The alliance of opposition parties believes that the exercise will deepen communal divisions in the region

The Delimitation Commission’s report, for the redrawing of constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir, has Opposition parties fuming. The report has recommended six additional seats for Hindu-majority Jammu and one additional one for Muslim-majority Kashmir.

Opposition parties claim that this is grossly unfair, given that Kashmir has a higher population at 68.8 lakh, versus Jammu’s 53.5 lakh, according to Census 2011. That is, Kashmir has 15 lakh more people than Jammu, even going by a decade-old Census.

Before J&K was divided into two Union Territories–Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh–Jammu had 37 assembly seats; Kashmir had 46; and Ladakh, 4. If the Commission’s report is implemented, Jammu will have 43 seats and Kashmir, 47. Ladakh will retain its 4 seats.

Opposition parties, who have formed an electoral alliance, called the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), have called for a protest on January 1, 2022, against what the alliance has termed the “biased and divisive proposal of delimitation panel”.

In an exclusive interview with Moneycontrol, PAGD’s spokesman Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami shares the alliance’s apprehensions regarding the report.

Here are the excerpts:

What were your expectations from the Delimitation Commission report?

It is not about expectations (but about constitutional propriety). What was the criteria for the delimitation exercise in J&K? According to the Indian Constitution, population according to the Census has to be the baseline of the commission. Was it followed by the commission? No. Therefore, we are disappointed.

We had suggested that the exercise be done on the basis of a new Census, done for J&K along with the rest of the country.

Second comes the Jammu and Kashmir (Reorganisation) Act, 2019, under which the Delimitation Commission was constituted. We have challenged the constitutional validity of this act in the Supreme Court. The case has been pending in the court for years now, so we sought a judicial intervention and are awaiting a judgment. The government of India should have waited for the court’s decision, but they did not.

What does the PAGD plan to do, if the commission’s report is implemented, apart from challenging it in Court?

We will explore every possibility. We will approach the leaders of other sections in the country and talk to the people in Jammu.

The Indian Constitution has set a framework for any delimitation exercise, and it says that the baseline should be the population numbers. As of now, what population numbers we have are from the Census of 2011. With the current delimitation draft, the BJP is pitting Kashmir against Jammu and Jammu against Kashmir.

If the draft was implemented, will you contest elections?

It is not about what we should do and what we shouldn’t. That is for the future. Today, we find that the constitution of the delimitation commission is not consistent with the constitutional provisions, so we have challenged it in the Supreme Court. The commission’s recommendations, as reported by the press, are not based on the constitutional directions. Therefore, we will raise our voice peacefully, whenever and wherever we get an opportunity.

Many political parties say that Farooq Abdullah’s participation in the Delimitation Commission meeting was to legitimise what happened on August 5, 2019. Did you discuss this issue with the PAGD chairman (Abdullah)?

Why is participating in the meeting wrong? They were invited as MPs of Parliament. They attended as associate members and informed that the draft of the Delimitation Commission was unacceptable because it is not based on the basic approach of the Constitution. They also said this in the press conference.

Okay, let’s talk about the alliance. The PAGD has not been able to do anything concrete since its formation. The alliance seemed to have been in hibernation, till it made an appearance out of the blue. Was there an internal rift in PAGD?

Not at all. You need to understand that it is not a single party but an alliance of different parties. Agendas of parties are different from each other but we share the same view as far as the August 5 decision (on abrogation of Article 370) on Jammu and Kashmir is concerned. Otherwise we function as separate entities. There is no rift at all.

But there is a general impression in Kashmir that political parties, including PAGD, aren’t able to deal effectively with the situation. Your comments?

We have never said that we will bring heaven and sky down. What we have said is that together we must pursue our case wherever possible. We must raise our voices… together. That is what PAGD stands for.

In the coming elections, BJP’s claim of having a Hindu CM in J&K looks like a reality. Will it be acceptable? Will PAGD contest from Jammu, to keep BJP out?

As of now, there is no talk of elections. We will deal with elections when they come, and chalk out the strategy then. We will have to see how we can use the opportunity.

Are you finding it difficult to organise political activities in Kashmir? Is New Delhi giving you the space to do so?

Restrictions have been imposed and there are a lot of difficulties… Should we remain silent? We are knocking on every door. We are trying to do whatever we can. We will not remain silent, or at least I will not.

How do you intend to fill the political vacuum in J&K, which got created post August 5, 2019 (after the abrogation of Article 370)?

The central government has created this void, deliberately. It has disempowered various political parties, and we won’t accept this. We will resist because we believe the political vacuum is dangerous for people and society as a whole. Despite hurdles, we are determined to reach our message to the people.