J & K didn’t have Lok Sabha polls for two decades; not to say of rigged seats
(This is the sixth piece in the special series on Jammu and Kashmir. Here are the first four pieces I , II , III IV and V).
The Central government had ordered a fresh delimitation of constituencies when it created two Union Territories (UTs) out of the state of Jammu and Kashmir last year. This delimitation is to be carried out in UT of J&K for 90 legislative assembly seats and five Lok Sabha seats.
In fact, the UT had only 83 assembly seats earlier, 46 in Kashmir and 37 in Jammu. However, while scrapping Article 35-A and making drastic changes in Article 370, the Centre also increased the number of assembly seats from 83 to 90.
Besides, the ending of 35A heralded a new era for Scheduled Tribes (STs) as they became eligible for political reservations. This means 10 or more assembly seats will have to be reserved now for the STs.
As we have seen already, Kashmir region has 46 assembly seats and Jammu 37. This means the balance of power is tilts heavily in favour of Kashmir. At one time, in 1951, when the Constituent Assembly for the state was constituted, Kashmir had 43 seats and Jammu 30.
Over the past few decades, it can be said that the distribution of seats has become imbalanced. These imbalances are clearly observed both at intra-regional and inter-region level.
It bears mention here that constituencies, both of the assembly and Lok Sabha, will be defined under Representation of People's Act, 1951. Incidentally, till date the Lok Sabha seats in J&K have never been delimited on the basis of this Central law.
Due to a host of factors, even the first Lok Sabha elections were held in J&K for the first time in 1967. Till then, four members of the Rajya Sabha and six members of the Lok Sabha were nominated by successive state governments. Yes, no direct elections even for the Lok Sabha seats was a norm in J&K for first two decades after Independence.
Under the RPA, 1951, yardsticks of (i) population (ii) geographical compactness (iii) nature of terrain (iv) facilities of communication and (v) like considerations are taken into account when the constituencies are delimited. These yardsticks have not been applied till date while carving out constituencies in J&K.
Whenever delimitation was done, it seems it was done on extraneous considerations.
The following few paragraphs may enable the readers to judge for themselves. There are presently 10 districts in Jammu and 10 in the Kashmir region. Jammu city in winters and Srinagar city is the capital during summer months.
We can compare the two regions head to head and draw our own conclusions. The geographical area of the Jammu region is 26,293 square kilometres. Kashmir, on the other hand, is 15,948 square kilometres.
On an average, an assembly segment in the Jammu region is spread over more than 710 sq km (26,293/37=710.62). In contrast, the average size of an assembly segment in Kashmir is 346 sq km (15,948/46=346.69).
We can draw comparison between Jammu and Srinagar districts also.
In 2014 assembly elections, the total number of voters in Jammu district was 10,10,959 and average voters per assembly segment was 91,905 (10,10,995/11). Srinagar had 6,25,801 voters and each segment had on an average 78,225 voters (6,25,801/8).
Jammu is spread over 2,336 sq km and the average size of an assembly segment here was 212 sq km (2,336/11). On the other hand, the average size of a segment in Srinagar spread over 294 sq km was less than 37 km (294/8).
We can now say that the average constituency size in Jammu was 212 sq km as compared to 37 sq km in Srinagar. Also that each assembly segment in Jammu had 91,905 voters as compared to only 78,225 voters in a Srinagar assembly segment.
Why has delimitation been done in such a manner that every constituency in Jammu is larger, both in area and voter-wise, as compared to Srinagar? Is it just and equitable?
On the face of it, all this smacks of blatant partisanship, disparity and deliberate gerrymandering to give an upper hand to Kashmir. May be when new delimitation is done strictly according to RPA, 1951, the distribution of segments in the regions will change.
We can draw more comparisons to carry this argument further. In the Jammu district (and the Jammu region), Gandhinagar seat with 1,68,643 voters was the biggest assembly segment. In Srinagar (and the Kashmir region), the largest segment of Batmaloo had 1,20,339 voters.
Similarly, Bani in Kathua district having 41,596 voters was the smallest segment, voter-wise, in the Jammu region. On the other hand, Gurez with only 17,554 voters was the smallest assembly segment in the Kashmir region.
Similarly, Jammu West having 1,53,540 voters was the second largest assembly segment of the Jammu district. We can compare it with Hazratbal, the second largest segment in Srinagar district which had only 99,850 voters.
Incidentally, similar figures for all other 18 districts are also available on the ECI website. Therefore, comparisons can be drawn and inferences drawn.
(It needs to be stressed here that all figures quoted in the write-up have been taken from the official website of Election Commission of India. As such, they can be cross-checked.)
In fact, comparisons can also be drawn between the three Lok Sabha seats of Kashmir and two of the Jammu region. The disparities in delimitation come out more starkly but that is another story.
Sant Kumar Sharma, a seasoned journalist, is an authority on Jammu and Kashmir. Two of his books on Article 370 and Delimitation are already out. The third one on Indus Waters Treaty is with the publishers.
Sant began as a teacher but after six years, joined the Indian Express, Chandigarh in 1990, the year when terrorism was taking its first step in J & K and soon there would be exodus of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley. He subsequently worked for The Statesman, The Times of India and Star News among others. He is based in Jammu since May 2000.
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