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Posted at: Aug 11, 2019, 7:19 AM; last updated: Aug 11, 2019, 7:19 AM (IST)

Preserving identity next for Ladakh

Yangchan Dolma in Leh & Arteev Sharma in Jammu

A wave of exuberance swept over Ladakh after it was declared a Union Territory, a demand put forth by Buddhists for several decades. However, amid celebrations of “freedom from Kashmir and end of discrimination”, anger spilled over in the Muslim-dominated belts of Kargil district.

In Ladakh, too, the grant of UT status without a legislature soon shifted public discourse to the need for immediate measures being put in place “to save the interest of Ladakh and its unique cultural identity from outsiders”. Intellectuals, activists, political leaders and scholars from the Buddhist community assembled for the first such debate in Leh and demanded relevant laws to protect  Ladakhi “uniqueness”.

They unanimously agreed on pursuing the demand for inclusion of Ladakh either in Schedule 5 or 6 of the Constitution with an aim “to safeguard the economy, jobs and tribal and cultural interests” of Ladakh.

“The fulfillment of UT demand has opened the doors for a new era of progress so Ladakhi people can dream of a better future. It has not only ended the domination of Kashmiri leadership, but will also make our border more secure and safe from Chinese aggression. Ladakh is now free to decide its own future,” an elated Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, BJP MP from Ladakh, says.

On the Ladakhis’ concerns for safeguards to protect the interests of locals, Namgyal, who has served as chief executive councillor (CEC) of the powerful Leh Council, adds, “Our demand for UT status to Ladakh was to protect our ethnicity, cultural identity and fragile ecosystem. We fought for it and achieved it.  As per my knowledge, all rights related to any kind of land in Ladakh are enshrined in Chapter 7, Section 42 of the Hill Development Council Act and the Leh Council is competent enough to decide on such issues.”  

Former BJP MP Thupstan Chhewang, who has led the agitation for UT status since 1989, says, “The demand for legislature will be easier now as all Ladakh-related laws will be directly formulated in Parliament.”

“UT was the core demand of Ladakhis since 1949. It will set off a new era of development and prosperity as we have been discriminated against in the past seven decades,” says PT Kunzang, president of the Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA), a frontline body of Buddhists that has been spearheading the struggle for the demand.

Rigzin Spalbar, former chief executive councillor and senior Congress leader, says, “Finally, Ladakhis have achieved what was virtually impossible. Let’s relish and celebrate it. Though the UT has been announced without a separate legislature, we will collectively deliberate on it.”

Kargil: The other side of the story

In Kargil, the situation is quite contrary, with a complete shutdown on a call given by the All-Parties Action Committee (APAC) to demand immediate restoration of Article 370 and statehood.

 “We never supported the demand for UT status to Ladakh. Rather, we had been demanding that J&K should remain a united state. The Government of India has taken the decision unilaterally without consulting the real stakeholders of the region,” says Qamar Ali Akhoon, former minister and senior NC leader from Kargil.

Senior Congress leader and former MLA Asgar Ali Karbalaie is equally upset: “We have been deprived of the right to vote, right to governance, right to elect a government. Now, there is no difference between the people of Kargil and those of Gilgit and Baltistan, who still don’t have such rights. It is quite unfortunate that the reorganisation of the state has been done without consulting the representatives of the people.”


"We have struggled for 71 years to make Ladakh a UT. Earlier governments gave us no audience. Under Kashmir, development, political aspiration, our identity, our language – if it all got lost, it was due to 370." —— Jamyang T Namgyal, BJP MP from Ladakh

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