Srinagar, Kashmir administered by India A controversial proposal to re-sign the Indian-administered Kashmir election card has caused anguish and anger among the region’s Muslims, who say the move is aimed at “disempowering” them.
In March last year, a demarcation commission headed by a former judge of India’s Supreme Court was appointed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and tasked with redrawing the boundaries of the constituencies that send representatives to the state assembly.
On December 20, the panel told its five associate members – three from the local national conference and two from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – that it proposed six seats in the Jammu region and only one seat in the Kashmir. valley to increase.
The Indian-administered Kashmir State Assembly was dissolved in August 2018, a year before New Delhi. deleted a law which granted limited autonomy to the disputed region and divided it into two federally controlled territories – Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh.
What is demarcation?
Demarcation refers to the withdrawal of boundaries of an assembly or parliamentary constituency to match the changes in the population of a region.
In the political structure of the former assembly, the valley had 46 seats and Jammu 37. If the panel’s proposals are accepted by the government, the valley will have 47 assembly seats while Jammu’s score will rise to 43.
In India, constituency-based constituencies form the basic unit of electoral representation to form the state government.
According to the 2011 census, Kashmir administered by India has a population of 12.5 million people, of which Muslims form a majority with 68.31 percent while Hindus are 28.43 percent. The majority of the Hindu population is concentrated in the Jammu region.
While Indian laws make the population the basis for redrawing political boundaries – a measure universally accepted – the demarcation commission “geographical area and accessibility” has made a significant base for election cards in the Himalayan region.
According to calculations based on the panel’s proposals in its Dec. 20 statement, a single meeting place in the Kashmir Valley will have an average population of 146,000. However, a constituency in Jammu could be carved out of an area with an average of 125,000 inhabitants.
Experts say the proposed redistribution of seats is “highly skewed” in favor of Jammu and could turn Muslims into a political minority in India’s only Muslim-majority region.
In the last elections in the Indian-administered Kashmir, held in 2014, the Hindu nationalist BJP won 25 of the 37 seats in the Jammu region and none in the valley.
For the past 70 years, all prime ministers in Kashmir who are administered by Indians have been Muslims.
But to have a Hindu prime minister was the right-wing BJP’s long-standing promise to its supporters in the Muslim majority region.
“Divided and disempowered”
The commission’s proposals have sparked outrage among Indian-led Muslim politicians and activists in Kashmir, fearing the “disempowerment and disempowerment” of a majority community.
They say the proposals are “with ideological undertones” from the BJP, which has accelerated the demarcation exercise in the region, despite a freezing point in the rest of India until 2026.
To India deleted the special status of Indian-administered Kashmir in 2019, it introduced the Jammu and Kashmir reorganization law to re-elect the constituencies from the existing 83 seats to 90. The demarcation commission was constituted as part of this law.
In their responses to the panel, the three MPs of the National Conference rejected his proposals while those of the BJP welcomed them.
“The universal primacy of demarcation exercise is population,” Hasnain Masoodi, a member of parliament from southern Indian-led Kashmir and a fellow member of the commission, told Al Jazeera.
“It means you are the representative of a certain number of people. If the right criteria are followed, the conclusions will be different and Kashmir will have more seats. But here, whether it is constitutions or employment, all these steps are aimed at disempowering and depriving Kashmiris. ”
In the Muslim-majority areas of Jammu, locals fear that the move is aimed at making them numerically irrelevant by dividing Muslim-dominated constituencies to put the Hindus in a position of power.
“It will not benefit Muslims in Jammu. It will leave us leaderless and permanently subject, ”Syed Asim Hashmi, a lawyer and politician from Jammu region’s Doda district, told Al Jazeera.
‘To be politically deprived’
On January 1, the People’s Alliance of Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), an umbrella group of prominent pro-Indian political parties founded in 2019, has planned a protest against the recommendations of the panel in the capital Srinagar.
But most of its leaders, including three former Indian-led Kashmir prime ministers, were placed under house arrest by authorities on the day of the protest.
Mehbooba Mufti, who was the region’s last prime minister to head a government in coalition with the BJP, told Al Jazeera “they just want to undermine the majority community here”.
“Muslim majority community will be divided and disempowered in totality. It’s part of the same agenda. They disempowered us by attacking our identity, our countries, our jobs. Now we are politically deprived, ”she said.
Ashok Koul, BJP general secretary in the region, dismissed the fears, saying the demarcation exercise was “not based on any religious lines”.
“The commission proposed seats in a scientific way. “Population is not the only criteria, but there are other factors such as accessibility,” Kaul told Al Jazeera.
“Jammu is happy because it is justice with them based on accessibility and communication,” he said, adding that the proposals are currently only a draft. “Let’s see what happens.”
But Kashmiri experts say it would be “almost impossible” for the federal government to hold back on the commission’s proposals.
Political analyst Sheikh Showkat Hussain said the proposals “fit within the tendency for Muslims to be disempowered in India in some way”.
“The criteria everywhere are population. This is why Uttar Pradesh (BJP-controlled northern state) has the highest number of seats. “In Kashmir, they are going in a different direction,” Hussain said.
“It is therefore automatic and natural that there is anxiety and fear because it is the only place where Muslims can be in power, albeit de facto because the center always stays with a heavy hand,” he said, referring to India. s large military presence in the area.
The Himalayan region of Kashmir is the center of a decades-old enmity between India and Pakistan, which claims the region as a whole but rules over parts of it.
Tensions between the two nuclear powers have increased since 2019 when the region was stripped of its limited autonomy and divided into two federally controlled territories.