Kashmiri Pandits propose ‘floating’ constituency

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In discussions held by the Delimitation Commission in Jammu & Kashmir earlier this month, Kashmiri Pandit organisations have pitched a novel proposal – one or more ‘floating’ constituencies reserved for contesting and voting only for Kashmiri Pandit migrants from J&K.

ET gathers that the proposal cites the precedence of the lone such ‘floating’ constituency- Sangha- that is in Sikkim and has demanded a similar format, given the ‘extraordinary’ circumstances of the Kashmiri Pandit community.

This is the only constituency in the country without any geographical boundaries and one for which only Buddhist monks registered with 51 monasteries within the state can contest and vote.

In at least two representations made to the Delimitation Commission— in the panel’s recent visit to J&K and in proposals sent in March— the Sangha model of reservation has been requested, sources confirmed to ET.

Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo, a senior Kashmir Pandit leader from the Bhartiya Janata Party, confirmed to ET that such a proposal has been made to the commission.

“Since no reservation is allowed on religious grounds in India, we have cited the case of Sikkim where a constituency was set aside for the Lama Sanghas, in order to preserve their unique identity. This was challenged in the Supreme Court and upheld by the court as well. We are requesting a similar model for Kashmiri Pandit migrants as it also applies to us”, Chrungoo told ET.

The Sangha model for Sikkim, however, is backed in the Constitution of India which is not the case so far for Kashmiri Pandits.

Still further, the Delimitation Commission is bound by its limited terms of reference and the J&K Reorganization Act, 2019 which only provides for creating new reserved seats for just one category- the Scheduled Tribes.

The Kashmiri pandit groups have, therefore, taken the matter to the home ministry as well as the Prime Minister’s office seeking amendments to the Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019 to allow for reservation for Kashmiri Pandits and pave way for the same in the terms of reference of the Commission.

The 32- Sangha assembly constituency in Sikkim was created in 1958 for the Sikkim state council on the requests of monastery associations and was retained with its special character even after 1975 when Sikkim became a state of India. Article 371 (F) of the Constitution of India protects the special character of Sikkim and various laws of the then kingdom.

The same was also upheld by the Supreme Court in 1993. The apex court recognised that Sanghas were culturally a part of Sikkim’s council decision-making for the last 300 years and since the time of Chogyal kings of the state and hence ruled that this reservation was not purely religion based and therefore not unconstitutional.

Chrungoo and other Kashmiri Pandit organisation have cited the same. They have also proposed that even if the Sangha model cannot be facilitated, then a model similar to the Union territory of Puducherry be considered.

The Centre nominates members to three seats in the UT, in addition to the 30 elected seats and this process was also upheld recently by the Madras High Court.

“We have taken it up now with all authorities from the Delimitation Commission to the Election Commission, PMO and Home ministry. Something has to be done, else just as over five lakh Kashmiri pandits have gone represented for decades together, they will go unrepresented again. It is an extraordinary situation which demands extraordinary solutions. Hence, the example of Sangha constituency”, he added.

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