Ladakhis happy without exception, but have some lingering fears: C Phunsog

Ladakhis happy without exception, but have some lingering fears: C Phunsog

C Phunsog, first Chief Secretary of J&K from Ladakh and V-C, Cluster University of Ladakh

Arun Joshi

tribune news service

Jammu, December 9

C Phunsog, one of the brightest sons of the soil of Ladakh, who rose to become the first Chief Secretary of J&K from Ladakh, believes that the grant of the Union Territory (UT) status to the cold desert region has caused happiness and optimism, but at the same time there are lingering fears about the loss of cultural identity, land, job opportunities and environment.

In his analysis, Phunsog, who is also the Vice-Chancellor of the Cluster University of Ladakh, said, “Ladakh can progress provided it utilises opportunities and also when its fears are allayed once and for all.”

Phunsog viewed the “decision to separate Ladakh from Jammu and Kashmir and to constitute it into a UT is a historic one,” but cautioned that “it will be unwise to be judgemental on the possible outcome now; only history will judge the wisdom of a decision like this taken in national interest”.

He, however, was confident that the UT of Ladakh would get “unprecedented Central assistance, both financial and administrative, for socio-economic development which the people of Ladakh as a part of the State could not have dreamt of.”

He expected the Ladakh UT administration to now prepare imaginative and rational plans and strategies for the accelerated socio-economic uplift of the region.

He felt that “Ladakhis , almost without exception, are jubilant that they have ultimately got what they had for decades struggled for. But many among them are apprehensive as well fear possible loss of cultural identity, job opportunities and land ownership rights in the absence of adequate legal and constitutional safeguards such as the ones available to inhabitants of the North-Eastern states and Himachal Pradesh.”

Phunsog said the Ladakhis apprehended that, in the absence of adequate safeguards, the unique culture and pristine environment of Ladakh would be overwhelmed by the influx of outsiders, particularly corporate giants, getting access to natural and mineral resources, thereby alienating a sizeable proportion of the local population from the establishment. The Ladakhi political leadership is reportedly in the process of discussing these issues with the Central leadership and the Government of India with a view to allaying such fears by taking appropriate steps.”

On Sixth Schedule

On tribal affairs under the Sixth Schedule, Phunsog said, “As the matter stands now, people of Leh and Kargil districts are both vehemently demanding safeguards for land, jobs and unique cultural identity of Ladakhis by declaring the whole region as a tribal area to help the people of the region get protections available under the Sixth Schedule of Article 44 (2) of the Constitution. The fears in this respect are well-founded and include loss of job opportunities, land alienation and loss of the cultural identity of Ladakh valued as unique by both locals and outsiders.”

Asked if Ladakh had a roadmap of its own to fulfil its urges and aspirations, he replied , “As the UT status has been suddenly conferred on the region, even though the demand of the people of this region for the UT had been there for about six decades, the people do not, to the best of my knowledge, have a roadmap just yet. It might take quite some time for the picture of Ladakh of its peoples’ dream to concretise.”

Advice to people of Leh, Kargil districts

His advice to the people of Leh and Kargil districts was “to close their ranks and work out a common roadmap to give the new entity a direction before its affairs get rolling without a direction. It is said, “In any journey, direction is more important than speed. The UT of Ladakh can be no exception to this proverb.”

Phunsog said it in literary terms, describing the changed situation. “It is only in a cocoon that a wriggly caterpillar metamorphoses into a soaring and world-roaming butterfly. We do hope the cocoon of the UT of Ladakh proves conducive enough to allow metamorphosing of an inert Ladakh into a soaring geopolitical entity which will participate in the shaping of New India.”

“Ladakh is already a small but bright patch of the Indian mosaic that instinctively cherishes all that the Indian nation-state, comprising a sixth of the humans inhabiting planet earth, stands for. And, as for legislature, Ladakhis should certainly try and have a legislature of their own, to reflect their democratic aspirations, when things settle down.”

On pulls and pressures between Leh and Kargil, his take was: “If the people of Leh and Kargil districts pull in different directions or work at cross purposes, the status of the UT bestowed on the region will fail to bring about the intended positive impact.”

“In my opinion, the two districts should urgently bring into being the Joint Advisory Council for the region for which there is an enabling provision in the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council Act. The idea of a joint advisory body like this was to create a ready forum for ironing out differences, if any, between the two distinct regions of Ladakh. The political leadership of Leh and Kargil should jointly discuss the matter with the Central Government which, under the changed circumstances, is now empowered to take steps to form this apex political body for the region. It is important to have this institution in place till such time as a legislature is formed for the UT of Ladakh,” he said, explaining in detail the need for the political forum.

In his opinion, “Making Ladakh a UT should help strengthen the northern defences of the country considerably. For the defence of the country’s territorial integrity, symbiotic relations between the Indian Army and Central Paramilitary Forces manning international borders or lines of control, on the one hand, and the local people in the border regions, on the other, is extremely crucial. Making Ladakh into a UT should improve the civil-military relations enormously and thereby the defence capability of the country both along the LAC in the east and LoC in the west. Besides, as you know, India is no longer the India of 1962 or of 1999; the country’s defence preparedness now on all borders is second to none.”

‘Will take 3-4 years for Ladakh to provide facilities’

Phunsog’s assessment is that “it would take three to four years for Ladakh to provide quality faculties, quality instructions and quality research facilities within the region to cater to ambitions and career aspirations of all higher education aspirants of the region and for attracting some students from other parts of the country and abroad.”

“The authorities of the University of Ladakh are working with these timelines to put the higher education sector in Ladakh on rails, hopefully, even before the timeline,” he observed.

He did not think that the grant of the UT status is an end in itself, but hoped that “it would help the region and its people to work to achieve goals matching their potentials and fulfil their aspirations in a speedier and a more comprehensive way”.

On the biggest threat to Ladakh and its best asset, Phunsog said candidly, “I have seen Ladakh-watchers list the region’s geostrategic importance and the Ladakhis’ proven patriotic credentials as the biggest asset of the region. On the threat side, they list an excessive category-consciousness or mind-set of a sizeable section of Ladakhis, which is considered deleterious to quality human resource development so very important for Ladakh, as the biggest threat to the region. Ladakhis need to be mindful of this.”

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