Ladakh is Now a Separate J&K Division: Here’s Why it’s Significant
J&K will now have three divisions – Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. 
J&K will now have three divisions – Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. (Photo: Reuters)

Ladakh is Now a Separate J&K Division: Here’s Why it’s Significant

The Jammu and Kashmir administration on Friday, 8 February, created a separate division for Ladakh, which was part of the Kashmir division until now.

The state will now have three divisions – Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.

Ladakh – comprising Leh and Kargil districts – will now have a separate divisional commissioner and an inspector general of police (IG) with a full administrative and revenue division at par with Kashmir and Jammu divisions, the administration’s order said, as per PTI.

Why Ladakh Wants A Separate Division

The move assumes significance as the Ladhaki people have for long felt ‘ignored’ owing to problems plaguing the region, including the conduct of administrative affairs and governance, slow delivery of development schemes, and redressal of public grievances.

Apart from complaints about governance, residents believe that the region’s unique culture and politics is not adequately recognised as different from Kashmir’s.

"The issue has been discussed at various fora and there has been a persistent demand for the creation of division for Ladakh from many organisations, including the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils (LAHDC) Leh and Kargil," the order said, as per PTI.

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Isolated For Six Months in a Year

Ladakh is one of the most sparsely-populated regions in Jammu and Kashmir, with a population density of just three inhabitants per square kilometre (as compared to 703 in Srinagar).

It is the highest plateau in the state, with most of it being over 9,800 feet above sea level. The region is also geographically isolated with an inhospitable terrain.

Moreover, the Ladakh region remains cut-off from rest of the country for nearly six months in a year. Air travel via Leh is the only mode of transport available, which makes it impossible for people to visit other parts of the country.

The remoteness and inaccessibility of the area makes it eligible for establishing a separate division, the order released by the state administration on Friday said, as per PTI.

P Stobdan, former Ambassador and the founding president of the Ladakh International Centre in Leh, said that the move will help address these problems of local governance to some extent. He said:

“Till now, the district was overlooked by a junior officer but now, it will be overseen by a separate divisional commissioner and IG of Police, which will streamline the process.”

For National Security, A Move in ‘Right Direction’

Commending the move for its intent, Stobdan said that apart from featuring in the strategic political calculations of the Centre, the decision is also important for national security.

“Ladakh shares its borders with both China and Pakistan, and cannot be allowed to drift against the current context of destabilising forces in the state,” he said.

For a long time, Ladakh has not been able to shape its own political identity, and instead, had to remain steadfastly under the political patronage of external political groups and agenda, he said, “hence, it’s a step in the right direction.”

‘Fundamentally Different’ From Kashmir

Ladakhis have also expressed their desire for autonomy as they are fundamentally different from Kashmir — culturally, ethnically and linguistically.

A resolution passed by the All Religious Joint Action Committee (ARJAC) of Ladakh in 2016, which had demanded a Union Territory status for Ladakh, had said: “Ladakh is fundamentally different from Kashmir in all respects — culturally, ethnically and linguistically. Over the years the successive governments of the state have adopted a policy of discrimination and subversion towards the region with the sole objective of stifling its people and marginalising its historical, religious and cultural identity.”

For a long time, people have also been demanding effective local institutional arrangements that can help accelerate the pace of development and equitable all-round growth and development.

Though Ladakh is India’s largest district, with ‘disputed’ borders and two belligerent neighbours, it was till now administrated only by a very junior officer, as noted in this report by The Quint.

The Political Significance of The Move

With national elections right round the corner, Stobdan also said that the move naturally assumes political significance given its timing. Another interesting aspect, he pointed out, is how the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), despite not having a local government in the state anymore, is looking to appease voters in the region with this move.

The people of Ladakh have been seeking a separate legislative arrangement in the form of a UT status since 1951. This was also an election promise of the BJP prior to 2014. But, Stobdan added, constitutional constrictions have always made it unattainable.

“This order could also only be passed under President’s Rule as the state Assembly would not have approved of the same, as an area like Ladakh never features into the mainstream political calculations,” he added.

Not The Answer To All of Ladakh’s Problems?

While the move is seen as a positive step by most, it does have its shortcomings. The decision might not solve the issue of Ladakhi identity. Stobdan said:

“The popular demand of the people might have been met to some extent, but it falls short of addressing the aspirations of the Ladakhi people, who have been demanding a separate Union Territory for a long time.”

Stobdan had also previously written in his blog about how Ladakh has its distinct social, political and economic issues “that cannot be addressed by juxtaposing or over-identifying with the larger trend.”

“It is very important to care and participate in politics, for Ladakhis should know not only what is going on around them, but also to ensure that political decisions made at various levels do not adversely affect their lives,” he had written.

Meanwhile, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), while welcoming the move, expressed its displeasure against the government’s decision to "ignore” the Pir Panjal and Chenab regions' demand for division status.

National Conference Vice President and Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, too, promised that his party will grant division status to Chenab valley and Pir Panjal regions if it is voted to power in Jammu and Kashmir in the upcoming polls.

Here’s the full order declaring Ladakh as a division of Jammu and Kashmir:

(Photo: Twitter/@diprjk)
(Photo: Twitter/@diprjk)

The administration has also ordered constitution of a committee under chairmanship of principal secretary. It has directed creation of a planning, development and monitoring department to identify the posts of divisional heads that may be required to recognise staffing pattern, responsibilities and proposed location of these administrative and revenue offices.

(With inputs from PTI)

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