The 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 who hold the majority have the right to run the country, experience shows that this does not always guarantee stability and a sense of inclusion.
For example, in the first past the post system (SMU) that we have adopted, a winning candidate generally gets a maximum of 25-30% of the total votes collected and the rest of the votes are distributed among different candidates. . This means that 70% of voters in that constituency are against the winning candidate. Even if the winning candidate obtains 51% of the votes, the remaining 49% will end up outside the decision-making system and thus contribute to instability.
While reviewing the recommendations of the Jammu and Kashmir Boundary Commission headed by Justice (Retired) Ranjana Desai, using the lens based on the above argument, it can be concluded that the Commission did well done to ensure that all communities in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir 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 spread evenly and horizontally.
Jammu and Kashmir is a mosaic of India; it is not monolithic. It accommodates people of multiple ethnicities, castes, and religions, who needed to be accommodated in the power structure. From 1846 to 1947, the Dogras of Jammu took the reins; from 1947 to today, the power is with the Muslims of Kashmir. Successive regimes have carved out constituencies such that the Hindus of Jammu, the Gujjars of Poonch-Rajouri, the Paharis of Doda, Bhaderwah, Kishtwar, Gurez, Karnah and many other places remain subject to a few Kashmiri Muslims based in Srinagar. The latter were reluctant to share power or allow an alternative, even among Kashmiri Muslims. The best example is how they organized and rigged the 1987 elections, which became one of the reasons for the unrest and forced young people to take up arms – democracy based on the principle of the FPTP had failed them.
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To avoid such a situation and empower every community in the region, the Commission demarcated the constituencies of the assembly so that the Dogras of Jammu, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Kashmiri Muslims get an equitable share in the assembly. and decision making. The Commission’s recommendation to reserve two seats for a tiny 2% minority, the Kashmiri Pandits, one of which will be reserved for women, is a bold step. He further recommended an indefinite number of seats for those who were forced to migrate from Pakistani-held areas in 1947. Their fate has been pending for 70 years. Ironically, in Pakistani-occupied Kashmir (PoK), 12 seats are reserved for those who migrated from the Indian part of Kashmir and settled in different Pakistani towns. In the PoK assembly, six seats each are reserved for refugees from the Kashmir Valley and Jammu.
The completion of the process of redrawing Jammu and Kashmir’s electoral map paves the way for assembly elections in a region that has not had an elected government since June 2018. The Commission’s report carries the total number of seats in 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 also reserved nine seats for the assembly – six in Jammu and three in Kashmir – for ST. Seven assembly seats have been reserved for CSs. The constitution of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir did not provide for the reservation of seats for STs in the Legislative Assembly.
The former J&K state had 111 seats in the assembly – 46 in Kashmir, 37 in Jammu, four in Ladakh and 24 seats reserved for the PoK. Since Ladakh was carved out as a separate UT, J&K ended up with 107 seats, including 24 for PoK. With seven additional seats, the total number of seats increased to 114, bringing the effective size of the assembly to 90, not counting the 24 seats reserved for the PoK.
The decision of the Commission to create a headquarters in Lok Sabha with areas of Jammu region and Kashmir Valley called Anantnag-Rajouri is based on the idea that the two regions should be considered 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-confessional region, the system must be changed. All European countries have modified it. Even in the United Kingdom, the Northern Ireland assembly created under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement is elected as a single transferable vote of proportional representation using the principle of power-sharing to ensure that every political voice and every ethnicity is taken into account in the structure of power.
As countries and democracies evolve, there is no point in remaining obsessed with the UK’s antiquated system, which is based on majority rule and not empowerment of all sections. In modern times, we need an inclusive and non-exclusive democracy that only serves the interests of a few sections of the population.
The J&K Boundary Commission has taken a bold step towards this end, and its efforts should be encouraged. It is a start in the transition from an exclusive democracy to an inclusive democracy and it could also be replicated elsewhere in the country.
(The author is a Senior Advocate at the Supreme Court of India)