PM’s hint of early Assembly polls will force fence-sitters to take a call on participation
JAMMU: In his Independence Day address from the ramparts of Red Fort in New Delhi on 15th of August, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it clear that Assembly elections would be held in Jammu and Kashmir after the current process of the delimitation of constituencies would be completed State Times reported.
In March this year, Election Commission of India set up a commission, headed by the former Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai, to conduct delimitation of the Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies in the Union Territory (UT) of Jammu and Kashmir and the north-east States of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland. Chief Electoral Officers of the UT of J&K and the four States were appointed as ex-officio members of the Delimitation Commission.
The Commission is currently delimiting the constituencies of Jammu and Kashmir in accordance with the requirements of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, and of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland in accordance with the provisions of the Delimitation Act, 2002. Section 60 of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act makes it incumbent upon the Commission to increase the number of Assembly segments in the UT of J&K from 107 to 114.
Elections will be held in 90 Assembly segments while 24 seats shall continue to remain reserved for the eligible voters of the Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, as and when their participation in the elections becomes possible. Erstwhile State of J&K had a total of 111 seats-46 in Kashmir, 37 in Jammu, 4 in Ladakh and 24 reserved for PoK. After bifurcation on 31 October 2019, 83 seats have fallen in the UT of J&K and 4 in the UT of Ladakh.
Besides, the Governor had powers to nominate two women as Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) on recommendation of the government.
The J&K Reorganisation Act has also abolished the bicameral structure of J&K Legislature, reducing it just to Assembly of 107 seats-83 in J&K and 24 reserved for PoK. Previously, the Legislature’s upper House, or J&K Legislative Council, had 36 members-some elected by MLAs, some by elected members of Panchayati Raj Institutions and Urban Local Bodies and some nominated by the Governor on the recommendation of the government.
The Commission has been constituted under provisions of Delimitation (Amendment) Act of 2002. Previously in India such Delimitation Commissions had been constituted four times-in 1952 under the Delimitation Commission Act 1952, in 1963 under Delimitation Commission Act 1962, in 1973 under Delimitation Act 1972 and in 2002 under Delimitation Act 2002. The process had not been held in the four north-east States.
Jammu and Kashmir has been under Governor’s and President’s rule after breakdown of Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP-BJP government in June 2018. Assembly was dissolved in November 2018 after no political party could form the government.
The Delimitation Commission in India is a high power body whose orders have the force of law and cannot be called in question before any court.
In May 2020, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla nominated 15 Members of Parliament as associate members with Desai-headed Delimitation Commission. They included all three Lok Sabha members of the J&K National Conference (NC)-Dr Farooq Abdullah, Mohammad Akbar Lone and Hasnain Masoodi-and both the Lok Sabha members from Jammu, BJP’s Dr Jitendra Singh and Jugal Koshore Sharma.
However the NC chose to stay away as this party had dismissed the Centre’s actions of August and October 2019 as “illegal and unconstitutional” and challenged the same in the Supreme Court of India. Associating with the Delimitation Commission, Farooq and Omar Abdullah have maintained, would be “unethical” and injurious to NC’s stand in the apex court.
Without regard to NC’s boycott, Prime Minister Modi has for the first time asserted that the Assembly elections would be held in J&K after the delimitation process.
After the near-total freeze of political activity for one full year, this announcement from the country’s highest executive comes as an indication of the Assembly elections being held in J&K in the next six to nine months.
Notwithstanding the fate of NC’s petition in Supreme Court, which by all indications could run for years, PM’s announcement will certainly revive political activity and force the other fence-sitters-Peoples Democratic Party, Peoples Conference, Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist)-to take a call on their participation in the elections without getting back Statehood, the special status under Articles 370 and 35-A and unification of the two UTs.
Among all parties, as of now, only the BJP and the J&K Apni Party (JKAP)-comprising a number of the former Ministers, MLAs and MLCs of PDP and other parties who have chosen leading politician-businessman Altaf Bukhari as their leader-are bracing up for the Assembly elections. Bukhari’s party has been demanding restoration of Statehood but significantly it has been silent about NC’s and PDP’s rhetorical statements for restoration of Articles 370 and 35-A.
PM has said in the speech that in J&K, Chief Minister, Ministers and MLAs would be back soon. According to him, it was the government’s and the nation’s commitment. His announcement has come days after Manoj Sinha, a senior politician of the ruling BJP, took over as the new Lieutenant Governor while replacing the career bureaucrat G.C. Murmu. Even as Murmu did not move much out of Raj Bhawan and Civil Secretariat in the nine months of his curtailed term, Sinha has entered with the commitment to boost development and economy, provide jobs and wipe out terrorism. A day after his oath-taking, he was seen at Srinagar’s largest hospital, SMHS, visited by no senior government functionary in the last over two years.
All the mainstream political leaders, with exception of the PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, have already been released. On 16th of August, high-speed 4G internet was also restored on all post-paid and verified pre-paid SIM cards on trial basis in Kashmir’s Ganderbal and Jammu’s Udhampur districts. It is expected to be extended to other districts.
The armed insurgency, for now, is surfacing as the biggest challenge to PM’s and LG’s resolve to activate politics in Jammu and Kashmir. While the counterinsurgency operations have been going on effectively in southern Kashmir, Baramulla, Kupwara and Bandipora districts in northern Kashmir have witnessed revival of insurgency since April 2020.
Last month, three BJP leaders were gunned down at their home in Bandipora. On Monday, 17 August, J&K Police, CRPF and Army lost four personnel in an attack and following encounter at Kreeri in Baramulla. With this, a fresh wave of fear spread across northern Kashmir even as two assailants, including the top LeT commander Sajad Haider, were also killed. In two encounters and four major terror attacks, forces have lost 23 personnel in North Kashmir since April this year.
A political atmosphere will build up only after fear of the gun will vanish in Kashmir State Times reported.