The Election Commission of India (ECI) on Wednesday will hold virtual discussions with its representatives in Jammu and Kashmir and deputy commissioners regarding the delimitation of the 90 Assembly constituencies in the Union territory.
The development is taking place a day before 14 political leaders from Jammu and Kashmir—former chief ministers and ministers and party chiefs—will be attending the meeting on Jammu and Kashmir called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The meeting is the first major political outreach by the Centre to end the political impasse in the UT after the abrogation of Article 370.
The ECI will hold discussions with the representatives of the commission and 20 deputy commissioners in two sessions.
In the first session, discussions will be attended by deputy commissioners of 10 districts and in the second session, the discussions will be held with the deputy commissioners of the remaining 10 districts.
This is the first meeting of the ECI with the deputy commissioners of Jammu and Kashmir after the delimitation commission was set up by the Centre last year.
The meeting with the deputy commissioners assumes significance as they also happen to be the district electoral officers in the UT.
The process of delimitation has faced problems because the NC—whose three MPs along with two BJP MPs are the associate members of the commission—has challenged the J&K Reorganisation Act 2019, under which the state was reorganised into two UTs of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh and delimitation of the Assembly constituencies was ordered by the Centre.
Due to the non-cooperation by the NC, the Centre extended the term of delimitation commission chairperson retired justice Ranjana Desai in February by six months.
The NC is likely to drop its opposition to delimitation in view of Thursday's meeting with the prime minister in New Delhi.
The NC working committee recently authorised the party president, Farooq Abdullah, to take a decision about participation in the delimitation process. The ECI’s meeting with J&K deputy commissioners is an indication that the Centre is keen to hold elections in Jammu and Kashmir. According to sources, the elections to the Assembly will be held before winter.
After delimitation, the number of Assembly seats in Jammu and Kashmir went up from 107 to 114. Elections will be held for only 90 seats, as 24 seats are for constituencies within Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). With the creation of Ladakh as a Union territory, the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly was left with 83 seats. After delimitation, the number of Assembly seats will be 90. Two women MLAs will be nominated, as was done earlier also.
Jammu is likely to get the maximum number of seats after delimitation. That will narrow the gap in the number of Assembly seats between Jammu (37 at present) and Kashmir (46) and create a possibility for the first-ever chief minister from Jammu. A Hindu chief minister in Jammu and Kashmir is one of the long-pending goals of the BJP, along with shifting the balance of power from Kashmir to Jammu.
It may be mentioned that the Central government has decided to give representation to both SCs and STs in the new 90-member Assembly of the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. In the previous Assembly, eight seats were reserved for the scheduled castes, while in the next Assembly, 10-12 seats could be reserved for the scheduled tribes besides the SCs.
The commission has been mandated to delimit the constituencies of the Union territory in accordance with the provisions of Part V of Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019, and Delimitation Act, 2002.
While splitting Jammu and Kashmir into two Union territories through the Reorganization Act, the Union home ministry had increased Assembly seats of Jammu and Kashmir by seven taking total seats to 114.
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The former state of Jammu and Kashmir had 111 seats including 24 reserved for PoK while elections were held for 87 seats. With the creation of Ladakh as Union territory, four seats of the region were reduced and the Assembly was left with 83 seats. However, with an increase of seven seats, Jammu and Kashmir will have an Assembly of 90 seats.