New demarcation approved, election board ready in Kashmir

by Ana Lopez

Extra Affair – Bharat Bharadwaj

Amid speculation over whether assembly elections will be held in Jammu and Kashmir this year or not, the Supreme Court in a major judgment on Monday dismissed a petition challenging the new delimitation of assembly constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir. Due to this, the way has been paved to hold assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir this year.
This judgment of the Supreme Court is important because the issue was one of constitutional interpretation. The Narendra Modi government at the Center took two major historic decisions on the Jammu and Kashmir issue in the month of August after winning the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The Modi government took the first decision to abolish Article 370 and Article 35 of the Constitution which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir.
Modi government took another historic decision to divide Jammu and Kashmir into two parts. The state of Jammu and Kashmir is divided into three regions: Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Leh-Ladakh. The Modi government separated Ladakh from Jammu and Kashmir and gave it the status of a Union Territory. Jammu and Kashmir was also made a union territory but the difference is that Jammu and Kashmir will have an assembly while Ladakh will not.
Fresh delimitation was necessary to initiate the political process in Jammu and Kashmir as four seats were reduced after the Ladakh region was withdrawn. The Modi government constituted a delimitation commission and assigned the work of delimitation of all the assembly seats of Jammu and Kashmir. On March 6, 2020, the Union Ministry of Law and Justice constituted a new Delimitation Commission under Section 3 of the Delimitation Act, 2002. Former Supreme Court Justice Ranjana Desai was made the Chairman of the Delimitation Commission.
Two judges from Srinagar, Haji Abdul Ghani Khan and Mohammad Ayub Mattu, petitioned the Supreme Court against it, raising the important issue that under the law of the country, the Election Commission of India is empowered to conduct the delimitation exercise, so the delimitation commission created by the central government should not accept the new delimitation. . His second argument was that the delimitation exercise should not be based on the 2011 census but should be done as per the 2001 census as the new delimitation in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections was based on the 2001 population. It was also argued that if the 2001 census is not taken as the basis, then the first census after 2026 should be waited for.
Opposing this argument, the central government said that the power of delimitation in the states lies with the Election Commission, but two alternative methods have been enacted to delimit the Union Territories. The power to decide the delimitation of the assembly constituencies of the states lies with the Election Commission and the government has not made any changes in it. The government has also opposed the argument of basing the census on 2001 as many equations have changed in the last 22 years. On the other hand, he also argued that since the central government wants to give democracy to the newly formed union territory immediately, it cannot wait till 2026.
The Supreme Court upheld this contention and dismissed the petition challenging the delimitation.
Of course, the Supreme Court also made it clear that it has not given any judgment on the validity of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019. Petitions challenging the Centre’s decision to bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories are pending in the Supreme Court and its verdict will come in due course. If the Supreme Court invalidates the Centre’s decision to bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories, the new demarcation will automatically be nullified.
The Supreme Court judgment is very important as it has opened the way for a political process in Kashmir. Delimitation was necessary to initiate the political process in Kashmir so that future elections to the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly would be held according to the changed geographical equations of Kashmir. After the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution, the partition of Jammu and Kashmir had to be demarcated, so there was nothing wrong in the new demarcation.
The Modi government had completed the process and announced the new demarcation, but if the goods remain stuck in the Supreme Court, the new demarcation will not be considered valid. If the new demarcation is not considered valid, elections cannot be held as Kashmir will remain under President’s rule and democracy will not be established. To prevent this situation from arising, the stamp of approval of the Supreme Court on the new demarcation was necessary so that there would be no legal hurdle. This judgment has removed that obstacle.
It remains to be seen when the Modi government will announce the elections, because it is very important for the political process to start in Jammu and Kashmir, for an elected government to come. Only by establishing a government elected by the people in Jammu and Kashmir can India prove to Kashmir that Kashmiris are wholeheartedly attached to India. The fact that people participate in voting automatically proves that they support India.
Three and a half years have passed since the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35 of the Constitution, but political activity has not resumed in Jammu and Kashmir. Due to this, India’s reputation is tarnished at the international level. India is a democratic country and it is said to be a shame that a lieutenant governor or army rules instead of an elected government in a democratic country. It is necessary for the Modi government to hold elections to avoid this shameful situation.
The verdict of the Supreme Court has prepared the tables. Now the Modi government has to take a quick decision and give a jaw-dropping answer to those who oppose the abolition of Article 370 by holding elections in Jammu and Kashmir.

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