Disempowering Kashmir’s Muslims
Last week’s announcement by India’s Delimitation Commission to carve out new electoral constituencies in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir may not have come as a surprise. But it is a brazen violation of UN Security Council resolutions – and there are eleven of them on Kashmir. Specifically, it is a contravention of UNSC resolution 38, whose para 2 clearly states that neither party to the dispute can bring about a material change in the situation in Kashmir. The delimitation seeks to disenfranchise and disempower the Muslim population to advantage Hindus. Muslims constitute over 68 percent of J&K’s population while Hindus represent around 28 percent according to the 2011 census. The Narendra Modi government wants to turn this Muslim majority into a minority.
Since August 5, 2019, when the Indian government illegally annexed the state of Jammu and Kashmir, bifurcated it, and integrated it into the Indian union, its aim has been to bring about demographic changes and undertake a delimitation exercise to give Jammu greater representation in order to reduce the representation of Muslims and shift the political balance to Hindus. This is what has been done by the Delimitation Commission appointed two years ago by the Modi government. Jammu has been given 6 more seats in the 90-member J&K Assembly while Kashmir has been given only one more. This will take Jammu’s total seats to 43, leaving Kashmir with 47 under this plan. This has been done despite the fact that according to the 2011 census, the Kashmir Valley’s population was close to 7 million while Jammu’s population is 5.3 million. Estimates of the present size of Kashmir’s population are obviously higher.
The move was roundly rejected in Indian-administered Kashmir where the reaction was swift and strong from traditionally pro-India Kashmiri politicians who have participated in elections in the past. All of them called the plan unacceptable as it sought to alter Kashmir’s demography. The views of the true representatives of the Kashmiri people who are all languishing in jails are well known and are a complete rejection of the delimitation as indeed of the sham elections that they have consistently boycotted in the past. A Kashmiri journalist who didn’t want to be named put it starkly: “This delimitation has completed the circle of disempowerment of Kashmiri Muslims.” He said the commission’s recommendations are neither based on population nor geographical criteria but are a “communal award.”
Opposing the proposed changes, former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti described the commission as “part of the (BJP’s) agenda to curb the rights and disempower the people of Jammu and Kashmir.” She said the report “shelved the parameter of the population while redrawing the constituencies”. In a tweet, Sajad Lone said the recommendations “reeked of bias” while the J&K People’s Conference tweeted that “Kashmir has been discriminated against as in the past. ….(but) the degree of disempowerment is greater.” Writing in the Indian Express, former J&K finance minister Haseeb Drabu said the principle of one man one vote has been violated. He argued that by imposing the award on a “fragile and fragmented polity” it has “designed a framework of legislative representation that will prevent the formation of a stable elected government in the near future” and instead, precarious patchwork coalitions are likely.
Pakistan has long been warning the international community about Indian designs to change Kashmir’s demography in contravention of UN resolutions and urging action to stop this.
Pakistan denounced the delimitation report and in a demarche to the Indian side, called the entire exercise “farcical” and pointed out that it had “already been rejected by the cross-section of political parties in Jammu and Kashmir.”
“Through this effort, India only wanted to lend ‘legitimacy’ to its illegal actions of August 5, 2019,” the foreign ministry said. It also called on the Indian government to “refrain from bringing about any illegal demographic changes in the occupied territory.”
In fact, Pakistan has long been warning the international community about Indian designs to change Kashmir’s demography in contravention of UN resolutions and urging action to stop this. For example, in a letter addressed to the president of the UN Security Council and the Secretary-General in August 2021, Pakistan’s foreign minister pointed out that “the exercise of a fresh demarcation and so-called delimitation of electoral boundaries within [Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir] is clearly designed to reduce Muslim representation in order to suppress their demand for freedom from Indian occupation and repression.” This is only one of several letters written to the UN on the dire situation in Kashmir since India’s unlawful 2019 action. The international community, however, has been too preoccupied by the coronavirus pandemic and Ukraine to give the issue the attention it has warranted. This has encouraged Delhi to press ahead with its sinister plan.
Pakistan’s protests too have not deterred the Modi government from carrying out changes in Kashmir’s demographic structure in violation of international law and UN resolutions. Delhi introduced new domicile rules and has already issued over 3.4 million so-called domicile certificates to non-Kashmiri outsiders who were made eligible after the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution in 2019. Modi’s aim after formal approval of the delimitation plan is to hold sham elections in J & K to consolidate the August 2019 action. His party’s hope is to foist a Hindu chief minister on Kashmir through these changes on the electoral map.
But even with this egregious gerrymandering, India’s ruling party is unlikely to achieve its electoral objective as Muslims are a sizeable part of the population in Jammu. More importantly, given the overwhelming Kashmiri opposition to the delimitation plan, elections there, like previous ones, will lack both credibility and legitimacy and are likely to be shunned by a majority of the electorate. Delhi’s policies of force and fraud have always been a failure in Kashmir and only served to deepen the sense of alienation among its people and strengthen their resolve to resist. There is little reason to think it will be any different in the future. As former chief minister Farooq Abdullah put in an interview not long ago, “Kashmir could explode like a volcano,” given the popular mood and oppressive situation there.
- Maleeha Lodhi is a former Pakistani ambassador to the US, UK & UN. Twitter @LodhiMaleeha