Divisional Status for Ladakh: A Boon or a Curse?

kargil

In a decision, that called “hasty” by many, the government recently granted divisional status to Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir with “headquarter in Leh”; decided to review later after massive protest from Kargil. The move that departs Ladakh in administrative and revenue affairs from the Kashmir valley came only after a month when the Governor of the State Satya Pal Malik announced a cluster university in the region, in Buddhist dominated district Leh. This Leh centric decisions in the period of Modi government is perceived as “discriminative” by the Muslim dominated Kargil district.

Many thinkers and political analysts have seen this move as a political stand to garner vote bank in the region. Ladakh had embraced the BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha elections by electing their MP from the party. However, due to unfulfillment of the demands by the BJP, the former MP Thupstan Chhewang resigned recently. For the BJP, who potentially would be successful to garner majority of Assembly as well as Lok Sabha seats in Jammu region, Ladakh would prove to be a deciding factor. Thus, this hasty decision is seen as an attempt to appease Ladakhi people for election to secure two MLA seats and the MP seat. However, the discriminative approach has bringing the two communities as well as districts of Ladakh against each other, contrary to their unfathomable history of coexistence.

The recent “discriminative” move to grand both the developments to Leh has been added to the past grievances. It is a widely spread notion among people in Kargil that government have always discriminated them relatively against Leh where the headquarters of BSNL, passport office, airport, jail, etc have been established. The powerful organisation in Kargil Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust (IKMT) in a press conference observed disappointment on the decision, describing the grant of divisional status and cluster university “lollipop”. Another prominent leader from Kargil and former MLC Syed Ahmed Rizvi declared the decision “unjust” and appealed the governor to review the decision. Urging all organisations in Kargil to unite over the issue, he questioned the behaviour of the govt, saying, Is not Kargil part of India? In a video message he showed concern over spoiling peace in the region due to “unjust and discriminative” approach, that he said, “tang aa’mad ta jung aamad” (frustration leads to war).

People in Kargil are smearing with fear that they have to face consequences of having headquarter in Leh. Before 1977 when Kargil was not formed a separate district, people had to relied on Leh even for preparation of a small document. Ahmed Rizvi has concerned that they have to up-down from Leh to Kargil for even small issues if Leh is made the headquarter. Another shade over fate of Kargil is that the new headquarter in Leh (220 km) is farther than the existing one in Kashmir (205 km). That is why, IKMT suggested to decide the location for headquarter themselves at local level in a joint conversation with leaders from Leh. Some leaders including the former MLA Asgar Karbalai had suggested a rotational headquarter: Leh for winter, as Leh have connectivity in winter and Kargil for summer due to its proximity with Kashmir as well as Zanskar. Now, the disputed decision has perceived as a betrayal by the Modi government.

The demand for Central University was a joint effort of student associations of both the districts. But from the day first there was a murmuring speculation from Kargil side over the location to establish the university. It was also because of the past experiences of “discrimination” by the government. Nonetheless, the demand for Divisional Status was initiated by the Kargil district that had later supported by the LAHDC Leh in December last year.

The divisional status is also seen as a “step forward” to the largest demand of Union Territory (UT) status by the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council Leh in its press release. The discomfort would further intense in case of granting UT status which is strongly opposed by almost all major groups in Kargil.

The communal discord fuelling by the discriminative approach could be sensed from the confrontational argument between the leaders of the two districts. Recently, exchange of harsh words took place between social and religious leaders of both the communities. The Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA) from Leh had labelled the religious organisations in Kargil “political” instead of religious. It had retaliated with striking response from the later.

Potentially a co-incidence, this discriminative move was accompanied with soaring Kargil led demand for opening of Kargil-Skardo road. Apart from economic and cultural benefits attached to the road, this demand could be seen as a rise of ethnic-identity against state-nationalism. A public speaker in Delhi had once said that Balti people in both side of the border (India and Pakistan) are loyal to the state. In the whole state of J&K also the people of Kargil are seen as patriotic and loyal to state who had assisted the Indian army to cross the Zoji Pass in 1971 war with Pakistan. However, the alienation of Muslim majority Kargil has also eroding their loyalty for state.

Hasty decisions for political interest would yield grave concern for peace. The discriminative approach has been fuelling communal discord and eroding the communal harmony in the region. It also pushes the people at the border to stand against the state.

 

By: Anwar Ali Tsarpa

Research Scholar at Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia.

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