Protests prod changes in J&K delimitation plans, lead to more issues

The complications inherent in redrawing of Jammu and Kashmir by the Delimitation Commission persist, with a second draft following talks also running into objections.

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As per its second draft report, shared with its five members on February 24, the panel has suggested that the Rajouri Assembly seat be reserved for STs in place of Poonch Haveli, that had been proposed earlier; restoration of Suchetgarh, instead of its merger with R S Pura and Bishnah; SC-reserved status for Suchetgarh; restoration of Srinagar’s Habba Kadal constituency with its sizeable Kashmiri Pandit migrant voters; and renaming of the newly proposed Mughal Maidaan as Inderwal. Apart from this, the commission has also redrawn boundaries of some seats in both Jammu and Kashmir divisions.

Non-BJP parties have denounced the changes as favouring the BJP. PDP spokesperson Firdous Tak said the changes “give credence to our apprehensions that the Commission is working at the behest of the BJP”. Apni Party spokesperson Vikram Malhotra said “the BJP got everything done for its political convenience”, while Congress chief spokesperson Ravinder Sharma said “the Delimitation Commission has done dissection instead of delimitation”.

The suggestion to not reserve Poonch Haveli for STs followed widespread protests in the constituency, which is largely inhabited by people of Kashmiri origin, at such a change. The constituency’s population comprised 36.60% tribals. To shift the ST status to Rajouri — despite only 33.84% of its population being tribal — the panel has now suggested adding Fatehpur, Doongi and Bagla from the proposed Thanamandi constituency. This would take Rajouri’s tribal numbers to 37.18% of the population. Thanamandi too would be ST reserved as per the Delimitation Commission.

Shafiq Mir, chairperson of the Buffliaz Block Development Council, questioned the grouping together, in turn, of Manjakote and Thanamandi tehsils, along with Sohna patwar circle belonging to Rajouri, to the new seat of Thanamandi.

While on the map, it appears a geographically compact constituency, in reality Thanamandi falls on the Mughal Road and Manjakote on the Line of Control with Pakistan. The two tehsils are connected by only a single-lane fair-weather Ghambir Mughlan road. The only all-weather double-lane road connecting the two would fall, as per the proposed changes, in the Rajouri constituency.

Similarly, Khawas tehsil has been added to another ST-reserved constituency, Darhal, despite the circuitous route linking the two.

Questions are also being raised over the proposal to shift nearly 20 villages that are currently part of the Kalakote constituency to Rajouri, while moving Sunderbani tehsil from Nowshera seat to Kalakote. The changes would raise the number of Hindus in both Rajouri and Kalakote, Mir said.

Former MLA Gagan Bhagat said the earlier proposal to merge Suchetgarh with SC-reserved R S Pura was also ill-conceived, as Suchetgarh had an SC population of only 15-20%. There were protests over the proposal, with accusations being hurled that the BJP government had done this to punish Suchetgarh as the party’s former minister Sham Choudhary had lost the DDC election from here to an Independent, Taranjit Singh Tony.

While Suchetgah is now back as a seat, it remains reserved, with additions to it from R S Pura tehsil raising its population of SCs to 42.84%.

This means R S Pura constituency will cease to exist as the Commission has proposed adding the remaining areas of R S Pura teshil to Jammu South and creation of a new seat, R S Pura-Jammu South.

Pitting SCs against non-SCs and tribals against non-tribals, the delimitation is engineering hatred and dividing people to suit a particular party, Bhagat said.

Former Congress MLA from Inderwal and ex-minister G M Saroori questioned the logic behind creation of a new constituency each in Kishtwar and Doda districts – respectively, Padder, with a population of 51,279 as per the 2011 Census, and Doda West, with a population of 1.07 lakh.

At least, areas falling under Doda Municipal Committee should have gone on one side, Saroori said. He also asked how Padder had become a seat with just 51,279 population, half the size of some of the others, arguing that this was done to suit “one particular party”.

Explaining this, Asif Iqbal Naik, a local journalist, said the Delimitation Commission has now segregated areas predominantly inhabited by Hindus in various tehsils of Kishtwar district and added them into Kishtwar and Padder constituencies, without checking the distance between them.

While most of the Hindu-inhabited Drabshalla tehsil has been added to Kishtwar, its Balgran patwar circle predominantly inhabited by Muslims has gone with Inderwal. Likewise, another Hindu community habitat, Mulchiter Patwar Circle, has been taken out from Inderwal’s Muslim community Mughal Maidan tehsil and added to Kishtwar, he pointed out.

All this will increase the Hindu numbers in Kishtwar constituency.

Similarly, the Padder constituency will be predominantly Hindu.

Denying that the changes would benefit the BJP, senior party leader Davinder Singh Rana said the delimitation process has been completely transparent and its decisions based on the basic tenets of population, geography, topography, area, physical features, contiguity, convenience of administrative units and facilities of easy communication and approachability of public conveniences. Those opposing the exercise wanted population to be the only criterion, Rana said.

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