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Ladakh: Anonymous ‘Admirer’ Warns of Government Inquiry, Says Wangchuk; BJP Fields New Candidate

After activists like Sonam Wangchuk have started asking the BJP tough questions, pushed for autonomy and made common cause with both Leh's monks and Kargil's Muslims, the BJP’s political plans appear to have been derailed.
Photo: X/@Wangchuk66.

Palakkad: Pushed on the back foot by the ongoing climate protest that has won the support of most Ladakhis and resonated with people across India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has dropped its sitting MP and fielded a new candidate in the Union territory for the ongoing Lok Sabha elections.

On Tuesday (April 23), the BJP announced that Tashi Gyalson, the current chairman of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, would be its new candidate for Ladakh in place of sitting MP Jamyang Tsering Namgyal.

Namgyal won the seat after the party promised in its manifesto that it would implement the Sixth Schedule in Ladakh.

However, this has not happened and climate activist Sonam Wangchuk, local leaders and citizens are expressing their unhappiness with the Modi government through their climate protest, which kicked off on March 4 with a 21-day hunger strike by Wangchuk.

The activist, on whom the character played by Aamir Khan in 3 Idiots was based, has been providing almost daily updates of the climate protest through his social media handles.

He said in a post on Sunday (April 21) that he had received an anonymous letter saying the “anti-money laundering department” had taken the bank details of his institute in Ladakh for an inquiry.

Wangchuk said that another well-wisher had warned him subtly of possible threats to his life.

Meanwhile, sources in Ladakh told The Wire that there have been attempts to sway the monasteries in the BJP’s favour as almost all of them have pledged allegiance to the climate protest and their monks are undertaking fasts as part of the protest – causing great unrest in the BJP camp.

‘Bank details sought by government’

On Sunday, Wangchuk said in a social media post that a “very strange and interesting incident” occurred the previous day.

Wangchuk said that he had received a plain, unmarked envelope with a handwritten letter inside it. The letter claimed that the bank account details of “Wangchuk’s institute” (Wangchuk is the founding-director of the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) and the Himalayan Institute of Alternatives, Ladakh) had been taken by the “anti-money laundering department” recently from the banks.

“The same has happened in [Arvind] Kejriwal’s case,” Wangchuk said, reading aloud from the letter.

The Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA) and the rules notified under it aim to tackle money laundering in the country and came into force in 2005.

The Financial Intelligence Unit under the Ministry of Finance and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) have the power to implement the Act.

The ED arrested Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on March 21 in connection with the Delhi excise policy case; Kejriwal is currently in the Tihar jail. A Delhi court on April 23 extended his judicial custody till May 7.

The letter also noted that this information was not supposed to have been disclosed to Wangchuk or anyone else, Wangchuk said, but that the anonymous author – who signed off as “an admirer” – felt that the activist should be informed about it.

“I really welcome such investigations because this is the only way that they and you all will come to know of what happens in my institution,” Wangchuk said in his social media post.

Ominous warning?

Wangchuk added that on the same day, a man who claimed to work in one of the Union government investigating agencies and who also said he was an admirer of Wangchuk’s work came up to him and said that Wangchuk should “take very good care” of his safety and his life. 

Accidents could happen, and there could be risks to Wangchuk’s life, Wangchuk cited the man as having told him.

Wangchuk said that he was not afraid of dying and that if he does die, the people of India would understand how the country is being run.

“I would be happiest to die in such a way … sometimes deaths can spark revolutions,” Wangchuk said in his social media post.

Wangchuk, local leaders and thousands of Ladakhis have been on a rolling hunger strike from March 4 after talks with the Union government failed and the government refused to enact the Sixth Schedule in Ladakh and confer statehood on the Union territory.

April 21, the day that Wangchuk spoke of the anonymous letter, was day 46 of the fast. 

Wangchuk set off the climate protest with a fast unto death for 21 days, consuming just water and salt. Currently, monks from monasteries across Ladakh are fasting at the protest site in Leh.

“We’re all trying to remind the government of India, specially the home ministry, of the promises they made to these fragile ecosystems of Ladakh and the indigenous peoples’ cultures to safeguard them under the Sixth Schedule of Indian constitution,” Wangchuk said in his social media video post on April 21.

This was one of the promises made by the government, and the top agenda in their manifestos in the last two elections, which were won based on these; after that they backtracked and never kept their promise, Wangchuk added.

A source familiar with the issue told The Wire that they have been hearing of the anti-money laundering department taking Wangchuk’s details for investigation for around a year now. 

However, the department “will not get anything on Wangchuk”, said the source, who did not want to be named.

Wangchuk’s accounts and linked information are all in order; the source also claimed that Wangchuk has even paid tax (even though he doesn’t have to with Ladakh now being a Union territory) for payments he has received for talks, which is how he funds his work.

However, this was the first time that Wangchuk is receiving a written letter regarding this, the source added.

New BJP candidate announced

The BJP announced that Tashi Gyalson would be its candidate for the Lok Sabha elections – which will be held in Ladakh on May 20. Gyalson is the current chairman of the Autonomous Hill Council of Ladakh.

The nomination of the new candidate, however, had “upset a section of party leaders” who support Namgyal, reported the Hindustan Times.

Some BJP leaders in Ladakh are also contemplating resignation, it added.

“We knew that Namgyal was anyway on the way out … but Gyalson also won’t be able to do anything [about swaying Ladakh in the BJP’s favor],” the source who spoke about the protest to The Wire said.

“So on one side, all the monasteries are happy but confused about who to vote [for] … But at the same time, they’re also fasting and protesting [with Wangchuk] … almost all monasteries have lent support to the protest. So it will be interesting to see what happens.”

Many people participating in the protest also want Wangchuk to register as an independent candidate and win the election, the source claimed.

However, Wangchuk is not very keen to do this, the source added.

For the BJP, winning Ladakh is a prestige issue and the stir there is upsetting the applecart. The Union territory was carved out of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019, and the BJP has hoped it will be able to demonstrate its electoral grip over this area as victory for ending what was projected as Kashmir’s ‘dominance’ over Ladakh.

The drive was also to hold ‘Buddhist’ Ladakh as distinct from the larger region.

But after activists like Wangchuk turned against the BJP and pushed for more autonomy, making common cause with both Leh’s monks and Kargil’s Muslims, the BJP’s electoral ambitions appear to have been thwarted.

Instead, the border crisis with China in Ladakh has been foregrounded by Wangchuk and the mishandling of Ladakh has ended up finding sharp focus.

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