On May 29, three members of Parliament from the National Conference walked out of the Delimitation Commission. The commission, headed by a former judge, had been set up by the Centre in March to redraw Lok Sabha and assembly constituencies in the newly created territory of Jammu and Kashmir as well as the North Eastern states of Assam, Nagaland, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.

With the three National Constituency members walking out, Kashmir has no elected representative left in the commission. Two Bharatiya Janata Party members of Parliament from Jammu, however, remain on it.

The body was set up under the Delimitation Commission Act of 2002, months after the Centre revoked special status for Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 and split the former state into two Union Territories on August 5. It was stripped of the state constitution. It was also stripped of protections under Article 35A, which empowered the state legislature to define “permanent residents” and reserve for them certain rights, such as the right to own land and hold government jobs in Jammu and Kashmir.

The transition from state to Union Territory is governed by the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019. Article 35A was replaced by domicile rules where anyone who had lived in the state for 15 years or studied in the state for seven years may be eligible to apply to government jobs and own land.

The National Conference rejected the delimitation exercise, saying it was made possible by the legislative decisions taken by the Centre on August 5. The party says it is mounting a legal and political challenge to them. It had also opposed the new domicile rules, saying it was aimed at disempowering the residents of Jammu and Kashmir and working a demographic change.

Scroll.in spoke to Hasnain Masoodi, former high court judge and member of Parliament from South Kashmir’s Anantnag constituency, on delimitation and politics in Kashmir post August 5.

What prompted you and other members of Parliament from the National Conference to withdraw from the delimitation commission?

There are two reasons. Under our law, the Jammu and Kashmir Representation of the People Act that was amended in 2002, there was a freeze on delimitation till 2026. After the amendment was made in the corresponding law in the Central act, it was decided that we should not have delimitation till 2026. But they ignored that.

Second, we oppose the Jammu and Kashmir reorganisation act because it’s unconstitutional. The delimitation commission is an outcome of that Act. If we are against the main act, there’s no point getting associated with an exercise attached to it.

There was a freeze on delimitation till the first census after 2026 in Jammu and Kashmir. Why such a hurry now?

They should not have been in such a hurry. I am of the considered view that the decisions of August 5 are not in the interests of the nation. Maybe they [the BJP] want to get their own political dividends but this is not in the interest of the country. That’s why – ignoring Covid-19, ignoring that we are engaged in a battle of survival – they pushed it. They shouldn’t have done it. It’s an illustration of political immorality.

Jammu and Kashmir has played a significant role in the development of the country. We are hosting half a million tourists and have been earning foreign exchange from other countries. This is just a misallocation of precious resources. Because whatever money is spent here on combating discontent, that money could have been spent elsewhere in the country to improve living standards, education and healthcare.

A man on the streets of Srinagar. Credit: Tauseef Mustafa/ AFP

What was the reigning principle of the last delimitation exercise in Jammu and Kashmir, conducted in 1995?

We had a representation act of our own. The commission was appointed by us. The commission was ours, law was ours. In every sense, Jammu and Kashmir has been disempowered. They have reduced a state with a history of 5,000 years to a municipality.

When the BJP proposed delimitation before August 5 last year, it had claimed Kashmir was numerically overrepresented in the state assembly, to the disadvantage of Jammu and Ladakh. Do you think that was true? Where does that claim stand now, after bifurcation?

I don’t subscribe to that view. Because the majority of the population is in Kashmir. You give representation to people, not to area. If someone from Jammu says Kashmir was overrepresented then Jammu is also overrepresented, because more than half of Jammu [division] is Chenab valley and Doda district. Would they agree that all the [additional] seats should go to Doda? Again, territory wise, Ladakh is bigger than Jammu and Kashmir put together, it doesn’t have that [population].

There are already statements flying high and thick that they will increase more seats in Jammu and a few in Kashmir. Those numbers are already doing the rounds.

What’s the ultimate objective of a ruling party? Peace. You cannot imagine development in absence of peace. From August 5 till June 2020, where does the graph of violence stand? They made a promise on 5 August that Article 370 was the root cause of Kashmir’s [separatist] political sentiment and once the article is gone, it will be gone. Has it gone? It has intensified.

Do you think the exercise would have popular credibility without the presence of any Kashmiri party or member of Parliament?

It will not have credibility in the eyes of people. Our staying away will lead to many questions.

We were only associate members without a voting right. It was not that we could direct the commission to do this or do that. Our presence would give the exercise legitimacy.

The BJP claimed it would create reserved constituencies for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Do you feel they have been marginalised in Jammu and Kashmir politics till now?

Not at all. Right from 1947, Jammu and Kashmir is the only example where you will find that every community is represented. These are all mistruths.

Take the example of Ladakh, we had in [the Jammu and Kashmir] constituent assembly Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, a Buddhist leader and diplomat. Our Jammu [leaders] have been holding the finance portfolio for 40 years in the last seven decades or so. Girdhari Lal Dogra of Jammu was our finance minister for 30 years. Then there was DD Thakur, and Trilok Chand Dutt, who held important portfolios.

If we go to SCs and STs, we have had big names from these communities who have been part of power and held important portfolios. There has been no discrimination.

A policeman stands guard at Srinagar's Dal lake. Credit: AFP

What do you make of the BJP’s promise to help the nomadic Gujjar-Bakarwal communities, for instance?

What have they done for them? They have actually disempowered them. See these domicile rules and the amendment in Jammu and Kashmir Civil Services (Decentralisation and Recruitment) Act, 2010.

Earlier, we had district cadre, provincial cadre and state cadre. They have done away with it. In a district, all the posts will go only to one cadre. In a district like Ganderbal and Poonch, STs like Bakarwals and Gujjars would have benefited from the district cadre. Now, they cannot get [government jobs] at all.

West Pakistani refugees, about 1.25 lakh people from families who moved to Jammu over 70 years ago, will be eligible for domicile rights in Jammu and Kashmir now.

It was always on their [the BJP’s] agenda. They had always wanted to give them rights. Although they had rights to vote in Lok Sabha and there was a logic to it.

My belief is that all those things could have been resolved at our own level. There was no reason to go for a massive assault.

There are several groups in Jammu, including Kashmiri Pandit groups, which oppose delimitation based on the 2011 Census, arguing they were left out of it. But do you think a Census will be feasible in Jammu and Kashmir anytime soon?

I don’t know what’s on their mind. Maybe they know that after domicile, they may be able to add people and population-wise they would be in a better position. But Jammu is equally harmed by the August 5 decision. Their share in the available jobs is also gone. People from adjoining states might go to Jammu first and take a share of their jobs.

Do you see delimitation as a means to disempower Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir?

That’s what people suspect. People say why should they go for these major adventures when we are engaged in a fight against Covid-19. It’s a democracy, let there be a debate, invite opinion and engage people about the decisions. The way they pushed in, that’s why people are apprehensive.

Paramilitary forces in Srinagar. Credit: AFP

How does the National Conference plan to oppose the decisions of August 5?

The court is only one of the dimensions. It will decide whether it’s constitutional or unconstitutional. Whether the decision was moral or immoral, ethical or unethical, that will be discussed on political platforms. For the last 30 years, they [the Centre] were at pains to get the people of Jammu and Kashmir involved in the political process. There was election boycott. People will continue to stay away now because the gulf has widened.

There are a lot of steps [for the National Conference to take]. First, building public opinion within the country. We have many people who are our well-wishers, who don’t see eye to eye with the Central government or with the BJP as far as the decisions of August 5 go. We were able to have at least 100 parliamentarians who opposed the August 5 decision by their vote in Parliament.

We hope that the public opinion we are able to build will make them rethink their decisions.

What does rethinking of decisions mean? Restoration of autonomy and statehood?

That’s what they are doing with Nagas and in the Northeast.

What does it feel like to be a member of Parliament from Kashmir today?

Overall, we don’t have the kind of discussions and deliberations that would be normally expected in Parliament. Maybe that’s because it’s [the ruling party’s] overrepresented and has a huge majority. Out of 545 members, more than 400 are from the BJP and its allies.

Ours [the National Conference’s] is a viewpoint that may not be shared by the majority in the House. Our viewpoint is different and we don’t get enough time to articulate that. We have a strong belief in secularism, socialism, pluralism, religious harmony, tolerance. Our satisfaction level with Parliament is very low. We don’t get enough time to even counter or answer their statements.