Remapping political structure in Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir

by Dr. Asma Shakir Khawaja

As we know that traditionally the Right to Vote was only restricted to the State Subjects in IOJ&K, however, the commission has suggested extending it to non-state subjects. This move not only affects the right of the indigenous Kashmiri population but also facilitate the Indian government to alter the political realities. This move is not only against international law but in violation of the UN resolution of the Kashmir and Simla agreement.

BJP under the leadership of Mr. Narendra Modi promised their radical Hindu voters to bring Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K) under Hindu rule. They always criticized Congress for its inability to dissolve the Kashmir conflict. Before 2014, the political presence of BJP was almost negligible in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. However, it was only after being facilitated by Mehbooba Mufti, head of Peoples Democratic Party, that BJP found little space in the political structure of IOJ&K. However, after the revocation of article 370 from the Indian constitution, Mehbooba Mufti, along with other political leadership also opposed it.

Her political ally BJP put Ms. Mufti under house arrest including other Kashmiri leadership as well. Resultantly after losing all political sympathizers in Kashmir, BJP was more determined for political re-mapping of the region. Moreover, they realized the fact that Hindu vote bank is not in a position to lead BJP into power in any future elections in IOJ&K. Resultantly, their radical leadership started to look for options and strategies to manufacture the regional political scenario so that BJP can conquer the upcoming elections by hook or by crook. Such nondemocratic and radical orientation of BJP, is the reason that international institutions like V-Dem, now consider India as an electoral autocracy which is continuously sliding down further on democratic values and measurements.

Understanding the matter better

A three-member Delimitation Commission on Jammu and Kashmir, formulated by the government of BJP in May 2020, headed by Justice Ranjana Desai, on 5th May 2022, issued the final orders of delimitation of political constituencies of the IOJ&K, published in Gazette of India. This notification was given only one day before the given deadline. There were two other ex-officio members, Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra and Chief Electoral Officer of Jammu and Kashmir KK Sharma were also members of the said commission.

The Commission also worked with five Lok Sabha MPs from Indian Occupied J&K, nominated by the Lok Sabha Speaker as Associate Members. Those members were Farooq Abdullah, Mohammad Akbar Lone from National Conference and Hasnain Masoodi, Union Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh, and Jugal Kishore Sharma of the BJP. The makeup of the delimitation commission indicates the manipulative politics of BJP. It consisted of only likeminded puppet leadership. The commission was neither inclusive nor democratic. A clear comparison can be drawn with the Radcliffe Award, which was constituted by Britain for demarcation of the Sub-continent however the decisions of the said award only benefitted India; lead South Asia towards the deadliest genocide (Jammu Genocide was one of them) which caused the brutal killings of millions of innocent people and as the 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 than one would be living in fool’s paradise to assume that it would bring any good now. Such politically motivated and triggered by self-interests moves 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.

Analyzing Decisions of Delimitation commission

The Delimitation Commission recommended seven additional constituencies, six for Jammu, and one for Kashmir. As the result the total number of seats in the state assembly of IOJ&K 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. This 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 IOJ&K has symbolic 24 seats for Azad Jammu & Kashmir which remain vacant.

Ironically, the 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 will be 1.4 lakh and in Hindu majority Jammu region, it would be 1.2 lakh.

The delimitation notification mainly focuses on, the reorganization of the Parliamentary constituencies such that 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, 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 a considerable following in these Hindu majority areas and disempowers ethnic Kashmiri Muslims.

They also recommended that the State assembly of IOJ&K will have at least two members (at least one of them should be a woman) from the Kashmiri migrant community. All this political engineering only highlighting the desperation of BJP leadership to seek maximum seats in the forthcoming election. 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. This move becomes more controversial when the Jammu region with 44 per cent share in the population of IOJ&K gets 48 per cent seats in the state assembly and on the other hand Kashmir valley with 56 per cent of the total population only gets 52 per cent share in assembly seats. Kashmir valley has 13 hundred thousand (13 Lac) more population than Jammu, as per the census of 2011.

t is apparent that if the BJP repeats the history of the assembly elections of 2014 and manages to politically conquer the Jammu region through radical Hindu vote bank, it may be the single largest party in the state assembly. This is significant because the Kashmir Valley’s electoral politics is a tug of war between the National Conference, PDP, Peoples’ Conference, Congress and others while All Parties Hurriyat Conference boycotts the elections.

The election issue

As we know that traditionally the Right to Vote was only restricted to the State Subjects in IOJ&K, however, the commission has suggested extending it to non-state subjects. This move not only affects the right of the indigenous Kashmiri population but also facilitate the Indian government to alter the political realities. This move is not only against international law but in violation of the UN resolution of the Kashmir and Simla agreement.

BJPs politics of changing the names of cities and town to create a false link with Hindu religious scriptures has been adopted by this delimitation commission as well. The delimitation order changed the 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 part of the strategy of disengagement to tarnish the identity of indigenous people. Almost all colonial powers adopted this as part of their occupational tactics to prolong and sustain their illegal occupation and colonial power India is no different.

Criticism by Political Parties in Kashmir

Under the disguise of administrative measures this politically motivated act was criticized by the Kashmiri leadership of political parties of IOJ&K. 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 GOPKAR Alliance of five regional political parties of IOJ&K headed by Farooq Abdullah criticized the move and termed that the commission has “worked beyond its mandate,” to propose, “sweeping changes,” which will “alter the demography” of the occupied region.

The people’s Alliance for GOPKAR Declaration (PAGD) is a political alliance of several political parties of IOJ&K. They are campaigning for autonomy for the occupied region by resorting to special status along with Article 35A. M.Y Tarigami senior CPI (M) leader stated that “In the long run, this exercise is bound to disempower the people of Jammu and Kashmir.” The spokesperson of the 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 the population in the exercise.”Sajad Lone, the head of the People’s Conference, and a former ally of the BJP stated the delimitation commission has “discriminated against Kashmir.”

He further added that “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 BJP can establish its whole premise of popular demand in complete contradiction of ground realities.

Pakistan’s Response

The government of Pakistan has called Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad and expressed concerns by handing over 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 combine.”

he delimitation notification by the commission only indicates upon BJPs manipulative mindset aims at diluting the significance of the Muslim Vote Bank in IOJ&K. 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 by silencing Muslim Kashmiris. Silencing alternate discourse is one of the basic tools of oppression used by the BJP government. Consequently, India slided down eight positions on the Freedom of Speech Index and now is on 150th rank. A famous Kashmiri journalist Mr. Iftakhar Gilani rightly called this move as “Gerrymandering.’

It would be pertinent to write that such unconstitutional changes and disempowering the indigenous Muslim population of IOJ&K will only worsen the situation. Kashmiri diaspora and Kashmiris living in Azad Jammu and Kashmir should raise their voice in international institutions and forums, to highlight the political restructuring of IOJ&K by the BJP government at the cost of the rights of indigenous Kashmiris. The trends of the Modi regime regarding their approach to the Kashmir conflict reflect their well-articulated moves. First, they released the movie “Kashmir Files,” completely propaganda to trigger Islamophobia followed by the decision of the delimitation commission.

Through this strategy, first BJP created a false understanding of the Kashmir conflict and then strengthened Islamophobia through the decisions of the delimitation commission while fanning the communal conflict. From day one India intends to portray the Kashmir conflict from communal lens, however, Atal Buhari Vajpai’s statement that “Kashmiriyat, Jamhooriyat and Insaniyat,” (Kashmiri Identity, Democracy, Humanity) are the only frameworks to facilitate a sustainable and peaceful solution of the conflict. This move is not only against international law but against the UN resolutions on Kashmir. Pakistan being the primary party of the conflict should consult all international institutions and forums to highlight the evil designs of the Indian government and plight of Kashmiris.

The author is Executive Director of the Center for International Strategic Studies, Azad Jammu and Kashmir. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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Center for International Strategic Studies AJK, King Abdullah Campus Chatter kalas Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir