Probably the Jammu and Kashmir assembly in India is the only elected house in the world which keeps 24 of its seats vacant in the name of one of its erstwhile regions that is now disputed territory — what is known as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir or PoK. That is why voters in the state elect only 87 representatives in a house of 111 legislators.
The distribution of these 87 seats is no less interesting. The Kashmir region, which covers less than five percent (4.4 to be precise) area of the entire state, elects more legislators (46) than what forms the absolute majority in the functional house. Of the remaining two regions, Jammu sends 37 legislators from the 21.63 percent area it represents and Ladakh elects just four while accounting for 73.97 percent of the land mass of the state.
This arrangement is backed by laws passed by an assembly that remains loaded in favour of the Kashmir region.
The first assembly, constituted in 1951 by ‘Prime Minister’ Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, had 100 members. The Sheikh kept a lion’s share of 43 seats for his Kashmir Valley and left just 30 for the Jammu region and two for Ladakh. The remaining 25 seats were left ‘vacant’ — for POK until it returns to India.
This composition was formalised in the first J&K Representation of People Act of 1957. The second delimitation of 1995 increased the total number of assembly seats to 111. Kashmir region’s share went up to 46 with 37 for Jammu and four for Ladakh. The vacant seats were 24.
In 2002, the National Conference government refused to extend the central government’s fourth delimitation to Jammu and Kashmir. Instead, it used its two-third majority in the house to adopt the 29th amendment to the state constitution to freeze the assembly’s composition and the valley’s majority until 2031.
But the delimitation of 1995 is remembered more for its clever exercise in social engineering of the constituencies. Jammu- and Ladakh-based critics (read ‘victims’) point out that the statistical jugglery ensured that the odds were heavily loaded against the non-Muslim candidates in most constituencies of the Jammu and Ladakh regions.
For example, in the Buddhist-dominated Zanskar constituency, three Muslim majority areas of Langhartse, Bartoo and Barsu (which contribute 60 percent voters to the newly designed constituency) were shifted from neighbouring Muslim-majority Kargil Tehsil. That ensured that no Buddhist can ever reach the assembly from this area. This reflects the deep communal divide among the three regions of the state.
Similarly, this ‘engineering’ in many other constituencies like Poonch Haveli, Rajouri and Kalakot has seriously affected the electoral chances of non-Muslim candidates.
This delimitation also created some new constituencies and reorganized some others in the Kashmir Valley which critics label as ‘permanent constitutional rigging’. For example, an assembly constituency in the state has 83,053 voters on an average. But in the valley, the number of voters is far below in 22 constituencies. Similarly, of 14 constituencies with over 100,000 voters each , only four are in the Kashmir region and 10 are from Jammu.
In districts like Shopian, Kulgam and Pulwama, new constituencies like Gurez (17,554), Karnah (32,794), Khanyar (50,849) and Habbakadal (54,484) look like micro miniatures of Gandhi Nagar (166,132), Jammu-West (151,311), Rajouri (112,732) or Leh (67,736) of the other two regions.
Although the late Sheikh and successive leadership of the Kashmir Valley ensured its majority in the house on the strength of the absence of POK representatives, the sad fact remains that all the governments ensured that most of refugees from Muzaffarabad, Mirpur, Bhimber, Kotli, Dev Batala and other areas of POK were encouraged, rather pushed, to migrate to the rest of India.
The total strength of these POK communities today stands at around a million. But complex state laws and rules have ensured that they cannot return to settle back in the state, mainly on the ground that they were never certified as the ‘State Subjects’ of Jammu and Kashmir.
Unfortunately, the emergence of militancy and terrorism has changed the demographic character of the state. As a result, the voter distribution today stands at 3,750,000 in the valley, 3,310,000 in Jammu and 160,000 in Ladakh.
It might be a reason for certain forces in Kashmir to celebrate that 100 percent of the 46 seats in Kashmir Valley in the assembly elected Muslims in 2008. But it surely does not present the only Muslim-majority state of a secular India in a positive light.
Today when the rest of India looks banking upon the Narendra Modi magic in the coming Kashmir elections, the systemic electoral factors in the state are heavily loaded against the forces of change. If a change really happens despite these facts, then it will simply expose the utter disappointment and loss of faith of the ordinary Kashmiri in its self-appointed gods who have taken them for a ride in the name of Kashmiriyat.
Such a change would really mean a new dawn in the state of mind that we have known as ‘Kashmir’.