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Chinese bugbear is too much with us, says MP
Left Out in Ladakh
Kumar Rakesh writes from Leh

Thupstan Chhewang, the local MP, is angry that the Chinese bugbear is hampering development in Ladakh region.

“Our security set-up is obsessed with apprehensions about what the Chinese can or cannot do. Such a mindset has affected development of huge stretches of the Ladakh region bordering China and Pakistan,” Chhewang told The Tribune.

He is vehemently supported by many of his party colleagues from the powerful Ladakh Autonomous Hill Developmental Council (LAHDC) as they launch into a broadside against New Delhi.

Large areas of panoramic and adventurous Turtuk and Bongdok, which border Pak, and Changthang, close to China, have been virtually denied their share in the development and, consequently, the tourist inflow, in this 44,000 sq-km district just because of security concerns.

Without a permit, for instance, one cannot visit many areas in the district while those more closer to the border are simply no-go zones.

“Security officials believe that if we build roads, these might come handy for China. We are too defensive and negative,” Chhewang says. LAHDC chief executive councillor Chhering Dorje nods in agreement.

Their concerns are not a political blame-game that is rife in the state.

District commissioner Ajeet Kumar Sahu says the Leh administration has been asking for opening of some of the restricted areas — the state government recommended them as well — “but the decision has to come from the top”, which means New Delhi. Locals say a yes from defence set-up is key for work to be carried out in the sensitive border areas but officials are often too jittery to act.

The central government's paranoia resulted in the closure of the Kailash Mansarovar route from Ladakh. Pilgrims trek to this holy site from Pitthorgarh in Uttaranchal, which is much longer and arduous, while the much shorter and easier route from here remains closed for “security reasons”.

Sonam Tsering, a councillor from a remote Changthang area, says people feel let down especially as they know that Chinese are building a new city and an airport on their side while there is no mobile connectivity on India’s side.

At many places, Chinese television programmes are clearer than a fuzzy Doordarshan, which remains the only mode of entertainment for impoverished border people.

Local officials admit their hands are tied; security concerns are paramount and everything else comes only later.

Chhewang, a politician highly respected among the local Buddhist population, says the commitment of the people living on the border to Indian security concerns is unwavering but it should not be tested on frivolous grounds.

“China is a totalitarian state and, yet, it is providing material comfort to the people of Tibet living on our side. But, we deny such comforts to our people even though we are a democracy. Don't know how to justify something like that...,” he says.



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