millions of innocent people and as a result, millions of people were displaced. It is noteworthy that history does not change its course and if such political demarcation could not bring any good for the region in 1947, then one would be living in a fool’s paradise to assume that it would bring any good now. Such politically motivated moves triggered by self-interest, while ignoring the rights and demands of indigenous people aiming at silencing their voices, can only harm the already fragile and volatile security structure of South Asia.
The Delimitation Commission recommended seven additional constituencies, six for Jammu, and one for Kashmir. As a result, the total number of seats in the state assembly of IIOJK are increased from 83 to 90.
Review: Decisions of Delimitation Commission
The Delimitation Commission recommended seven additional constituencies: six for Jammu, and one for Kashmir. As a result, the total number of seats in the state assembly of IIOJK are increased from 83 to 90. This will increase the number of seats in Jammu to 43 from 37 earlier, and that in the Kashmir Valley to 47 from 46 earlier. The fact should not be ignored that the only seat in the Kashmir Valley that has been created is in frontier Kupwara district, which is a stronghold of Sajad Gani Lone’s led People’s Conference, a former BJP ally. Interestingly, the state assembly of IIOJK has 24 symbolic seats for Azad Jammu & Kashmir which remain vacant. Ironically, Delimitation Commission’s biases and malafide intentions are substantiated by the fact that this controversial commission considered the average population of an assembly constituency in the Muslim majority Kashmir valley to be 1.4 lac and in Hindu majority Jammu region, to be 1.2 lac.
The delimitation notification mainly focuses on reorganization of the parliamentary constituencies, such as the five Indian Lok Sabha seats are made up of exactly 18 assembly constituencies each, taking the total number to 90; reservation of nine assembly seats for Scheduled Tribes,1 six in Jammu and three in Kashmir; and removal of the regional distinction between Jammu and Kashmir and treating it as one, as is reflected in the combining of Anantnag region in Kashmir with Rajouri and Poonch in Jammu to create Anantnag-Rajouri as a parliamentary constituency. Ironically, the commission made this decision only to facilitate BJP as it has considerable following in these Hindu majority areas and disempowers ethnic Kashmiri Muslims. They also recommended that the state assembly of IIOJK will have at least two members (at least one of them should be a woman) from Kashmiri migrant community. This political engineering only highlights the desperation of BJP leadership to seek maximum seats in the forthcoming elections. Various political analysts have also stated that these modifications only aim at facilitating the Hindutva proponents under the patronage of BJP.
The increase of assembly seats of the Jammu region is considered as a move to increase the Hindu representation in the state assembly.
The increase of assembly seats of Jammu region is considered as a move to increase the Hindu representation in the state assembly. This move becomes more controversial when on the one hand, the Jammu region with 44 percent share in the population of IIOJK, gets 48 percent seats in the state assembly and on the other hand Kashmir valley with 56 percent of the total population only gets 52 percent share in assembly seats. Moreover, Kashmir Valley has thirteen hundred thousand more population than Jammu as per the census of 2011. It is apparent that if BJP repeats the history of assembly elections of 2014 and manages to politically conquer the Jammu region through radical Hindu vote bank, it may become the single largest party in the state assembly through unfair means and political remapping. The Kashmir Valley’s electoral politics is a tug of war between National Conference, PDP, Peoples’ Conference, Congress and others while All Parties Hurriyat Conference boycotts the elections.
Traditionally, the right to vote was only restricted to the state subjects in the whole region of IIOJK, however, this Delimitation Commission has suggested to extend this exclusive right to non-state subjects. This move is not only a violation of the rights of indigenous Kashmiri population but also facilitates Indian government to alter the political realities. This move is not only in violation of the international law but also in violation of the UN resolution regarding Kashmir and Simla Agreement.
BJP’s politics of changing the names of cities and towns to create a false link with Hindu religious scriptures has been adopted through this Delimitation Commission as well. The delimitation order changed old names of the constituencies of state assembly and claim that it was on popular demand. The commission renamed Tangmarg as Gulmarg, Zoonimar is Zaidibal, Sonwar is now Lal Chowk, Padder is Padder-Nagseni, Kathua North is Jasrota, Kathua South is Kathua, Khour is Chhamb, Mahore is Gulabhgarh and Darhal is Budhal. Changing names is also a part of the strategy of disengagement with their Islamic past to tarnish the identity of indigenous people. Almost all colonial powers adopted this as a tactic in the sub-continent to prolong and sustain their illegal occupation.
Response by Political Parties of IIOJK
Under the disguise of administrative measures, this politically motivated act was criticized by the political parties of IIOJK. The chief of PDP, Ms. Mehbooba Mufti expressed her concerns and stated, “The Delimitation Commission has overlooked the basis of population and acted as per their wish. We outrightly reject it. We don’t trust it.” She rightly called the commission as an “extension of BJP.” National Conference’s chief spokesperson, Tanvir Sadiq stated that the Delimitation Commission’s suggestions to redraw the political map “will disempower the people of Kashmir.” The people’s Alliance for GOPKAR Declaration (PAGD), a political alliance of five regional political parties of IIOJK, headed by Farooq Abdullah, criticized the move and mentioned how the commission has “worked beyond its mandate,” to propose, “sweeping changes,” which will “alter the demography” of the occupied region. The GOPKAR Alliance is campaigning for autonomy of the occupied region by restoring the special status along with Article 35A. A senior CPI (M) leader, M.Y Tarigami stated, “In the long run, this exercise is bound to disempower the people of Jammu and Kashmir.” The spokesperson of National Conference, Mr. Imran Nabi Dar said, “The very exercise of the Delimitation Commission is constitutionally suspect. The commission has completely ignored the important and only parameter of population in the exercise.” Sajad Lone, the head of People’s Conference, and a former ally of BJP, stated that the Delimitation Commission has “discriminated against Kashmir.” He further added, “Over the last six decades, Kashmir’s share of assembly increased from 43 to 47 while Jammu’s share rose from 30 to 43.” After analyzing the reaction of these political parties, one wonders how can BJP establish its whole premise of popular demand in complete contradiction to the ground realities.
The people’s Alliance for GOPKAR Declaration (PAGD), a political alliance of five regional political parties of IIOJK, headed by Farooq Abdullah, criticized the move and mentioned how the commission has “worked beyond its mandate,” to propose, “sweeping changes,” which will “alter the demography” of the occupied region.
While responding to this illegal action of Indian government, the government of Pakistan has called Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad and expressed concerns through a diplomatic letter. The letter emphasized that “the ulterior motive of the Indian government was evident from the fact that under the garb of so-called delimitation, the representation of Muslims in the re-designated constituencies had been reduced to their disadvantage. This shattered the rationale pushed by the Indian government that the ‘delimitation effort’ was aimed to ‘empower’ the local population. However, in reality, the new electoral boundaries would further disempower, marginalize, and divide the people of the occupied territory. It would only pave the way for installing yet another puppet regime backed by the BJP-RSS nexus.”
The delimitation notification by the commission only indicates BJP’s manipulative mindset aimed at diluting the significance of Muslim vote bank in IIOJK. It reflects their shortsightedness to only serve their self-interests at any cost. These acts are only to strengthen the Indian occupation of Jammu and Kashmir through silencing Kashmiri Muslims. Silencing the alternate discourse is one of the basic tools of oppression used by the BJP government. Consequently, India went down eight positions on the Freedom of Speech Index and is now on 150th rank. A famous Kashmiri journalist, Mr. Iftikhar Gilani, rightly called this move as “Gerrymandering.’
It would be pertinent to write that such unconstitutional changes and disempowering indigenous Muslim population of IIOJK will only worsen the situation. Kashmiri diaspora and Kashmiris living in Azad Jammu and Kashmir should raise their voice at the international institutions and forums to highlight the political restructuring of IIOJK by BJP government at the cost of the rights of indigenous Kashmiris. The well-articulated trends of Modi regime regarding their approach to Kashmir conflict reflect their malafide intentions. First, they released a movie The Kashmir Files, an outright propaganda to trigger Islamophobia, followed by the decision of Delimitation Commission. Through this strategy, BJP first created a false perception of the Kashmir conflict and then strengthened Islamophobia through the decisions of Delimitation Commission, all the while fanning the communal conflict. Since day one, India intends to portray the Kashmir conflict from a communal lens and several incidents of mass murders by Indian security forces, such as Chattisinghpora (mass murder of Kashmiri Sikhs) substantiates this.
However, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s statement that “Kashmiriyat, jamhooriyat and insaniyat,” (Kashmiri identity, democracy and humanity) are the only frameworks to facilitate a sustainable and peaceful solution of the conflict. The decisions of Delimitation Commission not only violate international law but also the UN resolutions on Kashmir conflict. BJP government has provided constitutional cover through incorporating such discriminatory and non-democratic laws in their colonial policies. Pakistan, being the primary party to the conflict, should consult all international institutions and forums to highlight the evil designs of the Indian government and the plight of Kashmiris.
The writer is Executive Director at the Center for International Strategic Studies, AJ&K and the author of Shaking Hands with Clenched Fists: The Grand Trunk Road to Confidence Building Measures between Pakistan and India.