New Delhi redraws electoral map of India-administered Kashmir ahead of elections, giving greater representation to Muslim-majority region's Hindu areas and sparking accusations of "gerrymandering" and "settler colonialism."
India has published a new list of redrawn political constituencies for India-administered Kashmir, giving greater representation to the Muslim-majority region's Hindu areas and paving the way for fresh elections.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government annexed the disputed region in 2019 and broke it up into two federal territories as part of a move to tighten its grip over the region, which is at the heart of more than 70 years of hostility between India and Pakistan.
Anticipating protests in a region fighting Indian control for decades, authorities put many political leaders under house arrest and cut off internet connections when it announced the move to annex and split the region.
The Indian-controlled region, also called Jammu and Kashmir, originally comprised the mainly Muslim Kashmir Valley, the Hindu-dominated Jammu region, and the remote Buddhist enclave of Ladakh.
Indian authorities said a delimitation commission had finalised 90 assembly constituencies for the region, excluding Ladakh, with 43 seats for Jammu and 47 for Kashmir. Earlier, Jammu had 37 seats and the Kashmir valley 46.
Indian Home Minister Amit Shah said in January that elections would be held in the region soon after the delimitation process was completed. He also promised to reinstate its statehood once its "situation became normal".
The exercise "is not just openly discriminatory against Kashmiris, it is yet another step towards ensuring that India gets a veneer (rubber stamps) of legitimacy towards its true goal in Kashmir: settler colonialism," Kashmiri anthropologist Muhammad Junaid wrote on Twitter.
JK “delimitation” is not just openly discriminatory against Kashmiris, it is yet another step towards ensuring that India gets a veneer (rubber stamps) of legitimacy towards its true goal in Kashmir: settler colonialism.— M Junaid (@mjunaidr) May 5, 2022
Regional parties slam commission
A senior leader of opposition Congress leader Saifuddin Soz said the report reveals some of its "extremely negative" sides, which he said can never be accepted by the people of the region.
"The Commission's recommendation of adding six assembly seats to the Jammu region and only one seat to Kashmir smacks of its pre-determined erroneous assessment of the situation. Many observers had already suspected that the Commission would play the nefarious game in tandem with the Union government!"
The commission, whose report has been rejected by regional J&K's Peoples Democratic Party, said it had been difficult to accommodate competing claims from various sides, citing in a statement the region's "peculiar geo-cultural landscape".
Another regional party Jammu Kashmir National Conference, which has governed the region, said it was studying the implications of the move that has been championed by Modi's far-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
"No amount of gerrymandering will change the ground reality, which is that whenever elections are held the voter will punish the BJP and its proxies for what they have done to J&K over the last 4 years," the National Conference said on Twitter.
The BJP said on Twitter it would change the region's image and future for the better if voted to power.
READ MORE: Modi’s Kashmir meeting: Whither statehood?
Short thread on how the delimitation exercise in Jammu and Kashmir has led to unequal representation of people in the legislative assembly.— Vijdan Mohammad Kawoosa (@vijdankawoosa) May 5, 2022
Rebels in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir have been fighting New Delhi's rule since 1989. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebels' goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
Today, it is one of the most militarised regions of the world, with more than 500,000 Indian soldiers and paramilitaries deployed across the fractious territory.
India alleges the Kashmir rebellion is "Pakistan-sponsored terrorism". Pakistan denies the charge, and most Kashmiris consider it a legitimate freedom struggle.
Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and Indian forces have been killed in the conflict.