The Modi government was not satisfied with removing Article 370 for Jammu and Kashmir
The delimitation exercise in the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir is part of the Narendra Modi government’s plan to reconstitute the controversial land into what it considers is a favourable mode to India. This was preceded by the removal of the erstwhile state’s special status under Article 370 of the Constitution, which was provisional. But right from the days of Syama Prasad Mookerjee and the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, Article 370 had been a bone of contention. It was also a part of the core agenda of the 1980-born Bharatiya Janata Party, along with the building of the Ram temple on the site of the demolished Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, and the enactment of the Uniform Civil Code in place of the personal laws of different communities, including Muslims.
The Modi government was not satisfied with removing Article 370 for Jammu and Kashmir. In August 2019, Union home minister Amit Shah did two more things — demoting Jammu and Kashmir to the status of a Union territory and separating Ladakh from the state and constituting it as a separate Union territory. The BJP and the Modi government were only too aware of the dangers of trifurcation of the state, which would have created three separate units — Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh. The RSS had way back in the late 1990s mooted the idea of a trifurcation of J&K and the Atal behari Vajpayee-led BJP had then shot down the idea. So, the Modi government bungled when it separated Ladakh, and made a late correction by holding itself back from separating Jammu and Kashmir.
It is not very clear whether the Modi government has a Kashmir policy as such, though the general sense is that it would want to reduce the political importance of the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley, and the delimitation exercise is part of that thinking. If that was indeed the intention, the separation of Ladakh and making Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh into two separate Union territories appear to be futile exercises. Similarly, the delimitation move, which has the trappings of a rationalisation of the existing system, again appears to be an aimless exercise.
In the new delimitation exercise, the difference in strength between the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley, with 96 per cent Muslims, and the Jammu region, with 66 per cent Hindus and 34 per cent Muslims, has been narrowed, with Jammu gaining six seats and going up to 43, and Kashmir getting an extra seat and reaching 47. The new provision in the reconfiguration of the constituencies is the creation of nine Scheduled Tribes (ST) constituencies, with six in Jammu and three in Kashmir. The ST category of constituencies is again a bid to break the so-called Muslim domination. The fact is that Hindus in Jammu think of themselves as Dogras, and those in the Kashmir Valley as Kashmiris. Of course, the Gujjars and Bakarwals, the ST segments, think of themselves as Gujjars and Bakarwals. It is in Pakistan, and the BJP look at the Kashmir issue as a Hindu-Muslim one. It will be wrong to dismiss the religious aspect of the issue in terms of the 1947 Partition, but Kashmir politics has not played out on religious lines. Whatever their bitter regional rivalries, the Kashmiris and Dogras are only too keen to hang together.
Union home minister Amit Shah has also been saying that the UT status for Jammu and Kashmir is a temporary measure, and when conditions improve — there is again no clarity on what those conducive conditions are — the statehood of J&K will be restored. It may even be possible that once the Assembly elections are held, then Jammu and Kashmir might regain its statehood.
The mathematical elegance of dividing equally the 90 Assembly seats into the five parliamentary constituencies, with each getting 18, can well serve as a model for the rest of the country whenever a nationwide delimitation exercise takes place. But beyond that, it does not add much value. The attempt to break the Jammu-Kashmir geographical and political divide by combining Anantnag in the Kashmir Valley with Poonch and Rajouri is not exactly a clever one. It is just administrative juggling. The regional differences in Jammu and Kashmir are indeed revealing. The Poonch and Rajouri folk do not identify themselves either with Kashmir or with Jammu. The people who live in Doda again defy identification with either of the two big entities. And the Kashmiris themselves do not consider Doda as Kashmiri, one of the reasons that in the eyes of the people of the Valley, Ghulam Nabi Azad is not a full-fledged Kashmiri!
It is most likely that Prime Minister Modi and home minister Shah will go into a self-congratulatory mode in the belief that they have handled the long-festering Kashmir problem well. This would be an illusion.
Jammu and Kashmir has been a part of India ever since Maharaja Hari Singh had signed the Instrument of Accession on October 26, 1947, though there is the quibble about whether it was done before or after the arrival of the Indian troops, and the whole-hearted and full-throated support of the then popular leader of Jammu and Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah, who spoke eloquently in the state Assembly and in the United Nations as a member of the Indian delegation about Kashmir being an integral part of India. So, the removal of Article 370, the bifurcation of the state, its demotion to the UT status, and the delimitation move have not added an iota of credibility to the fact of Jammu and Kashmir being an integral part of India.
The interesting question remains whether the surgical political operation in Jammu and Kashmir, including the delimitation, will change the nature of politics in the Union territory. The BJP does want to gain an upper hand and find allies in new parties that it wants to nurture in the Kashmir Valley, in place of the National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). It is always a good sign if new players emerge but the BJP, an old party, wants to orchestrate the political drama. As of now, there are smaller parties in the Kashmir Valley and the BJP wants to patronise them, but these small parties do not promise anything new and significantly different. The Assembly elections, however, which will be held under the new configuration, is something to look forward to.