New Delhi: Two important pieces of legislation regarding Jammu and Kashmir were passed by the lower house of Parliament on Wednesday (December 6). These are yhe Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Amendment) Bill, 2023, which aims to amend the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, and the Jammu & Kashmir Reservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023, aimed at amending the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation Act, 2004.
The two legislations are being viewed as an attempt by the Union government to tweak the political landscape to its advantage ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, by wooing the Kashmiri Pandits and Pahadia community of the region.
In his reply to the discussion on the Bill in the Lok Sabha, home minister Amit Shah said, “Earlier there were 37 seats in Jammu which have now become 43, earlier there were 46 seats in Kashmir which have now become 47, and 24 seats have been kept reserved for Pakistan-occupied Kashmir because POK is ours,” Shah said, reiterating a position India has held historically.
The legislative assembly initially had 100 members including 24 for PoK, up to 1988 when the seats were increased to 111. The 24 seats are however not taken into consideration during the quorum calculation, which is why the total contestable seats were 87 including four for Ladakh. After delimitation in 2020, the total number of seats rose to 114, which included the seats for PoK. But it is the number of nominated seats that has raised eyebrows. It is believed that these members will mainly be Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley, tilting the balance away from a Muslim-majority Valley. “Earlier there were 107 seats in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly, now there are 114 seats, earlier there were two nominated members in the assembly, now there will be five,” Shah said. The state governor has the power to nominate these members of which two will be women, one a Kashmiri migrant and one from PoK, Shah said.
Protests had broken out especially in the Valley when the draft of the delimitation report was submitted, because it was felt the criterion of population was ignored. Kashmir accounted for 56% of the population per the 2011 census which formed the basis for the delimitation exercise.
“The government is subverting the mandate of the people by controlling the levers from Delhi,” Asaduddin Owaisi, Lok Sabha MP from the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen said. “Why reserve seats for Pandits – name them,” he added. He also said the definition of “displaced persons” does not include Muslims who “in 1989, when the Army went into their areas in Keran, Karna, Poonch, Rajouri, several villagers were forced to migrate to PoK. Of these 3% are Muslims, the rest are Pahadias and Gujjars and yet there is no mention of them in the Bill.”
This time around, in his reply to the House, Shah was careful not to mention Aksai Chin in the same breath as PoK. On August 5, 2019 though, while reading down Article 370, Shah had thundered that Aksai Chin is Indian territory. “I want to make it absolutely clear that every single time we say Jammu and Kashmir, it includes Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (including Gilgit-Baltistan) as well as Aksai Chin. Let there be no doubt over it. Entire Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of the Union of India.”
Ever since, India has reportedly lost over 1,000 square km of land to Chinese occupation. While Aksai Chin is part of the union territory of Ladakh, no seats have been reserved in the assembly from here traditionally, an anomaly that was not corrected either in the delimitation exercise or the state reorganisation Bills.
Kashmiri Pandits apart, the Bill is being seen at targeting the Muslim-majority Pahadia community that inhabits primarily the hilly and border areas of the state, and whom the BJP sees as a promising vote bank.
That Pahadias be classified as OBCs was based on a recommendation of the G.D. Sharma Commission constituted in March 2020 to review reservations for different categories. The Commission had recommended the classification of new groups as Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes, and rechristening of the “social castes” category in J&K as “other backward classes”.
The Pahadias have been given Scheduled Tribe status, and nine seats under the new Act have been reserved for Scheduled Tribes. That is not all. The Act seeks to change the nomenclature of a section of people who were earlier described as “weak and under privileged classes (social castes)” to “other backward classes” so they can seek quotas in appointments and admissions. Significantly, the Pahadias will get 4% quota in jobs under their new status.
On claims by the home minister that the Union government has brought lasting peace to the region and was committed towards its development, National Conference president Farooq Abdullah said, “During the G20 meeting that you held in the state, you said it was a great meeting. What tourism is taking place in Kashmir? What development is taking place in Kashmir? You could not take the members of G20 to Gulmarg, you could not take them to Kulgam, you could not take them to Dachigam.”
In an impassioned speech during the discussion on the motion, he said, “As chief minister I tried to bring the Kashmiri Pandits back home. When we tried, inimical forces from across the border killed innocent Kashmiri Pandits in a village near Ganderbal. Immediately we had to stop the vehicles to bring them back home. I want to ask you, in your 10 years, how many have you brought back home? None.”
Outside the House, in response to Amit Shah accusing Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, of blundering on Kashmir, Abdullah said, “They don’t share the complete facts. For instance they say our forces could have marched to Muzaffarabad in Pakistan. The truth is in order to save Poonch and Rajouri, the Army had to be diverted there. That’s the reason these areas are a part of India today or these too would have gone to Pakistan.”
On why India had to take the Kashmir issue to the United Nations, Abdullah said, “There was no other way in those circumstances then. Lord Mountbatten and others advised accordingly and even Sardar (Vallabhai) Patel agreed that we need to go to the United Nation. Now these people are misleading the people. What can one do. But at that point of time, there was no way out. The UNSC kept those who were attacked and those who attacked on the same pedestal instead of taking on those who attacked India. They did this because there was pressure from the United States. The US was on the side of Pakistan.”
Note: An earlier version of this article said the Bills were passed by both houses of parliament.