UT and related developments in Ladakh politics

Jagmet Sangyas

“I have vented out seventy years long suppressed voiceof the people of Ladakh with due interest (sudkesath) in my speech in the Parliament of India (during the parliamentary discussion on Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill 2019)” said the youngest ever MP Ladakh, Jamyang Tsering Namgail, alias JTN, while addressing the public gathered for the celebration of the historic achievement of UT status for Ladakh. The entire nation has heard about Ladakh constituency with an unprecedented frequency this time because Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill and the eloquent speech of MP Ladakh, JTN, were in spotlight of the electronic as well as social media for a week or more following the announcement for the bifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Literally, for the first time in the history, people of Ladakh felt like they are after all being heard in the most esteemed institution of the largest democracy in the world and realized their actual existence in this mega Indian democratic polity.
Then the social media trending picture of a banner saying “Union Territory of Ladakh Celebrates its 1st Independence Day” and the national media coverage of Independence Day celebration at historic polo ground in Leh reinforced national attention on the most strategic yet neglected region of Ladakh. Amidst all these, the prevalent apprehension about land, fragile ecosystem, vulnerable culture and job opportunities among the masses and more importantly unreceptive political mood and dissenting views expressed by the section of leaders and people of Kargil got rare attention. Therefore to explore the intricacies of all contemporary developments in the political landscape of Ladakh we need to go beyond the prima facie reality.
A glimpse at the political career of JTN and the chronology of contemporary developments in Ladakh politics is deemed relevant at the outset. Appointment as a district president of BJP Leh can be considered as the commencement of the meteoric rise of Jamyang Tsering Namgyal in the Ladakh politics. Then he got soon scaled up to become the youngest Chairmen of LAHDC in the ending months of 2018. Thereafter a delegation of LAHDC Leh to the Governor of the state, spearheaded by JTN demanding divisional status for Ladakh proved a master stroke in his political career by the subsequent grant of divisional status for the region in the month of February 2019. His tactful statement “I won’t call achieving Divisional Status a step towards UT, rather I will call it a big leap towards that” became so famous that it further enhanced his public support base.
The stunning BJP move in Ladakh was declaring Jamyang as candidate for the area wise largest parliamentary constituency in the 2019 general election. Despite the rise of few dissenting voice against his candidature, Jamyang succeeded in gaining the confidence of the majority. This time during the election campaign he had the achievement of divisional status for Ladakh to his credit. Over and above that his rhetoric skill helped him convincing public that he has got new perspective, will power, capability and determination needed for the development of the region.
Moreover he claimed in his campaign speeches that his real fight was with problems of the region in the field of education, public health, employment, agriculture, communication, economic development etc. rather than opponent candidates. All these contributed in gaining him support not only from Leh but also from Kargil and not only from one community but from all the different communities of the region. Therefore he won the Ladakh parliamentary seat with an unprecedented margin in 2019 general election. So, in the span of a year JTN became district president of the BJP, councilor Martselang constituency, the youngest Chief Executive Councilor of LAHDC Leh and then the youngest Member of Parliament from Ladakh constituency owing to which the author here called it meteoric rise.
Not long after JTN becoming chairmen LAHDC Leh, with the favour of the political circumstances,Ladakh got Cluster University and then Divisional Status. Frankly, he implicitly or explicitly got the credit of fulfilling these genuine demands of the region. Then the biggest of one to his credit was the recent grant of UT status for Ladakh in the very first year of his tenure as MP Ladakh.
His statement “UT was a long pending demand and a movement started by Kushok Bakula, a personality from Matho village, and today fortunately we have another person (himself) from the same village to conclude the movement by ultimately achieving UT status for Ladakh has got a unique denotation in itself” sums up the significance of this achievement not only in the history of Ladakh but also in his own career as a leader to be etched in the pages of the history of Ladakh. Such developments in the short span of less than a year while he was at the helm of affairs must be the reason why many in Ladakh believe that JTN proved to be a mascot for the region.
It is a fact that UT was long pending demand of the people of Ladakh ever since 1947 and therefore the feverish celebration witnessed across the region (except some sections), after the announcement of the grant of UT status for Ladakh, was truly deserving and worth cherishing. As speech delivered by MP Ladakh in the Parliament gone viral, needfully,nation must have come to know at least a bit about the history of the struggle for UT carried out by the people of the region for so long. But it is also imperative to understand the rationale behind making Ladakh a UT from larger perspective as rightly opined by P. Stobdan, former Indian Ambassador to Central Asia, in a panel discussion held at Cultural Academy Leh on 7th of August 2019.
According to him there is larger strategic and security interest of the country in the region given the fact of it being at international border as an important reason behind making Ladakh a UT to be under the direct control of the center. Then the apprehension among the masses regarding land, fragile ecosystem, vulnerable culture and jobs also needed to be given due consideration in paving the way forward for a new UT of Ladakh. All the leaders across party line have been heard of expressing concern about the people’s apprehension and even found willing to form a committee of prominent leaders and experts. Such a committee was supposed to study and give recommendation related to legal and administrative arrangement needed for UT of Ladakh so as to address the concerns of the people. Now it has been more than a week since the penal discussion was held but such committee is nowhere to see. Moreover of late the Hill CouncilLeh came up with a consultative committee constituted conspicuously on partisan consideration where women and civil society was ignored.
Moreover such a committee must have representation from the Kargil district too or a common committee would be more meaningful. Nonetheless the committee needed to be prudent and sagacious in placing the proposal regarding shaping of the nature and structure of new UT of Ladakh before the Center Government. Some protections importantly regarding land, jobs, and environment are needed to be secured primarily.
Now,the demand for the inclusion of the region in the sixth schedule of the constitution of India seems most desirable. Because that will suffice the most needed legal protection for the region in terms of land, employment, culture and environment. Since nearly cent percent inhabitants of the region are schedule tribes and the LAHDCs are kept intact in the reorganized UT of Ladakh, it becomes easier for the center to include the region in the mentioned schedule if the center is willing. But for any step to be taken in the direction of paving way for the future UT of Ladakh civil society, minorities and different communities have to be given due say and brought on board.
Then the shutdown of the Kargil market following the grant of UT status for Ladakh reflect nothing but the persistent political discordance between the two districts of Leh and Kargil and such phenomenon is no more new. But its persistence may prove ruinous for the future of the UT of Laddakh. The fissure created by the division of the region into two districts in 1979 was further widened by political movements of late 1980s and early 1990s.
Though these movements at the end proved to be beneficial for the region as a whole by achieving ST status and Hill Councils respectively; the mistrust, suspicion, differences and misunderstandings were developed between the two districts on community line. Due to the lack of concerted efforts on the part of political and community leaders in clearing out all the negative clouds and reconciling the differences, the gap between the two districts got widened.
The differences between the two were also apparent following the sanction of Cluster University and grant of divisional status for Ladakh. Similar and even deeper discordance have already popped-up soon after the grant of UT status for Ladakh. It is unfortunate but a fact that differences still persist between the twin districts and yet none of the two seem ready at first to approach the other so as to reconcile the differences and reach at a common understanding.
A provision for Inter-District Advisory Council is there in the Chapter IX of the LAHDC act 1995 but no such council was constituted till date. The provision was meant for resolving such political discordances and such an arrangement is much needed at this juncture. The time has come when the rationality over emotion, commonality over differences and community interest over individual interest must prevail in both the districts.
(The author is Assistant Professor,
JK Higher Education Department.)