Narendra Modi’s government is continuing its onslaught on the political rights of Kashmiris, redrawing constituencies in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) to give greater representation to the Hindu minority and reduce representation for the majority Muslim population. The region has been carved into 90 constituencies, with 43 for Hindu-majority Jammu and 47 for Kashmir — almost equal representation, even though Jammu only makes up about 42% of the population of IIOJK minus Ladakh, which was separated as an administrative territory following the controversial revocation of the occupied state’s special status under the Indian Constitution on August 5, 2019.
For comparison, the previous constituency make-up of the disputed region was 46 for Kashmir and just 37 for Jammu. The reason for the changes given by authorities was the region’s “peculiar geo-cultural landscape”, suggesting that actual population dynamics were not given due credit, lest the majority population actually gets fair representation. The report from the delimitation commission has already been rejected by all of the major political parties of Kashmir, including those that are very pro-India.
It is notable that Kashmir has been without any elected political representation since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in New Delhi dismissed the region’s government in October 2019 and threw all of the leadership — including his own political allies — in jail for several months. While some official statements suggested that the changes were meant to bring back representation to the people of the occupied territory, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and several top leaders of the ruling party made little effort to hide their real intentions. The BJP put out a statement guaranteeing positive changes and a better future for the occupied region, but only if it was voted into power.
Earlier, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah had made a cryptic statement that political rights would be restored when the “situation becomes normal”. But ‘normal’ for Shah is not what most people consider the word to mean. After the region’s two main parties — the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party — rejected the delimitation of constituencies, most of their top Kashmiri leadership was thrown behind bars and the internet was shut down. Under the circumstances, it is fair to assume that ‘normal’ could easily be translated to mean any time the BJP can form a government in the region. While it has never done so before — the changes are sure to drum up support in extremist Hindu communities.
In its reaction, the Foreign Office of Pakistan also noted that the delimitation exercise clearly appears to be an attempt to lend legitimacy to the unconstitutional actions of August 2019 carried out by the Modi government. If the occupied state’s major parties boycott the elections expected sometime this year, the BJP and its natural allies in far-right parties could easily form a government; and if they contest, they will have to accept the revocation of the state’s special status as being legal.