The case for elections in Jammu and Kashmir

Source– The post is based on the article “The case for elections in Jammu and Kashmir” published in “The Hindu” on 6th September 2023.

Syllabus: GS2- Indian Polity

News– Jammu and Kashmir has not conducted legislative elections in the past nine years. The most recent Assembly election occurred in 2014, and the last elected government was dissolved in June 2018.

What are the issues with recommendations of the Delimitation Commission appointed for Jammu and Kashmir?

The recommendations raised two concerns. It allocated six out of seven new seats to Jammu and only one to the Valley. This is deviation from the democratic principle of equal representation.

Despite the Valley having 56.15% of the State’s population, it was assigned 47 seats. Jammu was assigned 43 seats, even though it had 43.85% of the population.

The commission’s redrawing of political constituencies resulted in the concentration of minority voters in fewer districts or their dispersion across multiple districts. It has affected their voting strength.

Changes in residency rules also contributed to an imbalance in constituencies. Before 2019, non-permanent residents were not eligible to vote in Assembly elections.

Following the alteration of Article 370 and the repeal of Article 35A, anyone “ordinarily resident” in the former State became eligible to vote.

It includes those who had been residents for more than 15 years, those who had studied in the region for more than seven years, and those registered as migrants by the Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner.

What are some facts about new proposed bills for introducing reservation in the J & K assembly?

The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Amendment) Bill, 2023, allocates two seats for ‘Kashmiri migrants’  and one for individuals displaced from Pakistani-held territories of Jammu and Kashmir. These three seats will be filled by nominees of the Lieutenant-Governor.

The Constitution (Jammu and Kashmir) Scheduled Tribes Order (Amendment) Bill, 2023, is the second Bill. It includes the Pahari community and several small tribes in Jammu and Kashmir’s list of Scheduled Tribes.

This change allows Paharis to compete for reserved seats that were previously dominated by Gujjars and Bakerwals.

The third Bill is the Constitution (Jammu and Kashmir) Scheduled Castes Order (Amendment) Bill, 2023. It adds the Valmiki community to Jammu and Kashmir’s list of Scheduled Castes.

The fourth Bill is the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023. It includes 15 more other backward classes, such as West Pakistan refugees and Gorkhas.

What are concerns about their practical implementation of these Bills?

Pandit migrants have been elected without reservations for many years, even during times of insurgency and after their exodus. They may not require reserved seats but instead need security when elected.

Gujjars accept Pahari reservation as long as it doesn’t encroach on their quota. But, they have received no such assurance.

Long-term residents like refugees, Gurkhas, and Valmikis should be entitled to vote. But, the question remains whether the former group needs a reserved seat.

Due to these gaps, the Bills can create voter polarisation along caste and community lines in a region with diverse castes and communities.

In Muslim-majority areas, there is concern that the number of their representatives will decrease.

In Jammu, there is suspicion that new reservations are aimed at creating additional support for the Bharatiya Janata Party, particularly in areas where the party’s influence is waning.

Why is holding elections in Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh necessary?

Most people are now eager for a prompt Assembly election. The centrally-directed administration in Jammu and Kashmir have led to higher unemployment rates and loss of land and resource rights.

Meanwhile, discontent is growing in Ladakh, where the powers of the elected Hill Councils have been greatly reduced by the Lieutenant-Governor’s office. Here too, the demand for Statehood is gaining momentum.

Holding an Assembly election before the end of the year can help rebuild confidence, as past experience has shown.

The Atal Bihari Vajpayee administration conducted elections in 2002, during a period of significant insurgency. However, that election marked the beginning of 12 years of peace-building, with two free and fair elections.

In contrast, the attempt to manipulate the 1987 election resulted in over a decade of armed conflict.

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