Kashmir: Redistricting proposal sparks fears of manipulation
People in India-administered Kashmir woke up on New Year's Day to find that three of their former chief ministers had been put under house arrest, following plans to protest a proposal to redraw the region's electoral map.
The arrests were made to prevent the politicians from protesting against the proposal, which critics say could lead to the underrepresentation of Muslims in electoral politics.
On January 1, authorities sealed the entrances to the houses of Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti on the high-security Gupkar Road in the capital city Srinagar. And trucks were deployed to block the entrances to their houses.
Omar Abdullah, who was chief minister from 2009 to 2015, tweeted: "Good morning & welcome to 2022. A new year with the same J&K (Jammu and Kashmir) police illegally locking people in their homes & an administration so terrified of normal democratic activity. Trucks parked outside our gates to scuttle the peaceful @JKPAGD sit-in protest. Some things never change."
Protests planned against seat proposal
The Jammu Kashmir Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration — a coalition of regional political parties seeking to restore the region's autonomy and statehood — had earlier announced a protest against the recently released draft proposal for the creation of new legislative assembly seats in the region.
The draft proposes the creation of six new seats in Hindu-dominated Jammu province, against just one seat in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley, which does not align with the population ratios of the provinces.
The remapping will take the number of assembly seats in Jammu to 43, up from the existing 37, and 47 in Kashmir, up from 46, although the Kashmir Valley's population accounts for just over half of the region's total.
Jammu has historically been allotted more seats since 1951, when the Delimitation of Parliamentary and Assembly Constituencies Order was first issued. India's ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) has also been increasingly adding more seats, disproportionate to the population, in recent years.
The BJP has additionally been pushing to install a Hindu chief minister in the Muslim-majority region.
Delimitation not based on updated census
Delimitation, or the redrawing of district lines, has been legally frozen in India through 2026. However, the BJP resumed the practice in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of the region's autonomy on August 5, 2019.
New Delhi now uses the 2001 population census as its criteria for remapping constituency boundaries, but in Jammu and Kashmir, officials are still basing delimitation on the 2011 census.
As per the 2011 census, India-administered Kashmir had a total population of 12,267,013. The Kashmir Valley's population was listed at 6,888,475 (56.15% of the region's total) and the population of Jammu province as 5,378,538 (43.85% of the region).
New seats in Jammu are allotted either to Hindu majority districts or created in a way that divides the Muslim electorate into different constituencies.
Some critics say that the efforts to redraw constituency lines in the region indicate the BJP's intention to water down the political power of the region as a whole.
"The Delimitation Commission proposal seems to be a step in the direction of converting Kashmiris, a demographic majority, into a political minority," said Haseeb Drabu, a former finance minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
"One is curious as to why the Delimitation Commission decided to announce the allocation of six seats to Jammu and one to Kashmir. Neither Jammu nor Kashmir is an electoral constituency. The two are administrative divisions, not representational categories," Drabu told DW.
"By putting it in these terms, the Delimitation Commission has made a political category into an electoral constituency. This is methodologically wrong," he added.
Fears over 'gerrymandering' to disempower Muslims
Experts say the criticism of the Delimitation Commission's proposal is genuine because 56% of the population live in Kashmir, which has been proposed to get only 52% seats in the legislative assembly.
"It [the legislative proposal] has of course created anxieties in Kashmiris, which are not misplaced. There is no rational basis to this gerrymandering," said political analyst Anuradha Bhasin.
Bhasin believes that most of the new assembly constituencies were created to favor the BJP and its allies in the region.
Other criteria 'must be considered'
The BJP, however, has defended the proposal, saying that population alone can't be the only criteria for establishing representation.
"Political parties should not question the Delimitation Commission's proposal. Population should not be the only criteria. Other parameters like topography have to be taken into consideration," said BJP leader and former minister, Priya Sethi.
Opposition political parties have expressed similar views to Bhasin's, and have described the proposal as a form of gerrymandering to raise Hindu influence in the disputed region's electoral politics.
Former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said the redrawing of the electoral map fits into the BJP's larger efforts to disempower and marginalize Muslims. "Every policy and the slew of laws brought in since August 2019 have aided their sinister designs to bring us to our knees politically and economically," Mufti said.
She additionally believes that the hurry with which the commission was established, along with its use of geography instead of population as a primary criteria for adding seats to Jammu, confirms that the measures are meant to serve the BJP's political interests. "It is also to divide the mandate in Kashmir and create fissures along religious and regional lines," said Mufti.
Edited by: Leah Carter