On the Frontline

Ladakh as UT yet to sink in national consciousness

Ladakh as UT yet to sink in national consciousness

Arun Joshi

MUCH has been written and spoken about Kashmir Valley — though it is a one-sided narrative only — since the revocation of the special status of J&K and its bifurcation into two Union Territories (UTs) on August 5.

Ladakh is struggling to maintain its own identity in the national consciousness as a land and people of the unique identity in the most strategic region in the country's map.

The elation of Ladakh over the grant of the UT status is now showing signs of fading as new challenges are staring at the people, for they want to protect their land, jobs and environment. They have taken this matter up to the level of Prime Minister and Home Minister. They have been assured, but their demand for the declaration of the whole of region as tribal under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution that would give them special rights and privileges is yet to find echo in the power corridors of Delhi.

Delhi, on its part, has made several efforts, but the scepticism refuses to disappear. It shows that the grant of the UT status is not an end in itself.

It could mean that they lent their signature to the UT status without reading the script, and they had not done any homework beforehand as well.

The initial elation has now given way to the stark realities that they are like any other part of the country, but their jobs and land are open to intrusions. Their political role that they had in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir has been reduced drastically. They have no legislature. Now they are feeling threatened about their absolute rights to their land, culture and jobs.

Kargil district that was carved out of Leh district in 1970s, however, was not happy with the grant of the UT status, for that had broken their link with the Kashmir Valley. They always found themselves more comfortable in the company of Kashmiri Muslims rather than Buddhists who co-inhabited the region.

A large section of Kargil district feels that they have been "punished" by Delhi for the same reasons as Kashmiris who are unhappy with the system that came into being on August 5 and thereafter. Kargil, however, was spared of the kind of harsh lockdown that the Valley people had to undergo after the revocation of the special status and bifurcation.

Kargil people who had made their mark internationally, when they helped the Indian Army to win the Kargil war of 1999, have chosen pragmatism over confrontation. They have started moving in lockstep with Buddhists to air their demands unitedly about land and jobs.

Ladakh is one of the most important geo-strategic regions in the country, yet it is to find a place in the national consciousness. The reasons are obvious. Since Maharaja Hari Singh signed the instrument of accession with India, the world, and the Indian nation, as well, spoke about Kashmir . That was also used as an all-encompassing definition for the two other major regions of Jammu and Ladakh . Often, it was referred to as Jammu and Kashmir, but Ladakh, as a region with different geography, diversity in demography, did not find mention in the description of the erstwhile state.

Ladakh's geography and environment are its biggest assets. It is the land of glaciers, which feed rivers, but its geo-strategic importance has not been given the attention that it deserved. The region figures in news only when there are incidents of transgressions by the Chinese troops, who have even dictated whether the development works can be undertaken close to the LAC.Ladakh needs greater attention and long-term strategies to make it an inseparable part of the Indian consciousness. Mere geographical changes do not serve the purpose. The road ahead is tough.

New challenges staring at people

The elation of Ladakh over the grant of the UT status is now showing signs of fading, as new challenges are staring at the people, for they want to protect their land, jobs and environment. They have taken this matter up to the level of Prime Minister and Home Minister. They have been assured, but their demand for the declaration of the whole of region as tribal under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution that would give them special rights and privileges is yet to echo in the power corridors of Delhi. Delhi, on its part, has made several efforts, but the scepticism refuses to disappear. It shows that the grant of the UT status is not an end in itself.

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