The only task left to the Desai delimitation commission is to distribute, or rather redistribute, 90 of the predetermined 114 assembly seats across J&K. The remaining 24 seats are reserved for Pakistan Administered Kashmir.
What should determine the allocation of constituencies, both in terms of criteria as also in terms of the overall approach? The delimitation commission does not have a clean slate to start writing on. There are quite a few legacy issues. For starters, there is an existing distribution of seats which is seen as imbalanced in terms of regional representation, essentially Jammu vis-a-vis Kashmir.
Jammu, which is Hindu majority administrative division, has for decades now been arguing that it is hugely under-represented in the political super structure. It has been their contention that not only have they been discriminated right from 1951, the Kashmiri monopoly has accentuated this over the years.
Underlying the setting up of a delimitation commission at a time when the new census is one year away, when the state has been downgraded and dismembered, when the situation in the valley has deteriorated from fragile to hostile, when the world has been held hostage by a virus, when the Chinese are knocking at the nearby borders, and above all when there is a constitutional freeze on delimitation is to redress this regional “imbalance”. It is the raison d’etre for constituting the commission at this point.
The twin hypothesis — Jammu being discriminated and Kashmir having dominated — are juxtaposed with two facts: Jammu is Hindu majority and Kashmir is Muslim majority. By putting the hypothesis together with the facts, it axiomatically follows that Hindus have been discriminated by the Muslims. In a polarised environment, Muslims gain the prefix of anti-national Islamic fundamentalist majority of Kashmir. The rest is best left to Arnab Goswami for the nation to know!
This mix of fiction, fact, and fantasy is currently being played out in the context of representation of people in the legislative assembly of J&K. Left unaddressed and uncontested, it may well be institutionalised by the delimitation commission. For it is the hue and cry that Jammu has been short-changed in terms of number of constituencies and consequently the number of MLAs that underlies the setting up the delimitation commission.
It is hoped that the long decades of discrimination against Jammu, the delimitation commission will restore the balance; indeed, swing the pendulum the other way!
Time to examine and analyse. Has Jammu been discriminated in terms of the number of representatives it sends to the legislative assembly and council of J&K?
The 87 seats of the erstwhile legislative assembly of J&K were distributed among the three divisions of the state; Kashmir division had 42 seats, Jammu had 37 and Ladakh had 4. This distribution, it is contended, is partisan and needs to be rebalanced.
As a first step, lets us compare the share of all three divisions with their respective shares in population. That Kashmir division has 42 out of the 87 seats means that seat share in the legislative assembly was 53 per cent (to be precise it is 52.87 per cent which has been rounded off). Jammu had a share of 42 per cent, while Ladakh filled up the remaining 5 per cent in the Assembly.
Compare this with their respective shares in population. Kashmir had a 55 per cent share in the population, followed by Jammu at 43 per cent and Ladakh has 2 per cent.
Prima facie, if a group that has 55 per cent share in population, sends 53 per cent of the elected representatives to the legislature and a division which has 42 per cent share in population elects 43 per cent of the house, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of discrimination.
If at all there is, it is Kashmir that has been discriminated against. Jammu and more so Ladakh have a higher seat share than their population share. Ladakh, actually, had got twice the share of its population as representatives; a 2 per cent population elected 5 per cent of the lower house.
But this is not really the actual gripe. The pain point, which fits into a larger ideological narrative is that in J&K Hindus have been discriminated by the Muslims in the electoral arena. Let us splice the data in these categories.
In the last Assembly of J&K, out of 87 MLAs, 52 were Muslims, 33 Hindus and 2 Buddhists. How does this compare with the religion-wise distribution of population? In J&K Hindus accounted for 28.44 per cent of the population, yet they accounted for 37.93 per cent of the elected MLAs in the lower house. As against this, Muslims, who are for 68 per cent of the population, accounted for only 60 per cent of the legislative assembly? And Buddhists with less than 1 per cent of the share in population, had double this as its seat share of 2 per cent in the assembly. (All this data is from the official census web site, https://www.census2011.co.in/census/state/jammu+and+kashmir.htm).
So, at the second level of analysis too, there doesn’t seem to be any imbalance in favour of Muslims. If anything, the deal that Jammu and Ladakh have had, gets better if we pursue further.
MLAs are not the only representatives of the population; excluding the nominated and local body representatives, there were 22 elected MLCs in the upper house. Jammu division had 11 MLCs as against 9 MLC for the Kashmir division and 2 from Ladakh. If these are added, then Jammu division, which has a population share of 28.44 per cent, had a seat share of 44.03 in the elected legislative structure. Of the 109 MLAs plus MLCs, Jammu division had 48 representatives. And what did the Kashmiris, who “colonised” Jammu and Ladakh have? With a population of 55 per cent, their share in the legislative representation was 50.45! Discrimination against Jammu, really?!
Just in case, there are any doubts that the nominated category of MLCs was appropriated by Kashmiris, you will be surprised. Just for the record, of the 8 nominated members in the last council 4 were from Jammu (all Hindus) and 4 were from Kashmir (all Muslims). Unexpectedly, correct to a fault.
As it turns out, on the first three levels of analysis there is no evidence of:
Jammu being discriminated against by Kashmir in the electoral arena
Hindus being marginalised in suffrage by Muslims in the only Muslim majority state of India.
While this balance may seem normal and expected, which it is, it is not rule but is an exception when compared with other states. The demographic characteristics bears little relation or no relation to the representation of communities.
Let us look at a sample of four states in the country. Assam with 34.22% Muslim population, West Bengal with 27.01 %, Kerala 26.56% and UP with 19 per cent. As you might notice, this is a sample that includes states governed by a leftist party, a right wing party, and an avowedly secular party. They are comparable to J&K insofar as the size of their (Muslim) minority is as substantial as the (Hindu) minority in J&K.
What is the share of Muslims in the representational pie in these states? In Assam, Muslims who have a population share of 34.22 per cent, have a share of only 22.22 per cent in the state legislative Assembly. In Kerala, in a house of 127, there are 27 Muslim members; 21.25 per cent state share for a population of 26.56 per cent. In West Bengal, where the party in power is accused of “pampering” Muslims, a 27 per cent population share translates into a 17 per cent seat share in the Assembly. In UP, the share of Muslim in population is 19.3 per cent. But they are represented only to the extent of 14 per cent in the state assembly. In light of these figures, J&K stands out as a shining example of egalitarianism vis a vis its minorities, be they Buddhist or Hindu.
Be that as it may, the incidence of Muslim representativeness in state assemblies is not as bad as the general impression about their marginalisation is. However, this changes rather dramatically, when these numbers are calculated for the Parliament.
The population of Muslims is 14.1 per cent of the total population of the country. In 2014, their share in Parliament was a shocking 4.22 per cent. In the current Parliament, it has increased to 4.95 per cent. Time to celebrate!
More than systemic discrimination in the enfranchising system, the reason for marginalisation of Muslims in electoral representativeness is geographical distribution of population, party preferences and a bit of gerrymandering.
We will focus on the distributional aspect of J&K in the subsequent column. For the claim and clamour for a greater share for Jammu division is based on area.
(This is the second part of a series on issues arising out of the planned delimitation exercise. The first one, Delimitation: The Context, was published in Greater Kashmir on in 2nd July, 2020)