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'BJP Mustn’t Mix Ladakh With J&K’: As Protests Swell, Can the Govt Meet Demands?

Months after the first round of talks, the locals are still agitated by the lack of a fair resolution.

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A week after the extensive protest by Ladakh residents against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in the Center, the government has invited the representatives of two influential groups of Ladakh to New Delhi for a second round of talks scheduled on 19 February.

According to a communique from the Ministry of Home Affairs, a copy of which The Quint has accessed, the government of India has asked the Ladakhi representatives to come for the meeting of the High Powered Committee (HPC) constituted for the Union Territory of Ladakh.

This comes after the representatives from Ladakh met the Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai on 4 December to discuss the demands for land and job protection of the people of the Ladakh region.

Months after the first round of talks, the local people are still agitated by the lack of a fair resolution.

Months after the first round of talks, the locals are still agitated by the lack of a fair resolution.

GoI communique on HPC meeting with Ladakhi representatives

Source: Author

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Why BJP’s J&K Strategy Doesn’t Work for Ladakh

On 3 February, the cold desert witnessed a massive rally in Leh and Kargil districts in response to a shutdown called by the Leh Apex Body (LAB) and Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) – the two influential groups of Kargil and Leh district.

The two groups were formed in the twin districts following the region’s resentment against the Central government for failing to provide constitutional, job, and land safeguards to the region after the creation of a separate Union Territory in August 2019.

This also includes demands for statehood and special provisions of tribal status in the form of the Sixth schedule.

It apparently seems that the ruling BJP is in a tight spot after it failed to calm down the tempers in the region, unlike in Jammu and Kashmir where the government’s Iron fist policy worked in their favour.
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But the political pundits argue that the same policy can’t be implemented in the Ladakh region keeping in mind the different factors including the borders with China and Pakistan.

"The people of both the regions irrespective of religion have always stood for the idea of India. There was no rebellion against India at any point in time,” said Sajjad Kargili, who represents Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA).

However, with the abrogation of Article 370, when Ladakh was bifurcated from Jammu and Kashmir, things have changed.

"A separate Union Territory (UT) was the long-pending demand of the people of Leh region, however, they were expecting a UT with the legislature which wasn’t provided as of now,” he added.

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Immediate Resolution of Regional Issues Must Be Government’s Priority

Since 5 August 2019, the people have been on the streets demanding the protection of rights forcing the Central government to engage with the leaders of Ladakh.

Experts argue that New Delhi cannot afford to keep the region disturbed, as it undermines the area's stability and jeopardises national interest.

"Arguably, they (Government) should be able to carry people of Ladakh along but it’s not happening. The area is very sensible. The people want safeguards and the government should understand it,” said Noor Mohammad Baba, a noted political scientist in J&K.

He said the government shouldn’t drag the conflict for a long time as it won’t be in their favour.

"They (GoI) need to gain the safeguard the confidence of the people so that they will be able to focus more on Chinese aggression,” Noor added.

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Threats To Intensify Agitation Persist

The people of Ladakh have threatened to intensify the protest if the demands aren’t met.

Both the leaders from the Buddhist-majority Leh and Muslim-majority Kargil are on the same page and have organised a number of protests to press their demands.

The four agenda points of Ladakh include:

  • Full-fledged Statehood,

  • Constitutional Safeguards under the 6th schedule of the Indian Constitution

  • Early recruitment process and Public Service Commission for Ladakh,

  • and Separate Lok Sabha seats for Leh and Kargil districts.

Amid freezing temperatures, the region experienced significant rallies last week, with men, women, and children holding placards demanding serious attention from the GoI. According to reports, over 40,000 people participated in rallies. The shops, traffic, and other business establishments also supported the shutdown call.

These were addressed by top political leaders of Ladakh including Magsaysay Award winner Sonam Wangchuk.

Chering Dorjay, a member of LBA and a former J&K minister, told The Quint, that the government wasn’t serious about Ladakh and that they were buying time and delaying the talks.
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“That’s why we held a protest march to remind them that we are alive and won’t sit until our demands are met,” Dorjay resigned as the Chief of Ladakh BJP in 2020.

He further said that if the demands aren’t met, they will intensify the protest.

"We aren’t demanding something big, we want some safeguards for the region and the government should provide the same,” he added.

Wangchuk – a top environmentalist went on a five-day-long climate fast last year at 18,380 feet high Khardung La pass to invite the attention of the BJP-led Centre to address the demands of Ladakhis.

Last week, he announced that he would launch a fast unto death starting 19 February to press their demands.

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Memorandum Submitted

In December 2023, in its first meeting, the civil society group was assured that they would be called to the second round of the meeting as soon as possible. 

“However, since then, we haven't heard anything,” said Dorjay.

According to the memorandum submitted to the government on 16 January, a copy of which lies with The Quint, the representatives have reiterated their most vital demands.

Ladakh, according to the memorandum, is a substantial area with a population that is unique and diverse and has all the tenets of becoming a full-fledged state.
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"There are precedents of Mizoram, Tripura, Sikkim, and other northeastern states which have become full-fledged states in the past and are also protected under the Sixth Schedule and Article 371 of the Constitution of India. Ladakh also deserves to be treated at par with these areas considering its history and unique significance in the geo polity,” it says.

Granting statehood status to Ladakh, according to them, will enhance the political representation and empower the locals.

"This shall also help the locals manifest their aspirations within the democratic framework and also foster a sense of belonging and participation in the nation-building process,” it added.

(Auqib Javeed is a Srinagar-based journalist. He tweets at @AuqibJaveed. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Topics:  J&K   Jammu and Kashmir   Ladakh 

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