The mighty Pir Panchal Range separates Kashmir Valley from two districts of Rajouri and Poonch, predominantly inhabited by the tribal Gujjars. Mughal Road connects the Shopian district of the Valley with Rajouri Poonch. However, the road remains closed for almost six months during the winters.
Many here argue, ideally, the delimitation commission constituted to redraw the boundaries, if at all, they should have clubbed the Shopian district of South Kashmir with Rajouri and Poonch to make a separate parliamentary constituency of the three districts. However, it preferred to make the Rajouri, Poonch and Anantnag districts of South Kashmir one parliamentary constituency despite the two regions having no road connectivity and a 400km distance between them.
The commission has given six more seats to Jammu and only one to Kashmir. Now out of the 90 assembly constituencies (ACs) in Jammu and Kashmir, 43 will be part of Jammu and 47 for the Kashmir region. Nine seats have been reserved for STs, out of which six are in the Jammu region and three are in the Valley. The commission has also recommended two seats for Kashmiri pandits.
Regional parties in the Valley are angry as the Kashmir region having a 56 per cent share of the population, will now have only a 52 per cent seat share in the legislative assembly. Jammu region with a 44 per cent share in the population gets a 48 per cent share in the legislative representation. Therefore, they say, while in Jammu 1.25 lakh people will elect an MLA, in the Valley 1.46 lakh people will do so. They argue the cardinal principle of “one man, one vote” has been bid adieu in J&K by the commission.
The last Delimitation Commission was set up in 1995 with Justice (Retd) KK Gupta as its Chairman when the State was under the President’s rule. Gupta Commission had increased J&K’s Assembly seats from 76 to the present 87. Out of the 76 seats, Jammu had 32, Kashmir 42 and Ladakh 2. Out of the 87 seats, Kashmir has 46 seats, Jammu 37 and four in the Ladakh division.
According to the 2011 census, the population of Kashmir Valley was 68,88,475 with 96.40 per cent being Muslims. The Jammu division had a population of 53,78,538, with 62.55 per cent Hindus, and 33.45 per cent Muslims. The Ladakh region has 2,74,289 people, where 46.40 per cent of them are Muslims, 12.11 per cent Hindus and 39.67 per cent Buddhists.
While regional political parties are angry about the way the delimitation commission has redrawn the boundaries of ACs in J&K, there is happiness in the Pir Panchal region over the new arrangement.
Shafiq Mir, chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference, says the delimitation commission has disempowered the majority Muslim community politically in Jammu and Kashmir. In the J&K legislature, the BJP has been given an edge by the commission and it is evident the way constituencies have been delimited, he says. But he adds that the commission has done a good thing by clubbing Rajouri and Poonch with Anantnag district, and that in the coming years it should culminate into a separate Pir Panchal division comprising Rajouri-Poonch districts of Jammu, and Shopian, Kulgam parts of Anantnag district. “By creating the Poonch-Rajouri-Anantnag constituency, our long-pending demand has been fulfilled. We would never dream of electing a resident of Rajouri-Poonch to the parliament with Jammu, but now our chances are being bright with Kashmir,” says Mir.
Poonch and Rajouri districts form part of the Jammu division and have a large Gujjar and Bakerwal population categorized as Scheduled Tribes. The commission’s move to merge these two districts with the Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency will empower the ST population of the region.
There were five parliamentary constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir, two in Jammu and three in Kashmir. The delimitation commission says it has been seen in the Jammu & Kashmir region as one single unit. “Therefore, one of the parliamentary constituencies has been carved out combining Anantnag region in the Valley and Rajouri and Poonch of Jammu region. By this reorganization, each parliamentary constituency will have an equal number of 18 assembly constituencies each,” the delimitation commission order says.
Many observers here say the intent behind this cartography is clear: to reduce Kashmiris from the overall politics of Jammu and Kashmir and to save the erstwhile Jammu-Poonch LS seat from being declared as an ST seat after 2024. This arrangement would have left Jammu with only one Lok Sabha seat.
“The whole of Rajouri and Poonch districts are populated by either Gujjars are Paharis, there is no other social or political identity. Gujjars, being ST, have got reservation in Legislature, after a long wait of 32 years. Five of the nine reserved seats for STs are in Rajouri and Poonch. That makes it the single largest constituency of happiness,” says author and political analyst, Zafar Choudhary.
Gujjars and Bakerwals form the largest ethnic group out of the 11.19 lakh population in Poonch and Rajouri. And they are estimated to constitute 19 per cent of the total over 26.20 lakh population in the new constituency of the Anantnag-Poonch constituency.
“Of the eight seats in two districts, three remain open so that the Paharis don’t feel excluded from the electoral process. But the BJP has given them further hope of their inclusion in ST. In this context, the two districts feel that first time ever their aspirations have been attended to,” Choudhary adds.
“The Anantnag-Rajouri LS seat, however inconvenient and illogical, gives a sense of hope and happiness to Rajouri and Poonch. Since the first direct LS elections in 1967, it has been only once that a contestant from Rajouri-Poonch won,” Choudhary adds.
“The erstwhile Jammu-Poonch LS seat would always get decided in Jammu district. The resulting MP would never pay attention to Rajouri-Poonch and would never accommodate their aspirations, making the region feel cheated and treated as second class. With the new package and knowledge of the fact that South Kashmir does not poll much, the Rajouri-Poonch region, which is known for high polling percentage, feels that the new LS seat is of this region,” Choudhary adds.