Several political parties and civil society groups in Jammu and Kashmir have accepted the invitation of the delimitation commission to meet its members during their visit to the Union Territory on Tuesday, reported The Hindu. The Peoples Democratic Party, led by former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, has not accepted the invitation.
The commission, led by former Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai, will hold a series of meetings with political parties, district election officers and other stakeholders during its four-day visit to the Union Territory beginning Tuesday.
Delimitation is the process of redrawing borders of Lok Sabha and Assembly segments in a state or Union Territory based on the preceding census. While it is a routine effort in some parts of the country, the delimitation process is much more politically sensitive in Jammu and Kashmir because of fears that the Bharatiya Janata Party may use it to alter political outcomes in what was earlier India’s only Muslim-majority state.
Seven more constituencies will be added to the Union Territory’s 83-member Assembly ahead of the elections, according to the J&K Reorganisation Act. The Desai-led commission will draw the boundaries of these new Assembly constituencies.
On Tuesday, PDP said it would not meet the panel as the Centre had not taken any steps to ease the lives of the residents of the Union Territory, reported PTI. “Our party has decided to stay away from this process and not be a part of some exercise, the outcome [of] which is widely believed to be pre-planned and which may further hurt the interests of our people,” PDP general secretary Ghulam Nabi Lone Hanjura said in a letter to the commission.
Hanjura reiterated the party’s stand that the revocation of special status granted under Article 370 to the erstwhile state on August 5, 2019, was done “illegally” and “unconstitutionally”.
He added that the party believes the commission does not have a constitutional or legal mandate to carry out the exercise. He said that the panel’s existence and objectives have left the residents of Jammu and Kashmir with many questions.
“There are apprehensions that the delimitation exercise is part of the overall process of political disempowerment of the people of J&K that the government of India has embarked on,” the letter said. “At the very core of these apprehensions is the process through which the commission has been constituted and the fact that while the delimitation process across the country has been put on hold till 2026, J&K has been made an exception.”
Out of the 10 political parties invited for the consultations, nine parties, including the National Conference and the People’s Conference, will meet the panel, according to The Indian Express.
The People’s Conference, led by Sajjad Lone, has nominated four party leaders for the meeting, while the Bharatiya Janata Party will send four, Altaf Bukhari’s Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party five and the Congress six. Leaders from the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India (Marxist) will also meet the panel.
A National Conference leader said a five-member team, comprising Mohammad Shafi, Abdul Raheem Rather, Nasir Aslam Wani, Mian Altaf Ahmad and Sakina Ittoo, will meet the panel. The Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party said it will meet the delegation and demand fair representation of all communities, according to ANI.
The National Conference had initially decided to boycott the meeting as it had challenged the J&K Reorganisation Act before the court. However, the Farooq Abdullah-led party changed its stance after the all-party meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 24 in New Delhi.
Weeks after the meeting, the Gupkar Alliance, which includes the National Conference, the Peoples Democratic Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), expressed disappointment at the outcome of the discussions with Modi. The alliance had also demanded that elections should be held in Jammu and Kashmir only after its statehood was restored.
With the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, the erstwhile state was split into two Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. Curfews and internet blockades were imposed in the region after that.
Almost all of Kashmir Valley’s political leadership, including PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti and NC leaders Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah, were put under detention. Farooq Abdullah was released from detention on March 13, 2020. Omar Abdullah’s detention was also revoked over a week later. Sajjad Lone was released in July, while Mufti’s detention ended on October 13.