Ladakhis united over 6th Schedule demand: Buddhist leader

[ Anjali Ojha ]

LEH, 17 May: Even as the Lok Sabha elections for Ladakh appear to be divided on regional basis, it will not affect the unity over the demands for statehood and safeguards under the 6th Schedule of the Constitution, said Chering Dorjay Lakruk, president of the Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA).

A three-cornered election in Ladakh, with the BJP and the Congress candidates from Leh and an independent nominee from Kargil, gives an edge to the Kargil candidate.

In an interview with PTI, Lakruk stressed the need for safeguards to protect the land and culture of Ladakh, and also raised concerns over the pasture lands used for grazing by the local nomadic tribes being taken over by China.

LBA, a prominent social and religious organisation of Ladakh, has had a key role in developing a consensus on the need for the 6th Schedule.

The 6th Schedule of the Constitution deals with provisions for the administration of the tribal areas in the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.

Founded in 1933, the LBA had raised the demand for making Ladakh a separate state soon after independence. However, it was included in Jammu &Kashmir at that time. But the demand for a separate identity continued.

“After the abrogation of Article 370, there were celebrations initially. But then we realised it is not good for us,” Lakruk told PTI.

He said that various social, religious and other organisations and individuals came forward to press for the demand, which resulted in the Leh Apex Body (LAB) and the Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) coming together. Their representatives were in talks with a high-powered committee of the home ministry over four key demands – the 6th Schedule, statehood, a separate public service commission, and Lok Sabha seats in Leh and Kargil.

Presently, the union territory of Ladakh has only one Lok Sabha constituency. “During the talks with the home ministry, we felt they were buying time before the election. They did not have much to offer. Only some assurance was given on the public service commission,” he said.

He also dismissed reports that they were assured of extending Article 371-like protections to the region,which would enable them to create elected bodies with the power to administrate tribal areas.

“The home ministry did not give any offer of Article 371. It was a speculation. They told us that our existing councils will be strengthened and they will create an advisory council. We already have the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) Act, 1997. But now the powers of the council have also been curtailed,” he said.

With a three-cornered fight between the BJP’s Tashi Gyalson, the Congress’ Tsering Namgyal and independent candidate from Kargil, Mohd Hanifa Jan being witnessed here, Lakruk said the Kargil candidate has an edge over his rivals.

Both Gyalson and Namgyal are from Leh.”Unfortunately, in Ladakh the tradition is that voting is on a regional basis. So the independent candidate will have some edge. Votes in Kargil will get consolidated behind him. There are more chances for him to win,” Lakruk said.

He said that they had anticipated that some regional and religious sentiments may come to the fore during elections, but it will not impact the unity of the two regions over their demands.

“We could see that at the time of election, some religious or regional sentiments may come in. Apex body and KDA have discussed this. Whatever the results of elections are, our unity on the four demands will not be affected,” he said.

He said that the LBA went to every village and settlement to educate people on the demand for the 6th Schedule. As the talks with the union government failed, they were forced to take the path of protest.

“We resorted to hunger strike to show the government that all people in Ladakh are supporting the issue. We also wanted to tell the country what the problems of Ladakh are,” he said.

Asked about the Pashmina march, which was announced but then withdrawn, he said that the aim was to show the people of India the reality of the situation in Ladakh.

“The march was important because the lands of the nomadic people, who are dependent on cattle, are being taken away. A big solar power plant is being planned by the government on pasture land and a huge area has also been captured by the Chinese after 2020.

“Perhaps a lot of people in the country don’t know how much land has gone and we wanted to show that. But the administration did not allow it. It did not allow us to go because it had something to hide. Nonetheless it was exposed,” he said.

Asked how much land he thinks may have been captured, he said, “It is difficult to say. Some people say 2,000 square kms. BJP leader Subramanian Swamy says it is 4,000 square kms. We do not know exactly,” he said.

He said that 20 to 22 rounds of talks have taken place between the Army commanders and asked why the talks are being held if there is no issue.

“Especially in the finger area, where we used to patrol earlier, now we cannot go anymore. There are many such areas where nomads used to go with their cattle. They can’t go there anymore,” he said.

Asked about the way forward, he said, “In a sensitive area like this, national security cannot be strengthened by ignoring the people. The demands are valid within the ambit of the Constitution. We are not talking of freedom, as some people in Jammu and Kashmir do.”

He said that if the aspirations of the Ladakhis are fulfilled, the country’s defence will be strengthened.

“Because in an area like Ladakh, the civilians always stand behind the Army during war time; so, fulfilling the aspirations of the people is important for our country,” he added. (PTI)