The districts of Poonch and Rajouri located in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, are situated to the south of Pir Panjal and form a part of the Jammu division. These districts have large Bakerwal and Gujjar populations.
As per the proposal of the Delimitation Commission’s second draft, it was proposed to merge the Jammu Division’s Poonch and around two-thirds of the Rajouri districts with the Anantnag districts of Kashmir to form a new territorial division for a Lok Sabha seat called Anantnag-Rajouri parliamentary constituency. This proposal has stirred a row in the valley.
The districts of Poonch and Rajouri houses nomads who are categorised as Scheduled Tribes, and although they are Muslims, they do not belong to the Kashmir ethnicity. The merger of both of these districts with the constituency of Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency is expected to change the poll outcome. This is the allegation put forward by the political parties in the valley accusing the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) of this motive.
The Bakerwals and Gujjars are around five lakhs in number, forming the largest ethnic group out of the total population on 11.19 lakh in Poonch and Rajouri, both of these districts are currently part of the Jammu-Poonch Lok Sabha constituency. These tribes are estimated to form 19 per cent of the total population in the proposed new constituency that has been proposed by the Delimitation Commission.
Out of the total 18 Assembly Constituencies proposed in the new Anantnag-Rajouri constituency, 6 have been proposed to be kept as reserved for the Scheduled Tribes including mainly the Bakerwals and Gujjars.
As per the senior PDP leader and former minister Naeem Akhtar, the merging of these two districts for a Lok Sabha with Kashmir is a possible attempt to dilute the identity of ethnic Kashmir. Imar Nabi who is the spokesperson for the National Conference has said that his part has failed to understand the possible logic behind this merger considering the large geographical distance between Anantnag and Pir Panjal in Jammu.
Communist leader M Y Tarigami has also come forward and stated that they are aware that Kashmir is inaccessible to Rajouri and Poonch for more than 5 months every year and the road is closed off due to snow. He added that there is no rationale in dividing Jammu and Kashmir. The Delimitation Commission has talked about accessibility but this seems like an attempt to delegitimise the whole political progress, as per his statement.
The second draft of the Delimitation Commission has also proposed to remove Pulwama District along with the parts of the Shopian district from the Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency. These two regions have been proposed to be merged with the Srinagar Lok Sabha Constituency. The draft has also proposed to remove a few parts of Budgam district, mostly Shia areas, from the current Srinagar Parliamentary Constituency. One seat has been added to the Valley’s overall tally of Assembly seats. 6 additional seats have been additionally proposed for the Jammu region. These have been recommended for Samba, Udhampur, Kathua, Kishtwar, Doda, and Rajouri.
As per the statements by political analysts, it is said that this new constituency that has been proposed will be the first trans- Pir Panjal entity in the modern state of J&K. This will also provide many opportunities for people to interact between both the divisions.