Ladakh deserves statehood

Nawang Tsering Shakspo
The Union Territory of Ladakh was the brainchild of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The region obtained UT status on the 5 th of October 2019, after the party’s thumping victory in the Parliamentary election held in May 2019. In August 2019, the BJP Government removed section 370 of the Indian Constitution, which granted special power to the then Jammu and Kashmir Government to administer the state’s affairs and prevent the Central Government from passing laws to redress the grievances of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, including the people of Ladakh. Interestingly, this unique state- level protection can be traced back to none other than Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, who had armed Sheikh Abdullah with section 370 of the constitution and crowned Sheikh with the position of the Prime Minister of Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir in spite of opposition from the leaders of his own cabinet such as Sardar Patel, the then Home Minister of India. These concessions did not stop him from becoming a leader of the secessionist forces of Kashmir who favoured annexation of Kashmir into Pakistan. This act of Sheikh resulted in the Nehru-led Government in New Delhi hurriedly dismissing Sheikh from the post of Prime Minister of Kashmir and showing him the way to prison.
With this dramatic incident, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, a loyalist to Delhi became the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Cognizant of the needs of Ladakhis, Nehru directed Bakshi to induct the legitimate leader of the Ladakhis, Kushok Bakula, into his ministry and to set up a Ladakh Affairs Department in the Government. In fact, Kushok Bakula’s induction into the ministry and the establishment of the Ladakh Affairs Department turned out to be the first steps from the Central Government to bringing Ladakhis into the mainstream of the Indian nation. And with that Ladakhis never looked back. Under the stewardship of Kushok Bakula, Ladakhis did not hesitate to struggle for their legitimate rights both from the state and the centre. Such a situation arose due to the fact that the State Government did not take a worthwhile step which could have mitigated the socio-economic problems of the landlocked people in the region. But with the departure of Bakshi, again the leaders sitting at the helm of the state administration snatched the portfolio of Ladakh Affairs from him and compelled Kushok Bakula to resign from the State cabinet in the year 1967, laveling the allegation that as a minister he had sat idle without work. And with that Kushok said goodbye to state politics, but not politics altogether.
In the Parliamentary election of 1968, Kushok Bakula was elected to the Parliament unopposed from the Ladakh Constituency and even being a member of the ruling Congress party Bakula did not hesitate to lodge complaints against state government to the Gajendragadkar Commission, the commission sent by the Central Government on his behest in his capacity as a chairman of the pleading committee. This commission after doing its study made several recommendations to both the state and Central Government for the socio-economic development of the region but due to the pathetic attitude shown by the J&K Government as the Government was armed with the section 370, all of the recommendations of the commission went unheard. With that more complaints were lodged in the region against the State Government and the demand for separation of Ladakh from J&K State was set in motion. Those demands sought grants of a NEFA-type administration, or else the request to be made a Union Territory. When the Sheikh again formed the Government in accordance with the Indira- Sheikh accord for the second time in the year 1974, still the conduct of state administration did not change. Interestingly in the year 1989, the Morarji Desai-led Central Government at New Delhi appointed Kushok Bakula as the member of the newly setup Minorities Commission at New Delhi. Again the Sheikh-led State Government under the pretext of section 370, declined to accept jurisdiction of the commission and not to extend protocol to the members while on a visit to the state capitals. In this connection an instance comes to my mind when Bakula, in his capacity as the member of Minorities Commission, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi alleging that the Central Government was not paying any heed to the demands of Ladakhis and was staying silent on issues such as the granting of scheduled Tribe Status. These are the bygone stories.
Interestingly prior to the region becoming a UT, headed by a Lieutenant Governor, the whole administration of Ladakh was performed by the two District Magistrate-cum- Commissioners at Kargil and Leh. To manage the administration of the less than three lakh population herein Leh and Kargil we now find dozens of IAS and IPS cadre officers and a number of other officers of similar position. May be required in the changed circumstances to carry government welfare schemes of the ethnic tribal people. But a perception prevails among the locals that with UT status, job opportunities for the locals have shrunk.
At present the BJP holds sway over Ladakh’s politics due to the fact that the sitting Member of Parliament from Ladakh is from the BJP. The BJP also runs the LAHDC, Leh and a sizeable number of BJP members are also in the LAHDC, Kargil. The Leh Apex Body and Kargil Democratic Alliance are spearheading agitations in the region since August 2, 2021, demanding the granting of statehood to Ladakh, or else demanding Constitutional Safeguards under the Sixth Schedule or similar like status, two Lok Sabha and one Rajya Sabha seats for Ladakh and the filling of 10,000 to 12,000 vacancies in the Government Departments.
On this issue, it is pertinent to mention that soon after the granting of UT status to the region, the National Commission of Scheduled Tribe and Tribal Minister of the Government of India had favoured the extension of the 6th Schedule to Ladakh. And recently a Parliamentary Panel has asked the Home Ministry to consider granting 5 th or 6 th Schedule status for Ladakh. The committee also directed the government to declare the official language of the UT expeditiously, which could be Ladakhi language, I assume. Under such circumstances, if an amicable solution is not found and the BJP remains unresponsive to issues such as 6th schedule of Statehood to Ladakh and Ladakhi as the official language of the UT Ladakh, a stalemate may dwindle the prospects of tourist season in the region and BJP’s own prospect in coming elections.
(The author is Director, Centre for Research on Ladakh, Leh)