A Roadmap to Representation: The Case for Gilgit-Baltistan
Updated: May 22
On May 4th 2020, the Government of India warned Pakistan to not attempt to legitimize its illegal occupation of the territories of Gilgit-Baltistan through farcical elections scheduled for June 8, 2020(1). The reason why a nation with a dismal record on democracy is keen on holding elections in a territory which is constitutionally not its part is due to its broader occupational aims. It is apparent that Pakistan wishes to absorb the territories it occupies. However, doing so would require a veneer of legitimacy in the eyes of the world and residents, which can only be provided through an eyewash of an election. Gilgit-Baltistan in particular, has been rocked by outbursts of protest throughout its history of occupation. These elections are also a means to hoodwink the communities residing there into believing that Pakistan considers them as its own.
The Government of India has reiterated that the Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh ( which includes the illegally occupied territories of Gilgit-Baltistan) are “an integral part of India'' through “legal and fully irrevocable accession”(1). Commenting on an earlier illegal election, the spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs added that the election was a move by Pakistan, “to camouflage its forcible and illegal occupation of the regions” and expressed concern that Pakistan was attempting to “deny the people of the region their political rights, and the efforts being made to absorb these territories”(2).
The objective of this brief is to make the case for specific representation of communities divided by the Line of Control. Based on precedents and principles, it argues for using the subsets of the divided communities living under legitimate Indian control as temporarily representative of the whole of the territories occupied by Pakistan. This would require a departure from the rather conventional optics of vacant seats in assemblies and transition to a more aggressively prudent, yet fundamentally sound form of representation. To this end, the brief recommends four policy options embodying tradeoffs between precedence and impact - 1) Nomination to Assemblies, 2) Partly elected Advisory Council(s), 3) Separate Autonomous Hill Development Council(s), 4) Subset Representation in Assemblies.
The brief further discusses three interrelated benefits by according representation to the territories illegally occupied by Pakistan. These are- 1)Prevention of Disillusionment 2) Advancing National Inclusion of Divided Communities; and 3) Delegitimize Pakistan’s Designs on Integrating the Occupied Territories.
The subset of the communities divided by the LOC and presently under Indian control, currently vote as residents of existing constituencies in the UT of Ladakh. However, this brief makes the case for their recognition through separate constituencies encompassing the whole of the occupied territories and its continuous relevant areas. The status quo results in not just underrepresentation of the whole of areas occupied by Pakistan, but also does not take into account the mitigating factors of unique cultures, histories, languages and aspirations aside from their status of being divided by the Pakistani occupation itself.
To further elucidate this stance, it is necessary to ask a foundational question- On what basis is representation allotted in India?
In December, 1952, Potti Sriramulu died while on hunger strike. He was agitating for the creation of a separate Telugu speaking state. His death sparked massive rioting, and forced the erstwhile Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru to renege on his earlier stance and provide for the creation of Andhra Pradesh(7). This incident forced the nation to question as to what should be the scheme of administering representation. Hence, the first States Reorganisation Commission was instituted.
"it is neither possible nor desirable to reorganise States on the basis of the single test of either language or culture, but that a balanced approach to the whole problem is necessary in the interest of our national unity."- States Reorganisation Commission Report, 1955(5)
This is the first instance in our national consciousness that there is no single benchmark on the basis of which representation is allotted.Therefore, the criteria is very holistic in nature, and based on terrain, history, tribal populations etc. The most recent examples of this coming into practice are the creation of the States of Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Telangana. The aforementioned states were not solely created on the basis of ethno-linguistic identities(8).
This farsighted conception of representation, however, remains a distant dream for some of our citizens living under foreign occupation. The territories illegally occupied by Pakistan fall within the ambit of the territory of the Union of India. Accordingly, this therefore implies that the indigenous communities that inhabit the said territories are citizens of the Union of India. Further, all of the said communities are eligible to be voters. However, the citizens residing in this occupied territory have had no say in their own affairs since November, 1947(6).
Citizens residing in the Pakistani occupied territories within the UT of Ladakh are unable to exercise their franchise under the threat of force, but that is no grounds for the denial of the same inter alia. Refugees from these territories can indeed be deemed as voters for the relevant constituencies, along with the subset of divided communities already living under Indian control. The principle is that the said refugees are a subset of the communities that form the relevant constituencies. This can be established on cultural-ethnolinguistic grounds, further emphasized by the fact that familial ties across the Line of Control still exist(4). The second principle is that these communities are fundamentally distinct by virtue of language, culture, and their divided status from and hence worthy of representation outside of the constituencies of Leh and Kargil. Currently, they are voters of the constituencies in which they reside. However, for the broader purpose of representation, they ought to be deemed as residents and voters of the place of their origin i.e. the occupied territories.
In status quo, there exists a sacred linkage between the territoriality of a constituency and the representation of its residents. However, Pakistani occupation of said territories should constrain us to view representation more holistically. It is indeed unbecoming for us to disqualify communities under occupation from separate representation solely on the basis of the lack of territorial control. Hence, under such circumstances, deeming communities caught between occupied territories and Indian control, including refugees from those territories, as residents of the same offers at the very least a partial representation of their interests.
The Line of Control separates communities which had existed in a continuum before, with links between the divided halves still existing under the broader umbrella of a common ethnolinguistic identity. One such community is the Baltis belonging to the UT of Ladakh. Many Baltis living in the areas under legitimate Indian control trace descent and familial ties to those living in the occupied territories. The Balti community has been enmeshed with the rest of India for a long time, with settlements in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, as well as Balti descended labourers in Uttar Pradesh. Emphasising the unity of the geobody of the Baltis is the example of the prominent shrine of Shaykh Ali in the village of Brolmo, under Pakistani occupation. It lies within visual distance from the village of Hundarman, which came under Indian control in 1971. Local residents relate how people across the ‘border’ (i.e. the LOC) still come to light incense and candles, making the shrine a symbol of emotional attachment for the other side(4).
Why then are our fellow citizens who are living under the yoke of a foreign aggressor being denied a voice in our temples of democracy?
There exist international precedents whereby the link between territorial administration and representation have been severed. For example, France elects eleven members into the national assembly representing French citizens overseas(10). A more direct example could be of the People’s Republic of China, which has representation for the territory of Taiwan in the National People’s Congress(9).
Shortfalls for India with the Status Quo
1. Underrepresentation within the Union Territory
The refugee communities and the handful of existing residents from the said communities are under perennial risk of underrepresentation. They reside in constituencies dominated by other communities. This risks not only the representative marginalization of existing residents but also the occupied territories as a whole with the refugees being their voice. There is an undercurrent of discontent within the occupied territories, exemplified by repeated protests against taxation without representation- a form of repression to subjugate communities by Pakistan(3).
2. Representation as a means of National Inclusion
The blatant land grab disguised as an election in the occupied territories (Gilgit-Baltistan) of the UT of Ladakh in June, 2020 threatens an erosion of belief upon the institutions of India in the minds of the residents of such territories. Pakistan will portray the elections as an offer of inclusion through representation into the national rubric of itself. The fact that there is no separate representation of these communities within the Indian Assemblies may cause disillusionment with the idea of being Indian and risks the embrace of the national identity of the illegal occupying force. A good example of an expression of frustration with the lack of inclusion, is the demand for an independent Balawaristan ( literally, ‘land of the highlanders’ which aims to include the occupied territories of Gilgit-Baltistan along with the rest of the UT of Ladakh)(6). The precarious circumstances these communities are subjected to by Pakistan calls for invoking constitutional guarantees accorded to minorities(11). Their culture, language, way of life and their institutions deserve not only recognition but express preservation through the Constitution of India.
3. Ramifications on the World Stage
Pakistan is currently in an advantageous position to claim a monopoly on representing these communities on the world stage through a mockery of elections. This threatens to dilute India’s claim on not only these communities but also the territories which they inhabit.
Therefore, offering representation to these communities legitimizes India’s claim to inclusion while forcefully dismantling the monopoly Pakistan has illegally forged.
For example, the Tibetan Government in Exile has been a source of much consternation for the People's Republic of China, despite not exercising any tangible power. This is because the Tibetan Government in Exile not only dilutes China’s claim of being the sole legitimate representative of the people of Tibet but also its non negotiable sovereignty.
There are three options that have been derived from existing precedents.
1. Nomination to the Assemblies through the Procedure of Article 331 of the Constitution of India
Article 331 of the Constitution of India empowers the President to nominate, not more than two individuals from the Anglo-Indian community if in his opinion they are inadequately represented. Similarly, Article 333 of the Constitution of India empowers the Governor to nominate one Anglo-Indian for the same reason in State Legislative Assemblies(12). Therefore, similar provisions can be made for the nomination of individuals hailing from communities of the occupied territories. Enacting this would entail a constitutional amendment, not requiring ratification by the States, which makes this a relatively easier option to implement(13).
2. Advisory Councils to the Lt. Governor of the Union Territory of Ladakh through a Procedure similar to that of Schedule V of the Constitution of India
Currently there are two elected Autonomous Hill Development Councils (“AHDCs”) viz Leh and Kargil, but no recognised body to advocate for the interests of the divided communities.
An advisory council, while being short of an AHDC, provides for a representative element to guide the government in its functioning. Schedule V in the Constitution of India provides a constitution of advisory councils to the executive heads of the States(14). These councils have upto three-fourths of their strength derived from MLAs belonging to the scheduled communities while the remainder are nominated by the executive head. Accordingly, a similar advisory council can be constituted for communities identified as partially continuous with those of the occupied territories of Gilgit-Baltistan (UT of Ladakh). This would imply members elected to the said Hill Development Councils would be part of the proposed advisory council along with nominated members from the communities as deemed fit by the Lt. Governor. This would not only provide an element of separate representation but also empower the Lt. Governor to adapt and modify laws according to the interest of the communities of the occupied territories.
3. Separate Autonomous Hill Development Council(s) for the identified communities in the Union Territory of Ladakh through the Procedure of Schedule VI of the Constitution of India
Currently there are two elected Autonomous Hill Development Councils viz Leh and Kargil. A separate Autonomous Hill Development Council similar to the existing ones but for areas and communities identified as contiguous with the occupied territories could be established. Schedule VI of the Constitution of India empowers these councils to make laws with respect to land, forests,village & town committees, inheritance, social customs etc(14).
The fourth policy option is direct but without precedent in our governance, even though it remains within the realm of possibility.
Subset Representation in Assemblies
The delimitation of constituencies at both the Central and State level is done through a Delimitation Commission(15). Its terms and charter are currently the Delimitation Act of 200216. Through a suitable amendment, one could delimit constituencies comprising communities divided by, as well as under, the foreign occupation. The subset of the said communities living under Indian control could be accepted as satisfactorily representative of the whole of constituencies under foreign occupation until control is reinstated. Hence, all of the communities of the occupied territories would find geographic and demographic representation in our assemblies through its subset being deemed as residents of the same.
Why subset representation?
If we go by the fourth option, it would breach the pre-existing relationship between territoriality of residence and representation. However, one could justify this breach on two principled grounds. The first being the idea of equality as enshrined in our Constitution; And second, the prevailing understanding of representation. Communities divided due to the actions of a foreign aggressor cannot be treated the same way as one would otherwise due to their extenuating circumstances. The fact that these communities also have historically lived in remote, mountainous areas with a unique culture requiring the protections that have been accorded to other similar communities, makes the criticality of their representation more acute. Here, recognizing that both the purpose and the ends of representation as envisioned in the constitution go beyond a simplistic, unidimensional definition is important. We saw in 1956 with the creation of linguistic states, a revisitation of what representation entails. Even though states were created on a linguistic basis, it was recognized that a plurality of aspects such as ethnicity, culture, development etc. are ingredients of the ideal methodology of representation(5).
This principle was re-emphasised when we saw the creation of the States of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, whereby development of the tribals in a manner defined by them for themselves was the primary motivation. Similarly, Uttarakhand was created after a long struggle on multiple grounds, the least of all being distinct culture, proceeds from development, the environment, as well as terrain(8). The newest state within the Indian Union has a similar story, whereby Telangana was created due to long standing historical differences(19).
Therefore, in the spirit of the multiplicity of factors inspiring representation, as well as with the impetus of equity in dealing with peoples at a disadvantage, one can argue that the suspension of the singular prerequisite of territoriality of residence in order to do justice for the broader ideal of representation is necessary.
A case in point is the Lok Sabha constituency of Jammu containing the district of Poonch, which is partially under illegal Pakistani occupation. The elected representative from this constituency is recognised as representing the entirety of the constituency, including the communities under Pakistani occupation (extending to two tehsils of the district)(17). Hence, the idea of subset representation already exists in a particular form but without any name, where a subset population elects a representative for its entire geobody. The proposed option above is both an extension as well as an intensification of this very phenomenon. The very fact that the assembly of the UT of Jammu & Kashmir has vacant seats representing occupied constituencies indicates an institutional conservatism on the question of providing representation to the people of these constituencies(20). This is while it maintains, through the recognition of the existence of these seats, a prospective intent to fill the same. The proposals above provide a temporary, reliable, and principled methodology for providing representation to the occupied communities until Indian control over them can be reestablished.
1. Prevention of Underrepresentation within the Union Territory
The provision of adequate representation for the identified communities is not only a means motivated by representational equity but is also an avenue for these communities to protect their economic, social and cultural interests in a democratic manner. This would be instrumental in preventing unnecessary friction between the diverse communities inhabiting the region. At the same time, it would be instrumental in attenuating discontent while being a channel of communication between these communities and the rest of India.
2. National Inclusion and Integrity
India has had an unfortunate history of communities not being able to sufficiently integrate themselves into the broader idea of the nation. According representation in the body politic of the Union is a critical first step in recognizing their diversity while emphasizing national unity. Popular trust on the institutions of the nation in dealing with problems faced by these communities would be a bulwark against potential disillusionment with India. Furthermore, this would provide a platform for these communities to articulate their concerns, grievances and demands in the spirit of the fundamental rights, in particular, rights accorded to minorities(11).
3. Ramifications for the World Stage
Currently, Pakistan enjoys a monopoly on the representation of the territories it occupies by virtue of illegitimate elections. By assembling a representative body encompassing the whole of the occupied territories, this monopoly constructed by Pakistan will see a dilution. Pakistan would be unable to legitimize its ongoing occupation through a democratic facade. Furthermore, Pakistan will be incapable of skirting away from its repeated violations of human and political rights within the occupied territories. Representatives of the communities which face the brutal brunt of the Pakistani security apparatus would become a voice highlighting such atrocities, lending further credibility to the allegations.
Pakistan realizes that integration of the occupied territories is a long drawn out process, rather than a milestone to pass by. Pakistan has been slowly building up not just its security capacity but overall presence. The latest in this series of unfortunate developments, is the construction of an extractive economic system reducing the occupied territories to colonial enterprises far too bonded to Pakistan to break free. The entry of China through CPEC is threatening to turn what was a mutually beneficial relationship in the distant past into a dystopian scene of vassalage(21). As revenues begin to flow into Islamabad’s coffers, the territories themselves are thrown a pittance while exploitation intensifies. Its rich natural resources are being unsustainably stripped, as shown by the Sino-Pakistani intention to construct the Diamer-Bhasha dam(18). In this scenario, the intentions behind orchestrating illegal elections become starkly evident. Pakistan wishes to place its choicest cronies as so called elected representatives to justify and obscure its attempts at chipping away at the rights and resources of the inhabitants. According legitimate representation for the communities divided by the LOC offers India an opportunity to frustrate Pakistani machinations and prevent these communities from falling prey to Sino-Pakistani misinformation. This scheme of representation can furthermore be potentially be expanded beyond Gilgit-Baltistan (UT of Ladakh) to encompass the occupied territories of the UT of Jammu & Kashmir.
(Ishan Dhar graduated from the George Washington University with a Bachelors in Political Science in 2015 and has participated in Tiger Watch's conservation interventions since 2014. He has also co-authored the titles Wildlife Warriors and Jhalana: Leopard Forest in the Pink City).
(Deekhit Bhattacharya is currently a student of Economics at the Delhi College of Arts and Commerce, University of Delhi. He has interned previously at the Australia India Institute at New Delhi, and the Federation of Indian Exports Organisations under the Ministry of Commerce, the Government of India).
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