The Election Commission on Tuesday said it will announce the schedule for assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir after the Amarnath Yatra, which begins next month. In a statement, the poll panel said it has unanimously decided that "holding of Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir shall be considered later in this year".
The Commission said it will keep monitoring the situation in the state regularly based on inputs from all necessary quarters, and will announce the election schedule after the conclusion of the Amarnath Yatra. The yatra usually runs from July 2-August 15.
Earlier today, Home Minister Amit Shah was given a detailed presentation on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, where the BJP has been pushing for carrying out a delimitation exercise for getting more seats for Jammu region in the state assembly.
The home minister was briefed about the ground situation in the sensitive state, which has been hit by militancy for the last three decades and security arrangements being in place there, officials said.
Shah was also told about the security arrangements being made for the annual Amarnath yatra, slated to begin on July 1, a home ministry official said, adding he is likely to visit the state soon.
Union Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba and senior officials of the Kashmir division in the Home Ministry were present in the briefing. The meeting comes at a time when the state BJP has been raising the issue of withdrawal of a 16-year-old freeze on carrying out delimitation exercise in the state.
However, officials said there was no discussion on constituting a delimitation commission.
Against the backdrop of delimitation demands by the state BJP, officials said there was a possibility of the new central government constituting a delimitation commission to redraw the scope and size of the assembly segments and determine the number of seats to be reserved for Schedules Castes.
Taking Jammu and Kashmir on par with the rest of the states, the then Farooq Abdullah government had in 2002 amended the state constitution which froze delimitation commission till 2026.
His son and former chief minister Omar Abdullah also tweeted Tuesday saying the freeze on delimitation has been applied to the entire country until 2026 and contrary to the way “some ill-informed TV channels are trying to sell it, it isn’t just a Jammu and Kashmir specific freeze.”
Omar expressed surprise that “the BJP, which talks about bringing J&K on par with other states by removing (Article) 370 & 35-A now wants to treat J&K differently from other states in this one respect.”
“When delimitation takes place in the rest of the country the BJP is welcome to apply it to J&K until then we in the @JKNC_ will oppose, tooth and nail, any attempt to make changes without a mandate from the people of the state.”
The demand for delimitation of Jammu and Kashmir was raised by the BJP first in 2008 during the Amarnath land row.
The objective of the BJP is seemed to correct the alleged inequity and regional disparity towards the Jammu region, and also provide representation to all reserved categories in the state Assembly.
Omar Abdullah also pointed out to a Supreme Court order and said the freeze on delimitation was applied to the state and was done to bring the state in line with the rest of the country. “The same was challenged and upheld in both the High Court of J&K and the Supreme Court.”
The Supreme Court had in 2010 upheld the freeze imposed by Jammu and Kashmir government on delimitation of assembly constituencies in the state till 2026 and dismissed the plea that it violated the “basic structure” of the state constitution.
Rejecting National Panthers Party chief Bhim Singh’s argument that it deprived the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes the right to represent the Valley, the apex court had in a judgement said courts cannot interfere in matters of delimitation as there was an express constitutional bar on such interference.
Dismissing the plea, the then bench of Justices G S Singhvi and Asok Kumar Ganguly had said, “We are of the opinion that a right to cast vote is a valuable right but to demand any uniform value of one’s voting right through the process of delimitation, disregarding the statutory and constitutional dispensation based on historical reasons is not a justiciable right.”
However, according to legal experts, the amendment to the Constitution can be struck down by Governor Satya Pal Malik but requires a concurrence of Parliament within six months after passing such an ordinance.
The BJP in Jammu and Kashmir has been raising the issue of reorganisation of the state so that Jammu gets a larger share of seats in the 87-member state assembly. As of now, Kashmir region has 46 seats followed by Jammu region with 37 and Ladakh with four.
The state BJP has also been suggesting that 13 seats kept vacant for areas of the state under the illegal occupation of Pakistan should be given to west Pakistan refugees who have settled in Jammu.
Jammu and Kashmir state BJP general secretary Ashok Kaul welcomed any move for carrying out a delimitation in the state and said, “We have strongly raised it in the past that this exercise should be undertaken. It was also listed in the agenda of alliance with the PDP.”
“We urge the governor to set up delimitation commission to end discrimination with Jammu region and it should be carried out before assembly elections,” Kaul said.
PDP president Mehbooba Mufti tweeted that she is “distressed to hear about GoIs (Government of India’s) plan to redraw assembly constituencies in J&K. Forced delimitation is an obvious attempt to inflict another emotional partition of the state on communal lines. Instead of allowing old wounds to heal, GoI is inflicting pain on Kashmiris”.
The then chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad toyed with the idea of setting up delimitation commission but could not push forward after its ally, PDP, resisted any such move.
National Panthers Party chief Bhim Singh welcomed any such move saying the Congress with the National Conference have “discriminated against” the Jammu region