Ladakh Gets Divisional Status: Why Kargil’s Getting a ‘Raw Deal’
Kargil has long supported the bid for Ladakh’s divisional status, but it wants to share the HQ with Leh.
On 8 February, the government of Jammu and Kashmir headed by the state governor, issued an order that called for the creation of a separate revenue and administrative division for Ladakh, comprising the twin districts of Leh and Kargil, with its headquarters at Leh. Though welcomed by most, this decision has garnered mixed reactions in Ladakh.
With ensuing celebrations in one district and anguish and agitations in the other over the administrative arrangements of the newly-created division, it has brought with it new controversies.
Nevertheless, it did fulfill one of the long pending demands of the people of the twin districts. The issue that aroused differing reactions from the people of the region pertains to the location of the divisional headquarters, which the order says, will be set up in Leh, 234 kms away from its sister district of Kargil, farther than the location of the previous “division headquarters” it had been a part of.
Joy in Leh, Agitation in Kargil
People in Leh rejoiced, as it has got almost all of the metaphorical cake, and people in Kargil soon erupted in protest, as they have been allegedly denied their rightful share for which the leaderships of both the district had jointly struggled on agreed terms, within and outside democratic forums.
The former took it as yet another big push towards the goal of Union Territory, mainly espoused by the Buddhist-dominated Leh, whereas the latter saw it as another push towards the periphery and alienation.
Political leaders and clerics, cutting across party lines and religious affiliations, and moving beyond their differences, soon unified in a way, and have been rallying the people of Kargil to demand – rather grab – their rightful share in this new administrative setup that has perhaps never been witnessed in the district before. Current office holders have even threatened en masse resignation, if their voices are not heard.
Why Is Kargil Protesting?
The protests and agitations in Kargil have continued since the announcement of the order. Old and young, men and women, clergy and common men, students and scholars – the whole of Kargil is seen agitating in the chilly winter. Protest rallies were also held in the winter capital Jammu, with protesters holding banners saying “demand for rotational headquarter” and chanting slogans calling for fair treatment by the state and central governments.
The immediate demand of these protesting men and women is quite clear. They want an equal share in all the administrative arrangements of the newly-created division. Pertinent to mention here is the fact that the people of Kargil are not against the creation of Ladakh as a ‘division’ per se, rather, they have always remained the first and the foremost votary of divisional status for Ladakh, when Leh had been demanding nothing short of a Union Territory.
Recently, the leadership of both Kargil and Leh had agreed to jointly struggle for this administrative setup. While it has welcomed the decision, what it objects to, is the issue that pertains to the location of the headquarters of the new division, that has been permanently set up at Leh.
Kargil’s Demand for Equality
Kargil is simply asking for the headquarters of the new division to be set up in both the districts on rotation. That is, the headquarters be stationed for six months in Kargil (preferably in summer) and six months in Leh (preferably in winter, as Leh has working air connectivity). This was the proposal on which the leadership of both Kargil and Leh had almost near consensus.
In an interview to a news channel after the conclusion of an all-party meeting of Leh and Kargil, called by the chairman of the Legislative Council in January this year, the current MLC from Leh, Chering Dorjay (of the BJP), while expressing satisfaction over the meeting, said that almost all the participants from Leh and Kargil had more or less agreed on equal share to both the districts, in all the administrative arrangements of the proposed division status to Ladakh.
Today, the people of Kargil have come out to protest, for they feel this most-awaited decision by the government has been made without even caring for their concerns and sentiments. It is not untrue either, that large numbers of people in Kargil have a growing perception of alleged neglect and alienation by the successive regimes in the Centre and the state. This decision must have further solidified their conviction.
It is a bitter truth that Kargil has remained far more backward than its sister district Leh, in terms of development. Kargil still does not have a civil airport, a super-speciality hospital, a central university, and to top it all, all the headquarters of the important departments in Ladakh are stationed in far-off Leh. Now in light of all these issues, the location of the divisional headquarters permanently being at Leh, has become an issue of serious concern for Kargil.
The Way Forward
Kargil has always remained one of the most sensitive and strategically significant districts in the country. It shares its border with Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir and is Ladakh’s gateway to Kashmir. Its people have always shown the strongest faith in the democratic institutions and the Constitution of the country. Taking rallies in protest for their democratic demands while bearing the tricolour, speaks for itself.
The political office holders from Panches to CEC LAHDC have threatened en masse resignation in order to show their reservations over the issue. If this happens, it will have serious implications on the politics and governance of the strategically fragile district in particular, and the entire region and the state in general.
The governments in the Centre and the state, cannot afford to let the sense of neglect and alienation in this restive place grow. The only feasible way out is to concede to the demand of the people of Kargil. Also, Kargil is not demanding anything at the cost of the interests of Leh. Being a district at par with Leh, and as much a part of Ladakh, Kargil is demanding its rightful share. It must not be projected as an issue of Kargil vs Leh.
The governor must take a holistic consideration of the varied dimensions of the issue, and review the previous order at the earliest for the sake of equality, fair treatment and a peaceful Ladakh.
(The author a native of Ladakh and can be contacted at email@example.com. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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