Four years after the abrogation of Kashmir’s special status, Leh and Kargil regions of Ladakh are seeking statehood as well as extension of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Both regions have found themselves on the same side as per the demands, and have formed a joint core committee to decide the future course of action. Two groups based in the districts of Ladakh – Leh Apex Body (LAB) and Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) – who have been spearheading this movement in Ladakh, rejected the Union Home Ministry’s high-powered committee to end resentment in Ladakh region. Given its demography, Ladakh is home to nearly 300,000 people living in its two districts: the main city of Leh which is predominantly Buddhist, and Muslim-majority Kargil. Culturally and historically affinitive to Tibet, 97% of the region’s population is tribal. It comprises of a 46% Muslim population, 40% Buddhists and a 12% of the Hindu population.
The two political bodies have hardened their position on four key points: Statehood; safeguard under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India to protect the interests of the tribal people of Ladakh, formation of Public Service Commission and reservation of jobs for youth of Ladakh; and creation of two separate parliamentary constituencies for Leh and Kargil.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had earlier announced the formation of a committee led by Union Minister of State Nityanand Rai ‘to resolve the outstanding issues of Ladakh’. It was followed by an emergency meeting of the LAB and KDA on January 7, 2023, that fiercely rejected and denounced the MHA’s announcement. A joint statement noted that “The LAB and the KDA decided not to accept the formation of the high-powered committee and not attend any meeting conducted under the aegis of the committee as the said committee was not mandated to discuss issues raised by the LAB and the KDA”.
The groups’ unanimous decision was to strongly protest and ‘intensify the agitation’ against the BJP-led Union government’s refusal to accept its roadmap for resolving the problems in Ladakh. Leader of the Apex Body of Leh and Senior Vice President of Ladakh Buddhist Association Chering Dorjay highlighted that “given the present scenario, we feel the earlier arrangement of Ladakh, that is being part of J&K, was better. We understand that the Centre is against our demand for statehood and 6th schedule [status]”.
With the decision, the Ladakh’s leadership has rejected BJP-led Indian government’s committee and has made it clear that the region was better off with Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, before August 2019 move of abrogation of the region’s special status. Previously, Ladakh was part of the disputed region before the abrogation of Article 370 that divided the erstwhile disputed territory into two union territories – J&K with a legislature and Ladakh without a legislature. Thereby, the absence of an elected government has deepened the resentment against the Union of India in the border region.
Notably, the resentment in Ladakh pose a major challenge to India amid a military standoff along the Line of Actual Control with China. A day after India scrapped the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying issued a statement that read “the recent unilateral revision of domestic laws by the Indian side continues to undermine China’s territorial sovereignty, which is unacceptable and will not have any effect”. Since the deadly clashes at Ladakh’s Galwan Valley, China and India have been at loggerheads with concerns that tensions between the two could lead to an escalation. It is also believed that India’s refusal to acknowledge the problems in Ladakh has exacerbated the public outcry. This makes the current crisis another cause to impact the geo-political chessboard at the terrain for the Indian government.
The writer is working as a Research Officer at Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), Islamabad. She tweets @ZukhrufAmin.
Research Officer, SVI