Ladakh demands UT status: J&K division only solution
by Hari Om on 15 Dec 2009 10 Comments

On December 8, the Trans-Himalayan Ladakh region’s premier political organization, Ladakh Union Territory Front (LUTF), once again reiterated its demand for Union Territory status for the cold-desert which remains cut off from rest of the world for several months a year. LUTF organized a massive public rally at the historic Polo Ground to press its demand.


Reflecting on their demand, the LUTF leaders said that though they “welcome the ongoing initiative of the Union Government for resolution of the Kashmir problem”, the people of Ladakh, who have suffered immensely due to “at least three wars between India and Pakistan”, will not allow their strategic region to become “a theatre of action with consequent sufferings for its inhabitants.”


Each one of them bemoaned what they called the “failure of the Central and State Governments to engage the LUTF in the ongoing process for the resolution of Kashmir problem” and reiterated loudly and unequivocally the “united stand of the people that nothing short of the UT status for Ladakh will be acceptable as the solution (to) the Kashmir problem.”


LUTF leaders, including the outfit’s working president Dr Sonam Dawa Lonpo, Chief Executive Councilor (Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council) Tsering Dorje, LUTF youth president Namgyal, LUTF women president Thinless Angmo, chief advisor women LUTF Yangchan Cho Cho, Chuchot Block president Hassan Mohammad, senior vice-president LUTF Saif-ud-Din and patron president and former MP and son-in-law of Rani Parvati of Ladakh Thupstan Chhewang, in unison demanded the “Government of India to keep in focus this popular demand of Ladakh while exploring a solution”, which is “just, equitable and reflective of the aspirations of all regions of Jammu and Kashmir.”


What the LUTF leaders said at the Polo Ground is what the people of Jammu province and the internally-displaced Kashmiri Hindus and other patriotic forces in the state believe in and have been demanding for decades. Thus, there is a broad consensus among the people of Jammu and Ladakh and a number of religious and ethnic minorities in the State, that only that solution would be acceptable to them that is just and secular and integrates them fully into India. To be more precise, these categories of people, who constitute more than 78 percent of the State’s population and inhabit more than 89 percent of its land area, and who have been suffering from the worst form of discrimination since 1947, are for an independent dispensation under the Indian Constitution.


Needed: four separate political entities


The fact of the matter is that these categories of people in the State abhor the idea of New Delhi linking their fate with the Valley-based Kashmiri leaders whose demands are patently communal, and whose ultimate agenda is separation of Kashmir from India. Those who know something about Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh, post-1947, will vouch for this hard reality at once; acknowledge they do not see eye to eye with the vindictive, discriminatory, unaccommodating and arrogant Kashmiri Sunni leadership; and recommend division of the State into four separate political entities – one each for the people of Jammu province, people of Ladakh, displaced Kashmiri Hindus, and Kashmiri Muslims, especially Kashmiri-speaking Sunnis.


(The Shiite Muslims in Kashmir do not subscribe to the separatist ideology being promoted by Kashmiri Sunnis. They, like the people of Jammu, Ladakh, and other religious and ethnic minorities, also constitute a persecuted and discriminated against social segment. They, unlike the Kashmiri Sunnis, derive their inspiration from Iran.)    


Objective and dispassionate Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh-watchers would vouch for the fact that it is the Kashmir-based Sunni leaders, both the so-called mainstream and the separatists, who are squarely responsible for the prevailing discontent in areas other than the one inhabited by the Kashmiri-speaking Sunnis (read Kashmir Valley proper, and not Kashmir province as a whole). They would say that it is the communal approach of the Kashmiri Sunni leadership to the issues confronting the State that has forced the patriotic forces and grossly discriminated against and persecuted communities to raise extreme demands and work for the division of the State.


Commentators with democratic and secular credentials would also endorse the views of the State’s suffering communities, saying they have every right to demand a dispensation that guarantees them all their natural and fundamental rights and protects and advances their general political, economic and social rights.


Ladakh & the struggle for integration


A brief description of what Ladakhis have been doing for political empowerment is in order. The political history of post-1947 Ladakh could be legitimately considered as the history of the rise of nationalism and integration with New Delhi. As a matter of fact, nationalism became their watchword, their battle-cry, with the highly revered Buddhist Kushok Bakula as the champion of this mass ideology. It was he who started propagating nationalism in the cold desert of Ladakh to counter the separatist ideology of the Kashmiri leadership.


It was this nationalism which became the “rallying force among the Ladakhis to fight back the Pakistanis and the Chinese who made frequent bids to conquer (their) land in 1948, 1962, 1965, 1971 and 1999.”


Who played the exemplary role in these wars to comprehensively defeat the enemy’s misadventures? The brave jawans of the Ladakh Scouts did all they could to defeat the Pakistani and Chinese evil designs. They made supreme sacrifices to preserve the unity and integrity of India.


The people of Ladakh had made it loud and clear from day one that they wanted to be part of India and that they would not become party to any agreement biased in favour of the separatist and communal Kashmiri leadership, and against them. In fact, at the time of the communal partition, they submitted memoranda to the Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir, as also to the Government of India, containing demands “based on (their) bitter experience.”


The memoranda contained three specific alternative proposals:

(1)“The Maharaja should govern Ladakh directly without tagging it on to Kashmir Valley”;

(2)“Our homeland be amalgamated with the Hindu majority Jammu and should form a separate province in which adequate safeguards should be provided for distinctive rights and interests of Ladakhis”; and

(3)“Ladakh should be permitted to join East Punjab.”


It bears recalling that the Maharaja could not respond because certain developments had in the meantime worked against him, and he had to abdicate his authority in favour of Sheikh Abdullah who enjoyed the full backing of Jawaharlal Nehru. The result was that the Ladakhis decided to “merge with India straightway” and the decision to that effect was communicated to the Prime Minister of India on May 4, 1949, by the President of the Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA) Chhewang Rigzin.


The operative part of the communication/memorandum read: “Ladakh is not prepared to go to Pakistan whatever the result of the plebiscite may be.” The communication also said: “We seek the bosom of that gracious mother (India) to receive more nutriments for growth to our full stature in every way. She has given us what we prize above all other things - our religion and culture. The Ashoka wheel on her flag, symbol of goodwill for all humanity, and her concern for her cultural children, calls us irresistibly. Will the great mother refuse to take to her arms one of her weakest and most forlorn and depressed children - a child whom filial love impels to respond to the call?”


Unhappy with Sheikh Abdullah


Ever since, the Ladakhis have been consistently demanding segregation from Kashmir and struggling for Union Territory status, in vain. The Government of India, instead of meeting their genuine demand, has forced them to suffer at the hands of the Kashmiri leadership and the result has been an all-round degeneration of the Ladakhis. “The Government of India”, in the words of the LUTF, “made us to be governed by Kashmiris during these decades to our utter ruin. In the post-independence period we have been reduced to the status of slaves in our own homeland. The impact of oppressive rule by the J&K Government over us has obliterated our cultural and social ethos.”


Not just this. Ladakhis have been quite unhappy with Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. The reason: He divided Ladakh in 1979 on communal lines and carved out of the Buddhist-majority Ladakh district a Muslim-majority Kargil district, to pit Muslims against Buddhists and weaken the pro-India movement, and weaken their struggle for political and economic empowerment.


As far as the history of the Ladakhi struggle against Kashmiri domination and the politics of separation based on religious fanaticism in the real sense of the term is concerned, it started in 1964. And this, notwithstanding the formation of the LBA in 1949 and the Ladakhis’ attempts from time to time to achieve their due share in the State’s political and economic processes, and make New Delhi free them from the cruel clutches of the Kashmiri leadership. 1964 was the first ever well-organized attempt on the part of Ladakhis in this direction under the inspiring and effective leadership of Kushok Bakula. That year, the fed up, grossly-ignored, politically marginalized and badly humbled Ladakhis demanded “NEFA-type Central administration.”


However, nothing came of it as New Delhi adopted an indifferent attitude towards the well-founded demand put forth by the Ladakhis. Determined as they were to snap their ties with the arrogant and discriminatory Valley leadership, the Ladakhis again launched a full-scale movement in 1974. The stated objective this time was “Central administration for Ladakh.”


Those who led this movement included Lama Lobzang, Thupstan Chhewang and Tsering Samphel; but with no result. The reason: The Valley-centric Kashmiri leadership opposed the demand tooth and nail. New Delhi went by the Kashmiri leadership’s line of action. But the agitation continued unabated in a peaceful and constitutional manner.


However, in 1982 a concerted attempt was made to give a somewhat radical orientation to the ongoing struggle in the cold-desert by P Namgyal, Member of Parliament. However, he did not demand NEFA-type Central administration, but regional autonomy within the State.


As expected, neither the vindictive and unfair State Government nor the Union Government accepted the demand for regional autonomy for the cold desert. Instead, the Kashmiri rulers, backed to the hilt by the Union Government, “severely suppressed the democratic movement of peace-loving Buddhists through the State police.”


It took no less than seven long years for the oppressed Ladakhis to reorganize themselves once again for another full-scale struggle to achieve independence from Kashmir and obtain the status of Union Territory. The movement, launched in 1989, was spearheaded by the LBA. This movement was the fall-out of the “cumulative alienation of Ladakhis.”


This movement took place at a time when anti-India activities were gaining momentum in Kashmir, resulting in “total boycott of Independence Day celebrations.” Did Dr Farooq Abdullah do anything to curb any of the anti-national activities? No, he allowed the anti-national forces in Kashmir to vitiate the political atmosphere. On the contrary, the Government of Dr Abdullah “chose to let out his anger on the peaceful demonstrations in Leh” culminating in loss of precious lives.


Autonomous Hill Development Council


Meanwhile, the agitating LBA not only suspended the agitation but also suspended its demand for Union Territory status, in view of the “increasing anti-national activities elsewhere in the state” and “keeping in mind the larger national interest.” However, the 1989 LBA-sponsored agitation did move the authorities in New Delhi to an extent, and the authorities agreed to set up in the trans-Himalayan region Autonomous Hill Development Council more or less on the lines of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. It was a sort of compromise between the State Government, the Central Government and the LBA. It was called the tripartite agreement and was signed on October 29, 1989.


It was hoped that the authorities in Kashmir would allow the democratically-elected Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) to exercise some quantum of autonomy and not “starve it of funds.” But what has been happening since then is that the State Government has been doing everything it could to render the LAHDC defunct for all practical purposes.


Fear of Kashmir independence


The prevailing anger, unrest and discontent in Ladakh, particularly in the Buddhist-majority Leh district, needs to be viewed in this context. But more than that, what has forced the peace-loving Ladakhis to again demand Union Territory status for their region is the loud clamour in Kashmir for independence from India. In other words, the December 8 LUTF-sponsored public meeting at Polo Ground must be viewed in the context of the shabby treatment New Delhi and the State Government have meted out to the distant Ladakhis. It should also be seen in the light of New Delhi’s mind-boggling gestures towards the Kashmiri leadership, notwithstanding its well-known anti-India, pro-Pakistan, separatist and highly sectarian credentials.


The loud assertion of Ladakhis that they are left with no choice but to achieve “our long-standing demand for Union Territory status” so that they can “run their own affairs and safeguard their interests” cannot be construed as preposterous. The demand is genuine and needs to be accepted forthwith.


Even otherwise, New Delhi has no moral and political authority to lump the patriotic Ladakhis with Kashmiri separatists and religious bigots. How could New Delhi think in terms of a negotiated settlement of Jammu & Kashmir with Kashmiri separatists, and impose the same on the vast majority of the people of the State who are liberal and secular and wish to link their fate with New Delhi for better or for worse? 


What then is the permanent solution to the problem facing the State? The only solution is segregation of Jammu and Ladakh from Kashmir. Such a segregation would not only limit the area of contention and strife to the Valley - the real trouble-spot – and teach the Kashmiri separatists a lesson, but also enable New Delhi to initiate a dialogue process with Kashmiri leaders of all hues, including those representing the internally-displaced Kashmiri Hindus, to find out what could satisfy them, but with the condition that the solution would be rational and national.


The author is Chair Professor, Gulab Singh Chair, Jammu University, Jammu

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