Poet and philosopher Muhammad Iqbal once said “jamhuriyat ek tarz e hakoomat hai ki jis main bandon ko gina kartey hain, toula nahi kartey” (In a democracy, people are counted and not weighed). While on the face of it, those with the majority have the right to rule the country, experience shows that this doesn’t always guarantee stability and a sense of inclusion.
For example, in the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system that we have adopted, a winning candidate generally secures a maximum of 25-30 per cent of the total votes polled and the rest of the votes get divided among different candidates. That means 70 per cent in that constituency are against the winning candidate. Even if the winning candidate gets 51 per cent votes, the rest 49 per cent will find themselves out of the decision-making system and thus contribute to instability.
While scrutinising the recommendations of the Jammu and Kashmir Delimitation Commission headed by Justice (retd) Ranjana Desai, using the lens based on the above argument, one can conclude that the Commission has done well to ensure that all communities in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir will have a share in the assembly. A sense of empowerment, which was limited to a few families in Srinagar and confined to a few regions, can now be distributed equally and horizontally.
Jammu and Kashmir is a mosaic of India; it is not monolithic. It hosts people of several ethnicities, castes and religions, who needed to be accommodated in the power structure. From 1846 to 1947, the Dogras of Jammu called the shots; from 1947 till now, the power has been with the Kashmiri Muslims. Successive regimes carved out constituencies in such a way that Hindus in Jammu, Gujjars in Poonch-Rajouri, Paharis in Doda, Bhaderwah, Kishtwar, Gurez, Karnah and many other places remain subservient to a few individual Kashmiri Muslims based in Srinagar. The latter were loath to share power or allow an alternative even among Kashmiri Muslims. The best example is the way they engineered and rigged the 1987 elections, which became one of the reasons for disturbance and forced the youth to take up arms — democracy based on the FPTP principle had failed them.
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To prevent such a situation and empower every community in the region, the Commission has demarcated the assembly constituencies in such a way that the Dogras of Jammu, the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, and the Kashmiri Muslims will get a fair share in the assembly and decision making. The Commission’s recommendation to reserve two seats for a 2 per cent minuscule minority, the Kashmiri Pandits — one of which will be reserved for women — is a bold step. It has further recommended an unspecified number of seats for those who were forced to migrate from Pakistani-controlled areas in 1947. Their fate has been hanging in balance for the past 70 years. Ironically, in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), 12 seats are reserved for those who migrated from the Indian part of Kashmir and settled in different Pakistani cities. In the PoK assembly, six seats each are reserved for refugees from the Kashmir Valley and Jammu.
The completion of the process of redrawing the electoral map of Jammu and Kashmir paves the way for assembly elections in an area which has not had an elected government since June 2018. The Commission’s report takes the total number of seats in the UT to 90 from 83. This will increase the number of seats in the Jammu division from 37 to 43 and in the Kashmir Valley from 46 to 47. The panel has also reserved nine assembly seats — six in Jammu and three in Kashmir — for STs. Seven assembly seats have been reserved for SCs. The constitution of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state did not provide for the reservation of seats for the STs in the legislative assembly.
The erstwhile J&K state had 111 assembly seats — 46 in Kashmir, 37 in Jammu, four in Ladakh, and 24 seats reserved for PoK. Since Ladakh was carved out as a separate UT, J&K was left with 107 seats, including the 24 for PoK. With seven additional seats, the total number of seats went up to 114, making the effective strength of the assembly 90, excluding the 24 seats reserved for PoK.
The Commission’s decision to carve out a Lok Sabha seat with areas from the Jammu region and Kashmir Valley called Anantnag-Rajouri is based on the view that the two regions need to be seen as “integrated” and that the five Lok Sabha constituencies now have 18 assembly seats each.
The FPTP system is ideal for the UK. But in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious region, the system needs to be tweaked. All the countries in Europe have tweaked it. Even in the UK, the Northern Ireland assembly created under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement is elected under the single transferable vote form of proportional representation using the principle of power-sharing to ensure that every political voice and ethnicity is accommodated in the power structure.
As countries and democracies evolve, there is no point to remain fixated on the UK’s outdated system, which is based on a rule of the majority and not the empowerment of all the sections. In modern times, we need an inclusive democracy and not an exclusive one that serves the interests of just a few sections of people.
The J&K Delimitation Commission has taken a bold step towards that end, and its efforts should be encouraged. This is a beginning in the transition from exclusive to inclusive democracy and could be replicated elsewhere in the country as well.
(The writer is a senior advocate at the Supreme Court of India)