Since the day when Jawaharlal Nehru foisted Sheikh Abdulla on Jammu and Kashmir, the Kashmir valley has had a disproportionate say in matters concerning the state. It’s just for a minuscule Valley (area 15.73%) that regions like Jammu (area 25.93%) and Ladakh (area 58.33%) have to suffer immeasurably, for they too have to bear the burden of laws such as Article 370 and Article 35A, which not only hurt their economic development, but also extract a human cost. And this in spite of showing no separatist sentiments whatsoever, unlike a radicalised section in the valley, which thrives on regression, oppression and violence, all of which feed into anti-India sentiments. Add to this the burden of legislative and consequently administrative control that Kashmir has over both Jammu and Ladakh, courtesy the disproportionate representation it has in the Assembly. Kashmir may have a numerical advantage over Jammu in terms of population—53.9% compared to 43.7%—but that cannot justify the valley’s 46 seats in an Assembly of 87, especially when Jammu has 37 seats and Ladakh only four. And this in spite of the concentration of population being higher in many of Jammu’s seats—around a lakh or more. While in Kashmir, some of the seats such as Gurez have a population as low as 17,500-odd, according to 2014 Assembly election figures. Moreover, it will not be wrong to describe Kashmir’s electoral numbers as inflated as these also comprise the lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits—and their descendants if they have been included in the electoral rolls—who were forced to leave the valley in the late 1980s and early 1990s because of threats to their lives. It is because of the “majority” that the valley of Kashmir has in the J&K Assembly that the ruling classes from Kashmir have been able to exercise their writ over the rest of the state by exercising complete control over decision-making, including law making and in administrative and other government appointments. Central funds are controlled totally by the valley and distribution is anything but even-handed. It was because of this, among other reasons, that Ladakh, which was until recently part of the Kashmir administrative division—J&K had two administrative divisions, Kashmir and Jammu—was demanding a separate division status, because most of the funds meant for it were getting diverted to the valley. Recognising Ladakh’s need, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised Ladakh a separate division status and this was fulfilled earlier this year once the state came under Governor’s Rule.
It is this window of Governor’s Rule that offers another opportunity to the Central government to correct a historical wrong. This is the time to carry out an exercise in delimiting constituencies and give Jammu in particular its fair share of seats, which is a long pending demand of the people there. According to some estimates, Jammu’s share of seats may even surpass the number of seats in Kashmir if delimited. It was to pre-empt this possibility that in 2002, when a Delimitation Commission was set up nationally, that the then Farooq Abdullah government got passed a law by which delimitation was frozen in J&K until 2026. Considering the state Governor is empowered by the J&K Constitution to make new laws and repeal old laws, it is time for the Centre to revisit this unfair provision imposed on the people of Jammu by the politicians of Kashmir. This unnatural provision is an anomaly in Indian democracy because it does not allow political representation to Scheduled Tribes such as the Gujjars, Bakerwals and others. J&K is the only state in the country that does not have any reserved constituencies. This is wrong. Hence the buzz about an Amit Shah-led Ministry of Home Affairs mulling the delimitation of constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir is welcome.
There is no doubt that J&K has suffered the utmost under the hegemony of the ruling families of the valley. These few have maintained a stranglehold on the state and its resources, and have not only discriminated against the people of Jammu and Ladakh, but also against the common Kashmiri, by denying them the opportunity to be part of the Indian mainstream. Add to this the campaign of disinformation and hatred carried out by the “privileged” class of valley separatists and their masters from across the border, and Kashmir has descended into a quagmire of hatred and violence, far removed from the path of aspiration and progress towards a better future.
Delimitation of seats in J&K is likely to propel the state towards better governance by ensuring proper accountability from whichever party is in power. So there should not be any second thoughts on this matter. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has got a landslide victory because people trust him to break the status quo. There cannot be more of the same as that will be a betrayal of the mandate that his government has been given. Fear of violence in the Valley can never be a good enough reason for backtracking on this. Union Home Minister Amit Shah has the right ideas. He certainly has the will to implement them.