More than a year after Centre ended the special status Jammu and Kashmir and divided the state into two UTs, Ladakhi Buddhists have hardened their stand and demanded their own legislature and state subject laws.
The Buddhist leaders, cutting across the party lines, are unhappy with Centre for not granting special status under the Sixth schedule of the Indian constitution that would protect jobs and land for its residents.
Ladakhis last year had entered into parleys with the government led by minister of state for home G K Reddy seeking Sixth schedule to protect identity, language, culture and resources of the cold region.
The leaders had called for a boycott of the hill council elections but after the assurance from centre that it will look into the crucial issue ”sympathetically” forced them to rethink and participate in the polls. The assurance helped BJP to win 15 out of 26 seats.
While the residents demand safeguards for jobs and land, the Ladakhis are happy with its UT status through they would like to have its own legislature so that they are able to make strong laws.
“We want to raise our issues and for that we need an assembly,” Dorjay Namgyal of Congress told News 18.
While Ladakh residents want special rights, the Muslim majority region of Kargil is seeking restoration of article 370 and statehood. The Kargil people want to merge with Jammu and Kashmir and are opposed to go with Ladakh under the UT arrangement.
Just before the council elections in Ladakh last year, leaders and civil society had come together under the banner of People’s Movement for Sixth Schedule to fight for special status.
The body had formed an apex committee which had earlier held two rounds of talks with the centre panel led by Minister Reddy.
Ladakh’s senior most leader and two times MP Thupstan Chewang, who led the apex committee, has reportedly said that if Centre is reluctant to offer sixth schedule status to Ladakh, then it should grant state subject laws and legislature on the lines of the 30-member Sikkim legislature.
“Our prime demand is to have our own assembly and special rights that will protect our land and jobs for our youth,” he was quoted by a local newspaper.
Like Kashmiris, Ladakhi people fear ingress of people from other states and purchase of land by outsiders and taking away of their jobs.
A Congress leader who was a former minister in J&K government told News 18 that apart from seeking special provisions, the Ladakhis are also demanding its own Public Services Commission on the lines of J&K to recruit gazetted officers from their region. Since August 5 move, there has been no recruitment in government offices in Ladakh and that has resulted in simmering dicontentment in the region.
Under Chewang, the apex committee will be listing a fresh charter of demands seeking a UT status for Ladakh along with the legislature on the lines of Sikkim.
The committee, sources say, wants reservations for Ladakh Buddhists. ”Ours is a tribal society and we need guarantees against assault on our culture, religion, environment and language,” he said, adding that the Sikkim type assembly inspires confidence.
He said entire Ladakh population wants reservation safeguards on the basis of state subjects “that was prevailing in (undivided) Jammu and Kashmir earlier.”
The committee is awaiting a third round of talks shortly but before that they are hoping to submit a draft listing fresh demands to Centre.
“If Centre is not keen on granting sixth schedule, we should be able to give them more options but there should be no compromise on land and jobs. Our region is bordered by Pakistan and China and that makes it very sensitive. The Centre must listen to our grievances and redress them quickly,” a student leader of Ladakh told News 18.