Syed Ali Mujtaba
A three-member Delimitation Commission has submitted its report on redrawing assembly constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir on May 5, 2022. The delimitation panel has earmarked 47 assembly seats for the Kashmir division and 43 for the Jammu division after freshly redrawing the electoral map of Jammu and Kashmir.
A gazette notification to this effect was issued by the panel headed by a retired Supreme Court judge, Ranjana Prakash Desai, who signed the final order and submitted it to the government. In the final analysis, the Jammu division got six additional seats, and the Kashmir division got an extra assembly seat of Kupwara.
Such exercise of delimitation of electoral constituencies is going on for the last six decades to establish electoral parity between the Hindu majority Jammu division and Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley. Now, the gap is only 4 assembly seats between Muslim dominated Kashmir valley and the Hindu-dominated Jammu region.
It’s through the delimitation exercise that Jammu’s share of assembly seats in the J-K assembly has been increased from 30 to 43 seats, while in Kashmir it has gone up from 43 to 47 in the last six decades.
The delimitation of the electoral constituencies in J&K clearly shows that the exercise is a deliberate attempt to increase the assembly seats in the Jammu region to seek parity with the assembly seats in the Kashmir Valley.
Some view that the delimitation exercise is an extension of the process started on August 5, 2019, to rob Jammu and Kashmir of the Muslim majority status. It’s apparent that the Delhi Durbar is using the delimitation tool to electorally marginalise the Muslim majority of J&K.
PDP leader Ms Mahbooba Mufti, while commenting on the delimitation of electoral constituencies in J&K has reportedly, said; “It’s a copy-paste exercise of the Hindutva agenda and a sad chapter in the history of J&K. It will be for the first time in the electoral history of the country that elections are being rigged long even before the first vote is cast. The central government has misused independent institutions to turn the electoral majority into a minority by using geography and access as a ruse.”
There are some glaring shortcomings in the delimitation exercise. First, the Delimitation Commission was constituted under the Delimitation Act of 2002. It has redrawn the constituencies of the Union Territory of J&K in accordance with the provisions of the J&K Re-organisation Act of August 5, 2019. However, this arbitrary reorganisation of 2019 is challenged by the Supreme Court. As such, will the recommendation made by the delimitation panel have any legal sanctity?
Second, glaring feature of the current delimitation exercise is the Re-organization Act of 2019 that modified the law of enfranchisement of J-K and has given voting rights to non-state subjects which earlier was restricted to only permanent residents. Will this stand the legal scrutiny?
Yet another shortcoming is that the Delimitation Commission has failed to recognise a sizeable population belonging to castes that bears the same status as STs and SCs and has made no recommendation for their reservation. According to SC judgment, religion cannot be made criteria for reservation. In such a case, why such provision is denied is something that begs attention.
In Jammu and Kashmir, there are a total of 20 districts. The Jammu division has 10 districts; Jammu, Doda, Kathua, Ramban, Reasi, Kishtwar, Poonch, Rajouri, Udhampur, and Samba. Six districts, Rajouri, Poonch, Doda, Kishtwar, and Ramban have a Muslim majority, while the Reasi district has an almost equal number of Muslims (49.7%) and Hindus (48.9%). The Hindus form a majority in only four districts, Jammu, Kathua, Samba, and Udhampur. Their population is roughly half of the Reasi district. Even having a majority in four and a half districts, Hindus are in a majority with 62.50%, in the Jammu Division and Muslims are in minority with 33.50%, and the rest are Sikhs.
This is quite intriguing because, in the 1901 Census, the population of the state of Kashmir was 2,905,578; of these 2,154,695 were Muslims, 689,073 Hindus, and 25,828 Sikhs, and 35,047 Buddhists. The Hindus were found mainly in Jammu, where they constituted a little less than 50% of the population.
In the 1901 Census, the total population of Kashmir valley was recorded to be 1,157,394, of which the Muslim population was 1,083,766, or 93.6%. Here the Hindus represented “only 524 in every 10,000 of the population (i.e. 5.24%).
The Census of 1941 recorded Muslims as constituting 72.41% of the population, and Hindus 25.01% in the state of J&K. In the 1941 Census in Kashmir valley Muslims accounted for 93.6% and the Hindus constituted 4%. Jammu and Kashmir were not a part of independent India’s first Census in 1951.
The 1961 Census shows the Muslim population to be 24.32 lakh which constituted 68.31% of the J&K state while Hindus, numbering 10.13 lakh, made up 28.45%. The total population of the J&K was then 35.60 lakh.
After the 1961 census, the percentage of the Muslim population started to fall gradually. In the 1971 Census, it was 65.83 percent and, in the Census of 1981, it fell to 64.19 percent. There was no Census in 1991 due to militancy in Jammu and Kashmir.
The next Census was held in 2001, where the proportion of the Muslim population touched 66.97 percent — more than the community’s share in 1971. And in the 2011 census, the Muslim population rose to reach exactly what it was in 1961 (68.31%).
Consequently, the share of the Hindu population moved in the opposite direction — increasing from 28.45 percent in 1961 to 30.42 percent in 1971, and peaking at 32.24 percent in 1981; before falling to 29.62 percent in 2001 and further to 28.43 percent in 2011.
So, the population matrix as it stands as the percentage of Muslims in the Kashmir Valley to be 95% and those of Hindus 4%; while in the Jammu region, the percentage of Hindus is 66% and those of Muslims 30%.
This post-independence census story has to take into account the “Jammu file” that changed the demographic character of the region after 1947.
To quote a report of August 10, 1948, published in ‘The Times,’ London that says: “Two Lakh and Thirty Seven thousand Muslims were systematically exterminated, or they escaped to Pakistan along the border by the forces of the Dogra State headed by the Maharaja in person and aided by Hindus and Sikhs. This happened nine days before the Maharaja’s accession to India on October 27, 1947.”
The post-independent demographic history of J&K is an extension of ‘Jammu Files’. It’s apparent how Muslims who were a majority (61 percent) before 1947 in the Jammu region (1941 census) became a minority in the 1961 census. It’s obvious that this was due to the massacre and migration in 1947.
The delimitation exercise in 2022 is a chain in the sequence of events that are moving in the direction of making the Jammu and Kashmir, a Hindu majority region of India.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a Chennai-based journalist. He can be contacted at email@example.com
(Courtesy Clarion India)