Srinagar: The Muslim-majority Kargil and Buddhist-dominated Leh districts in the strategically-significant Ladakh union territory have always been at loggerheads with each other. Both have different identities and aspirations. But now, feeling disenchanted by the aftereffects of the BJP-led Union government’s August 5, 2019 move, the regions have set aside their decades-old differences and come together to fight for full-fledged statehood and special rights for natives of the region.
In an unprecedented show of unity, both districts observed a complete shutdown on Saturday against what they termed the government’s plan to break their fledging unity, after different groups were invited to hold talks separately with the minister of state for home Nitayanad Rai and two major groupings spearheading the struggle for statehood and special rights were ignored. The shutdown call by both the groups forced the Union to made a U-turn and invite them for talks. They went to meet the minister but the entire region observed a complete shutdown to send out a strong message to New Delhi.
For the first time after 1979, when Muslim-majority Kargil was carved out a separate district, both districts on Saturday observed a complete shutdown for a common objective: to protest against the government’s alleged attempt to divide them.
The Ladakh Apex Body (LAB) and Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) held separate press conferences on Friday in Leh and Kargil towns, appealing to the public to observe the shutdown on Saturday against the government’s “plan to create rift in the leadership”.
Speaking to The Wire, former minister and prominent political leader from Leh, Chering Dorjay, said the individual invitations sent to different groups by the Union government was “an attempt to break the unity”.
“We saw it as an attempt to divide us. We made it clear to the Centre that we will not meet them individually and they should invite the LAB and KDA jointly for talks,” he said.
Both the LAB and KDA comprise different influential political, social and religious groups. They joined hands earlier this month to fight for full-fledged statehood for Ladakh along with constitutional safeguards for natives.
Dorjey, who was minister in the People’s Democratic Party-Bharatiya Janata Party government in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, said that people in the region are dissatisfied and disenchanted with the status quo.
“We want a system in which Ladakhis rule themselves instead of being ruled by bureaucrats,” he said, adding that there is too much bureaucratic interference in their affairs after August 5, 2019.“There was very less interference by the J&K government in our governance affairs when we were a part of J&K.”
He said they have made it clear to the Union that a domicile law on the pattern of J&K is not acceptable to them “because anyone who stays there for a period of 15 years because eligible for employment”.
Former MLA Kargil and co-chairman KDA, Asgar Ali Karbalie, said they gave a shutdown call after they felt that the Union was trying to weaken the joint movement of Leh and Kargil.
“After LAB and KDA were not invited for talks, we gave a shutdown call and asked people to stay away from meeting the MoS home. It was due to pressure that they later invited us for talks,” he said.
He said the MoS home told him over the phone on Friday night that they had no intention to ignore them and they were not invited due to some confusion.
“Union home minister Amit Shah himself spoke to LAB chairman Thupstan Chewang over the phone on Friday night after they asked people to observe a shutdown,” he said.
Sajjad Kargili, a member of the KDA, on Friday termed the separate invitations to different groups as an “attempt to divide” Ladakhis.
KDA appealed all Transport /Marchant / Employees associations to make the call successful.
— Sajjad Kargili (@Sajjad_Kargili) August 27, 2021
Talking to The Wire, Kargili said both the LAB and KDA have agreed to fight for full statehood for Ladakh, a recruitment policy with a resident certificate on the lines of permanent resident certificate, separate Lok Sabha seats for Leh and Kargil districts and constitutional safeguards under the Sixth Schedule or Article 371.
Pre-August 5 legislative and bureaucratic structure
Before August 5, 2019, the two-district Ladakh region used to send six legislators to J&K’s bi-cameral legislature: four MLAs and two MLCs. In fact, it had better representation in the assembly in comparison to the Jammu and Kashmir regions. At least one or two MLAs/MLCs used to represent the region in the cabinet of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. Now, the highest-elected bodies for the region are two Hill Development Councils which came into existence in 1995 and 2003. These Councils don’t possess any law-making powers.
In the erstwhile state of J&K, one or two IAS officers were posted in Ladakh. Currently, seven IAS officers and one each from the Indian Revenue Service and Indian Information Service are running day-to-day affairs of civil administration in the region which has a population of 2.70 lakh, as per the last census.
Before August 5, the inhabitants of the region were eligible to apply for jobs in Jammu and Kashmir by virtue of being permanent residents. But after being separated from J&K, they are no longer eligible for employment avenues in J&K due to a change in legal and constitutional positions.
It is pertinent to mention that while the Leh district had welcomed UT status for Ladakh, Kargil opposed the decision and demanded a reunification with Jammu and Kashmir and restoration of Article 370.