Author: Saadut
•3:37 PM


Recently BJP moved a resolution in the Rajya Sabha seeking unanimity of the house for pressing central government to grant union territory status to Ladakh. This follows the changing of official logo by Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) in February 21, 2011 which was replaced with lion capital of Ashoka from Sarnath and the virtual silence that followed the change of logo. As per some reports Leh has already not been using state flag of J&K.

These incidents are interconnected and the developments leading to these have surely been afforded official patronage by the state and New Delhi. Does this point out to a covert Delhi policy of division of state and encouragement of fragmentation of regions at macro level?

Ladakh bordered by China & Pakistan consists of two districts Leh and Kargil. Leh at a distance of 434 Kms from Srinagar and  474 Kms from  Manali, has a population of 1.17 lacs (official 2001 figures) and comprises of Leh town and 112 inhabited villages. Leh town is majority Buddhist with good percentage of Muslims and other religions.

Kargil is situated at a distance of 205 KM from Srinagar towards Leh with a population of more than 1.35 lacs comprises of 127 villages in the district out of which only 97 have been any road or link connectivity. Kargil is mostly Muslim populated.

The two major communities of Ladakh had been coexisting peacefully for decades. In 1989 a scuffle between Buddhist youth and 4 Muslims of Leh led to clashes in Leh town, which then spread to other parts of the Leh district. This became a precursor to a major violent agitation by LBA (Leh Buddhists Association) against Ladakh Muslims and the LBA declared a complete economic and social boycott of the Muslims which lasted till 1992. Immediately after the agitation LBA (Leh Buddhists Association) started demanding a separate constitutional status of a Union Territory for Ladakh. As per reports during the 1989 agitation of LBA (Leh Buddhists Association) many homes and business establishments of Ladakh Muslims were burnt and more than 27 forcible conversions took place. Finally the boycott ended in 1992 by the intervention of Government of India who made it clear to LBA (Leh Buddhists Association) that none of their demands could be considered if the boycott was carried on with. After having wasted many years in recognizing the divisions created by the LBA in Leh and the polarization therein, Government of India set up the Leh Autonomous Hill Council in 1995, providing Leh district with considerable internal autonomy, succumbing to most of the demands of LBA (Leh Buddhist Association). Pertinently within Leh LBA does not find absolute support with the Buddhists of Leh not to speak of any support form other ethnic groups.

However LBA was not to be satisfied soon. In 2000, when the then Chief Minister of J&K Dr. Farooq Abdullah, tabled an state assembly resolution calling for restoration of pre 1953 status in the state which envisaged autonomy for J&K within the Indian Union as had been available till 1953, LBA (Leh Buddhist Association) started beating the drums of Ladakh UT status demand. Leader of LBA (youth wing) Lobzang Nyantak even threatened that they might declare a call to arms if the demand for UT status was not accepted.

The LAHDC Act passed by the NC government of Dr. Farooq Abdullah government in 1997 was given sweeping powers by the PDP government of Mufti Sayeed, including powers of revenue, development, funds utilization and administrative control. In particular the unbridled revenue powers bestowed on LAHDC (sole authority of controlling thousands of hectares of state land in the district), have been misused by favoring their own community and ignoring or undermining the just rights of other religious communities especially Muslims in Leh.

LAHDC has changed the face of Leh town at the cost of neglecting majority areas of Ladakh like Kargil, Drass, Zanskar and other surrounding habitations. While the tourism industry in Leh has progressed by leaps and bounds by virtue of its developed infrastructure and portrayals in media other regions have not been so fortunate. Leh has the only daily flown civil airport while Kargil has been denied such thing. The local infrastructure in Leh matches any modern city, with all weather roads, laid out town, multitude of hotels and all civic amenities, its counterparts in Kargil and Drass don’t even have a semblance of basic amenities for the locals not to speak of any tourist infrastructure. Owing to massive growth in tourism and allied services sector Leh has currently the highest per capita income in the region while Kargil & Drass bottom it out. The actual problem in the region is far different that is portrayed from the powerful offices of Leh : it is of Leh Buddhists discriminating against other communities of Ladakh. Unfortunately most outsiders are led to believe Ladakh is majority Buddhist, which is not the fact. Leh may be majority Buddhists but then Leh is not Ladakh. There is much more to Ladakh than Leh and that much more of Ladakh is neglected, poor, under developed and hidden for the media glare, their opportunities having been usurped by Leh town.

The differences between Leh Buddhists and Ladakh Muslims are not only religions but strongly political too. While Ladakh Muslims feel that the political future of Ladakh is inevitably linked to the political future of J&K, the Buddhist groups of Leh want to use the turmoil in state as an excellent opportunity to slice away political concessions for itself where they get to gain absolute power in Ladakh, thereby marginalizing and overriding the political rights of other non Buddhist groups in Ladakh including Muslims & Christians. This game plan has been followed after getting success in the formation of LAHDC, the sate and centre providing a blind eye to their rightist aspirations.

Having tasted success in formation of LAHDC by arm twisting mechanisms, by intimidation of other communities and having gained economic prosperity at the cost of other regions of Ladakh, the Leh right-wingers have embarked on a new mission to create a new power center in Leh by demanding a Union territory in the name of Ladakh. But how many of us know Leh is not Ladakh: Leh is the only town developed in Ladakh.  The BJP having sensed its opportunity in making some inroads in Leh has of late started supporting the Leh right wingers in their demands, ignoring the realities of Ladakh. BJP’s joining the chorus is not out of any nationalism or concern for the region; it only joined the rhetoric to secure some place on the local political scene and also out of its compulsive right boisterousness and babble habits.

Instead of striving for equitable distribution of resources, ensuring equal avenues of progress opportunities for all districts and communities of Ladakh, some forces are hell bent upon for carrying on their hate filled and self centered politics of division and communalism.

The UT demand of Ladakh may be supported by some Leh Buddhist groups, but not by the majority in Ladakh. Other political groups and ethnic communities who form the majority in Ladakh, not only oppose the demand for Union territory status for Ladakh, they have been vehemently demanding equal developmental and growth opportunities as have been provided to Leh. Is the demand for UT status by some Leh Buddhist groups going to open a Pandora ’s Box in Ladakh? The demand of equitable development from other areas of Kargil, Drass & Zanskar goes un-heeded while the demand of some right wingers in Leh gets amplified, why? 

Today Union territory status is demand by some Leh groups; why not expect a similar demand from Kargil groups in the future? While the original autonomy of J&K state was eroded by New Delhi way back and continues to slip further, national parties waste no time in covertly providing more than that autonomy to local units in Leh. Is there a bigger game plan here than meets the eye?

Rather than looking at the political problems of J&K in a bigger frame and taking steps to resolve them, some national parties are using the turf to create further divisions and islands of concentrated, oft misused power. By such acts these parties are surely doing the greatest disservice to democracy, justice and are adding more fuel to fire.

07th March 2011