On August 5, 2019, the Narendra Modi Government accepted the age- old demand of Ladakhi Buddhists. That day, it separated Cold-Desert Ladakh from Kashmir with the concurrence of Parliament. The Bill adopted in August by both the Houses of Parliament with a thumping majority also conferred Union Territory status on Ladakh. However, it was only on October 31, 2020 that Ladakh became UT in the real sense of the term.
It was hoped that the historic decisions of the Modi Government would conciliate the Ladakhis, especially Buddhists of Leh district, and satisfy their socio-cultural, political and economic aspirations. But it was not to be. On September 22, all political, social and religious organisations, including the Ladakh unit of the BJP, joined hands and formed a platform under the banner of People’s Movement. They announced boycott of sixth election to Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) Leh scheduled to be held on October 16 till Ladakh was granted Sixth Schedule status. They vouched for BODO Council-like powers to the two Councils of Leh and Kargil.
Convinced that the poll boycott call was fraught with serious ramifications, the BJP high command on September 23 send two BJP leaders, including then BJP national general secretary and in-charge J&K and Ladakh Ram Madhav, to Leh to defuse the crisis. But they failed. They failed to convince even the local BJP leadership.
On September 23 and 24, Leh witnessed massive students’ protests against J&K BJP general secretary (Organisation) Ashok Koul, who had made some controversial remarks about the demand seeking application of Sixth Schedule to Ladakh. On September 25, the BJP high command and Union Government took recourse to back-channel dialogue with the People’s Movement leadership. The man who established contacts with the Ladakhi leadership was Union Minister of State Kiren Rijiju. The back-channel talks produced some positive results. On September 27, a three-member delegation of the People’s Movement met with Union Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi. A chartered plane had been arranged for the Ladakhi leaders. The talks defused the crisis. The People’s Movement withdrew poll boycott call as HM Shah assured all safeguards for Ladakh people.
A day later, September 28, Union Minister of State for Home G Kishen Reddy reached Leh to reassure the agitating Ladakhis that the issues raised by them will be resolved through a consensus after the elections to the LAHDC Leh were over. The election authorities in Leh had to extend the last date of submission of nomination papers. Such was the situation in Ladakh and such was the attitude of the determined local BJP leadership
It was under these circumstances that the people of Leh district participated in the LAHDC elections. The BJP again came out victorious. It won 15 out of 26 seats, two seats less than its tally of 2015. PM Modi, HM Amit Shah and BJP chief JP Nadda termed the BJP’s victory as “historic”.
That HM Shah was committed to conciliating the Ladakhi leaders, including the BJP leaders, became clear on November 9. That day, HM Shah rang up the People’s Movement for the Sixth Schedule Status leader and former BJP Lok Sabha member Thupstan Chhewang. He invited him, along with other leaders, for talks. However, they couldn’t go to Delhi as two leaders of the Movement were tested Corona positive. On December 30, HM Shah again called the apex body, which had spearheaded agitation for safeguards to the UT, political heads and newly-elected Chief Executive Councilor (CEC) LAHDC Leh, to New Delhi for a meeting on January 5. The objective was to break the ice on the Sixth Schedule demand for UT of Ladakh.
However, the meeting couldn’t take place on January 5. It was on January 6 that the meeting took place. That day, the HM announced setting up of a high-level committee under MoS Home G Kishen Reddy. The decision came after the Ladakhi delegation had an hour-long meeting with HM Shah. Headed by the MoS Home, the committee will have senior officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs dealing with the UT of Ladakh, legal experts, Lok Sabha member and Ladakh BJP chief Jamyang Tsering Namgayal, LAHDC Leh CEC Tashi Gyalson, representatives from the UT administration and members to be nominated from the apex body of Leh. The Committee will submit its recommendations within two months.
In the meantime, Gyalson said that “there are total of 12 Schedules in the country and 13th Schedule can be Ladakh-specific to meet people’s demands”. The People of Ladakh have been demanding safeguards for their land, jobs, culture, identity, language and geography.
What does all this suggest? It suggests that the Ladakhi leaders in general and BJP leadership in particular are committed to protecting and promoting further the socio-cultural, political and economic interests of Ladakh. It also suggests that they do not compromise and that they can go to any extent to get their demands fulfilled. And this has been happening since 1989, when Leh witnessed violent incidents. That year also, the then Union Home Minister had to intervene and the talks between the Union Home Ministry and Ladakhi leadership had led to the creation of two autonomous hill councils, one each for Leh and Kargil. Indeed, the Ladakhi leadership is inspiring and pro-active. It delivers. It prefers people’s aspirations over their personal interests.
The Jammu BJP leaders would do well to imitate their Ladakhi counterparts and fight for the cause of the people of Jammu province, their core constituency. Undoubtedly, the Ladakhi BJP leadership has shown the Jammu BJP leadership the way. They must remember that the people of Jammu province have been voting overwhelmingly for the BJP since October 2014. They returned to the Lok Sabha both the BJP candidates with a huge mandate in May 2014, gave 25 assembly seats to it in December 2014 and again elected both the BJP candidates for the Lok Sabha election from Jammu province in May 2019. Not just this, only last month, they voted overwhelmingly for the BJP candidates in 72 territorial constituencies in Jammu province in the DDC polls. Any failure on its part to not behave like the Ladakhi BJP leadership has been behaving will be only to hurt the nation’s cause, further destroy Jammu province and jeopardize its own electoral prospects.