Even 50 seats in 98-Member House no solution to 75-yr old Jammu’s political problem

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Prof Hari Om

A report has suggested that the legislative assembly of J&K UT could be a 98-member house. The delimitation commission has only recommended 90-member assembly – 47 seats in Kashmir, including three reserved seats for Scheduled Tribes (STs), and only 43 in Jammu, including all the seven reserved seats for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and six reserved seats for STs. Two women – one each from Jammu province and Kashmir — would be nominated by the government as before. Apart from recommending a 90-member assembly, the delimitation commission has also suggested that two internally-displaced Kashmiri Hindus could also be nominated to the assembly by the government. But this is just a suggestion, which the Union Government may or may not consider. Similarly, the delimitation commission has also talked about nomination of a member/members belonging to the displaced people (DPs), who migrated to Jammu and other parts of India in 1947-1948 from what we call Pakistan-occupied-J&K to save their lives, dignity, religion and culture or to escape the wrath of radical Islamists, both local and from the just-created Pakistan out of India exclusively for the Muslims. Again, this is a vague suggestion, not binding on the government. “The Central Government is likely to accept recommendations of the Panel for giving two seats to Kashmiri Pandit migrants, besides representation to PoJK displaced persons settled here (since) decades. Number of seats to be given to PoJK displaced persons is likely to be finalised shortly. The Central Government is considering giving three to four nomination seats to the PoJK displaced persons on the ground that 24 constituencies have been reserved for PoJK people in the assembly and nearly one-third population had migrated here (read Jammu) in 1947. Though there has been demand for reservation of eight seats for PoJK refugees settled here, the seats under consideration are three to four,” a report quoting official sources has said as far as Kashmiri Hindu refugees and PoJK Hindus and Sikh refugees are concerned. “If all eight nominated MLAs – two women, two Kashmiri Hindu refugees and four PoJK refugees — are given right to vote on trust motion and budget, which is the case in Pondicherry, the majority mark in J&K assembly will reach 50,” the report quoting official sources has further said. The report of the delimitation commission is likely to be tabled in the parliament in the Monsoon Session and the whole issue will be settled in the next few days. Will the Union Government really nominate two Kashmiri Hindu refugees and four PoJK refugees invested with voting right, including right to vote on trust motion and budget? One has to wait for a few days as the Monsoon Session is to begin on July 14.
Anyway, the report that the assembly of J&K UT could be a 98-member house or the impression that the people of Jammu province and internally-displaced Kashmiri Hindus and Jammu-based Hindu-Sikh refugees from PoJK will have 50 members in the 98-member assembly, including a nominated woman MLA, has fascinated the J&K chapter of the BJP. It has come to believe – nay it has been asserting almost on a daily-basis – that it will win ’50+ seats and form the first-ever government in the J&K UT’. BJP is the biggest political party in the country and its J&K leadership has every right to claim what it has been claiming since the submission of the delimitation commission report to influence the electorate. Hitherto, it used to claim that it will win 44+ and form government in J&K with a Hindu as its chief minister. It had won 25 seats in 2014, all in Jammu, including 24 Hindu-dominated seats and Kalakot seat where the proportion of Hindu and Muslim population was almost evenly balanced. Will 50 seats end the 75-year-old political problem of Jammu and empower the people of this highly politically marginalised and economically neglected region? Will the next CM be from Jammu province? What are the poll prospects of the pro-greater autonomy National Conference-headed People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) or the Kashmir-based, Valley-centric and pro-pre-2019 status parties, including NC, PDP, Congress, CPIM, CPI, PC and JK Apni Party? What are the poll prospects of BJP? It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that all the 47 seats in Kashmir will be shared between the pro-autonomy and pro-dialogue-with-Pakistan the Kashmiri parties and all these seats are non-Hindu. The demographic profile of Kashmir is such. The proportion of Muslim and Hindu population in Kashmir is over 99 per cent: 1 per cent. Kashmiri parties, which have already announced that they will contest elections on sentimental and emotive issues, will not only win all the 47 seats in Kashmir hands down but will also win around eight seats in the Jammu province’s Ramban, Doda, Kishtwar, Poonch and Rajouri districts. These five districts will elect sixteen members, as against thirteen it used to return between 1996 and 2016. In other words, the tally of the Kashmiri parties will be around fifty five. One may call it ridiculous or preposterous but it’s a fact that many lawmakers from these Jammu districts consistently extended unflinching and unqualified support to the Kashmiri parties and jeopardised even the general political, economic and social rights and interests of the people who elected them to remain on the right side of their Kashmiri masters and promote their own vested interests or for the sake of personal power and profit. It’s no wonder then that leadership of almost all the Kashmiri political parties have turned their attention to these Jammu districts. A report from Srinagar on June 20 in this regard has said, “Both the NC and the PDP have shifted their focus from the Kashmir Valley, where their traditional vote bank lies, to Jammu. While PDP president Mehbooba Mufti has toured Poonch-Rajouri belt and parts of the erstwhile Doda district twice in six months, the NC leadership has made several rounds of these areas to pep up its cadre ahead in anticipation of an election. The BJP and the Altaf Bukhari-led Apni Party have also toured these areas in a bid to garner support.” The fact of matter is that the belief of the BJP that it will win 50+ seats as and when elections are held is misplaced, even fundamentally flawed. The total number of Hindu dominated seats in Jammu province is not more than 30. And if it feels that it would turn tables on the Kashmiri and Valley-centric parties in the non-Hindu territorial constituencies, including those reserved for the STs, then it’s obvious that it’s living in a watertight compartment or in a world of the past or indulging in an exercise of self-deception. It is also a fact that all Kashmiri parties are one as far as their attitude towards India and the nature of state they religiously long for are concerned. The only difference is that they operate from different platforms to exert pressure on the union government. Even a naïve would vouch for the fact that Kashmir will have the veto power and Jammu will continue to fight for crumbs as before. In sum, it can be said that even 50 seats in the 98-member house will not solve the 75-year-old political problem of Jammu. Separation of Jammu from Kashmir and grant of full state status to this strategic but systematically neglected region alone can be a lasting solution. Will those who in Jammu claim that they were, and are, for Jammu’s full political and economic empowerment appreciate the peculiar demographics of J&K and what the Kashmiri parties all along stood for and fought for before August 2019 and fighting for since August 2019 and refashion their whole approach towards the province they say they hold very dear. Time at their disposal is limited as the authorities in New Delhi have started toying with the idea of assembly elections in J&K. They must in one voice ask New Delhi to grant statehood to Jammu.