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Wangchuk’s fast, a national cause

His ecological concerns matter as massive development projects in Uttarakhand have proven hazardous

Wangchuk’s fast, a national cause

First line of defence: It is Sonam Wangchuk and his cousins who are the dutiful citizens watching over Indian territory permanently — the rest are all on tour of duty. PTI



Rajesh Ramachandran

THIS is the week of the Passion of Jesus Christ — the etymological roots of the word ‘passion’ lie in the Latin term passio, which means suffering. Prayerful submission to suffering and death that enables resurrection and eternal life are leitmotifs of all civilisations and ritually re-enacted as spiritually cleansing acts. In politics, it gets re-enacted as martyrdom, the ultimate act of resistance. Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha, for many, was the most successful re-enactment of this tapasya that inflicted maximum pain on the Satyagrahis themselves, who sought to break the shackles of slavery to walk into a new dawn of freedom.

The fight for political representation in Ladakh is not for crumbs of power, but to protect the cold desert and allay the fears in the minds of the Ladakhis.

Earlier this week, renowned Ladakhi innovator, educationist and climate activist Sonam Wangchuk completed a 21-day fast to save the fragile Himalayas. The fast has immense symbolic significance at various socio-political and ritualistic levels. Gandhi’s longest fast went on for 21 days, and Wangchuk is determined to keep that as the benchmark to pursue this path of resistance of the soul force against the Union Government and its bureaucracy. His demands need to be closely read, most importantly the one about ‘nature representatives’ in Parliament.

It might sound odd, but a ‘nature representative’ makes immense sense. For 60,000 square km of Ladakh’s territory, there is just one Member of Parliament, whose voice is obviously not heard. Ladakh is being governed by bureaucrats since the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019. The promise made by the BJP in its 2019 manifesto to include the Union Territory in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution remains a dead letter. There is a democratic vacuum in the crown of the Indian state; this is a sad and dangerous situation.

By fasting and also sleeping outdoors with 300 other Satyagrahis in minus 12°C, Wangchuk inflicted immense pain on himself to make the rest of the country see the perilous path of development without participation that the government has undertaken in Ladakh. This is a global hotspot. Two of the biggest nuclear-armed armies of the world are in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation there. But it is also a climate flashpoint with its fragile ecology and the glaciers that ought to be protected for all times to come.

The fight for political representation in Ladakh is not for crumbs of power, but to protect the cold desert and allay the fears in the minds of the Ladakhis, who are the first line of defence against any Chinese design. Thus, Wangchuk’s Satyagraha is a national cause. He is demanding full statehood and protection of the UT under the umbrella of the Sixth Schedule.

The district and regional councils under the Schedule, obviously, can pose impediments to speedy implementation of decisions that need to be taken in the interests of national security. But that does not mean that the local population can be completely ignored by rolling out the Ladakh Industrial Land Allotment Policy 2023, which does not offer meaningful local representation in the crucial committees envisaged for single-window clearance for land allotment. The three single-window clearance committees at the district, department and state levels do not instil confidence in the minds of the local people that their concerns would be addressed.

Wangchuk is obviously being romantic when he asks people of Mumbai and Delhi to live simply and not overexploit nature.

What Michael Douglas’ character Gordon Gekko says in the Hollywood movie Wall Street —“greed is good” — is the basic mantra for ‘development’ as we understand it. But Wangchuk wants us to rethink this mantra looking at the glaciers, the valleys, the mountains, the grazing lands and a way of life that would get overwhelmed by investments, migrant workers and new owners. In short, can India replicate the Chinese model of infrastructure development on the border by creating new villages?

India’s territorial integrity and the defence of its border with China are non-negotiable, but so is the democratic process of honouring the sentiments of the local population. India, of course, will not do to Ladakhis what China has done to Tibetans. But this assurance needs to be given at the highest levels of the Union Government, instead of making Wangchuk lead another round of protest, which will make the people more apprehensive and restive.

Local populations are acutely sensitive to outsiders, even indifferent tourists. In fact, it will not be out of place in this context to relate a story from the southern tip of the country. Jeyamohan, a Tamil-Malayalam writer who hails from Kanyakumari, recently wrote a blog post slamming Keralites as bad tourists, insensitive to local ecology and sentiments. If a bilingual writer can turn against one half of his own identity to generalise and caricature tourists, it is because we as a nation are bad travellers.

There is not one place in the country where this complaint is not heard about one community or the other. A boom box and screeching, loud music at Rohtang Pass are all that this writer remembers about that beautiful mountain. If Ladakhis have started being apprehensive about getting swamped by outsiders, it is because domestic travellers do not tread softly. Wangchuk’s proposed march to Changthang to protect the grazing lands of Pashmina goat herders should be understood in the context of locals losing their livelihoods and lifestyles to massive investments that may not make them prosperous.

Wangchuk is an icon, not because of the Hindi movie

3 Idiots, but because he has always made sense — as he does now. He should be heard by the Union Government. His fears are important as massive development projects in Uttarakhand have repeatedly proved to be ecologically hazardous. It is Wangchuk and his cousins who are the dutiful citizens watching over the Indian territory permanently — the rest are all on tour of duty. Let them never ever feel let down. Let them feel empowered to take on the Chinese aggression and make India safe.

#Uttarakhand


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