The dragon is breathing fire at the Sino-India boundary, and then there is another headache for the Centre. A significant section of people in Ladakh have rejected the domicile laws and urged for a special status for the union territory.
Prominent religious and political groups, including the BJP Ladakh chapter, are seeking the Narendra Modi government’s assurance to extend the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution that will seal safeguards for land, jobs and environment in the region.
Leaders of all hues on Tuesday indicated a plan to boycott next month’s Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) polls if the Centre does not meet their demands.
The central government, grappling with the belligerent Chinese over the LAC intrusion in the past five months, is not willing to grant the Sixth Schedule to Ladakh, anticipating that such an exercise would open a Pandora’s box with respect to other states. It has no quick-fix solution to this internal crisis that is shaping up like a mass movement, and would like to purchase more time to defuse the situation.
In fact, the Modi government has rushed two senior national leaders to Leh to placate the Buddhist leadership. It appears the Centre would again offer the leadership in Leh the domicile laws on the lines of the UT of Jammu and Kashmir, but the other side is adamant.
"We want the Centre’s commitment on it. As of now it seems reluctant but it is our long-standing demand. We hope parties from Kargil will join us in the future. The Centre should listen to our grievances," said Jigmet Paljor, a student leader from Leh.
That said, Ladakh’s other important region - Kargil - is nascent to these developments and, like the Kashmiri leadership, have endorsed the pre-August 5 position. "The Kargil region has always sided with Kashmir and believes the dilution of Article 370 stripped the former state of its identity and powers to make its own laws. We want the government to restore Article 370," Sajjad Kargili, a prominent political leader, told News 18.
Tuesday’s announcement to boycott the hill council polls has delivered a major blow to the BJP’s integrationist politics. Besides, the decision for the first time bears
a similarity with Kashmiri politics where poll boycott has been used to protest against the Centre’s ‘unilateral’ policies on Kashmir.
The Valley-based National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party and other groups had boycotted the municipal and panchayat elections in 2018 and 2019 to prevent the Centre from scrapping the special status of J&K.
The current developments in Leh run contrary to the August 5 decision when Jammu and Kashmir state was stripped of Article 370 and divided into two union territories.
Buddhists in Ladakh had then hailed the newly carved UT status for Ladakh though Kargil sides with Kashmir.
The initial euphoria in Leh slowly started to dissipate after citizens feared invasion of “outsiders” from mainland India.
The movement for the Sixth Schedule is peaking at a time when Ladakh is on edge, courtesy the Chinese army nibbling at India’s territory and poised to fight a war, in some with India.
“The apex body of People’s Movement for Sixth Schedule for Ladakh unanimously resolved to boycott the ensuing 6th LAHDC Leh elections till such time the constitutional safeguard under Sixth Schedule on the lines of Bodo Territorial Council is not extended to the UT Ladakh and its people,” veteran politician and former Lok Sabha MP Thupstan Chhewang told reporters in Leh on Tuesday.
The polls are scheduled on October 16 and are the first since the dilution of Article 370 and the creation of Ladakh UT. The current body is headed by BJP.
Similarly, Ladakhi environmentalist and Magsaysay award winner Sonam Wangchuk has raised fears of the rise of a separatist movement in Ladakh if their concerns for identity and environment were not addressed. Wangchuk had earlier advocated for the boycott of Chinese goods to bleed the country economically when China made the initial hostile moves in eastern Ladakh.
Among the signatories endorsing the poll boycott was the BJP’s Leh president Nawang Samstan, in a way indicating how the local BJP unit was not willing to buy the central leadership’s line over the critical issue.
Many in Ladakh believe Ladakh’s BJP Member of Parliament Tsering Namgyal was behind a recent resolution passed by the Leh autonomous council which sought privileges for Ladakh under Article 371, Sixth Schedule or domicile laws at the Centre’s bidding.
But commoners in Ladakh are opposed to extending the domicile law or Article 371 to the region, fearing outsiders will run riot with its land, environment, culture and language.
The Centre has already introduced the domicile law for J&K after which thousands of outsiders have been granted domicile status in the UT.
Sources in Ladakh said the Centre intends to extend the domicile law to Ladakh on the pattern of J&K but Ladakhis are very critical and not willing to back off.
The leaders based in Leh said the decision to boycott elections was taken after thorough discussions.
The other leaders who signed the boycott pledge included Ladakh Buddhist Association president P Kunzang, former Rajya Sabha Member Kyabje Thiksey Khenpo Rinpoche, former minister Chhering Dorje Lakrook, former minister and president of Ladakh Congress Nawang Rigzin Jora.
Three Leh-based Muslim and Christian organisations also signed the resolution.
The notification issued by the election department of Ladakh said the date for filing of nomination for LAHDC Leh will begin on September 21 and the last date for nomination is September 28. Elections are scheduled to be held on October 16. It is not clear whether the elections will now be held given the unprecedented development.
The Centre had cared little when Valley-based parties boycotted polls and it paved the way for the BJP to win the most seats. A repeat here, analysts say, would be a recipe for disaster. "Ladakh, especially Leh, is not Kashmir and our sentiments don’t run contrary to the country’s interests. We want the Modi ji-led government to concede to our demands," a leader told News 18.