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Simmering Ladakh

By Prof. Hari Om

Prof. Hari OmIrrespective of their political leanings and religious beliefs, the Ladakhis had hailed the October 1989 tripartite agreement as the crowning triumph of their 47-year-long crusade, which included the threat of leaving India for Tibet to end the Kashmir valleyís hegemony over the Stateís politics and economy. The agreement promised to achieve and exercise equal rights for Ladakhis with the Kashmiris in all spheres.

Under the 1989 accord, the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) was set up as a means to evolve and empower the Ladakhis to mould their future and compensate for their losses since 1947, owing to the discriminatory policies of the Kashmiri rulers. The belief of the Ladakhis that they would be armed with adequate powers to regenerate their socio-cultural and politico-economic life was not based on something abstract. It had stemmed from the Presidentís Act, 1995 itself, under which they were to obtain a modified dispensation.

The language of the Act clearly stated that the LAHDC shall have unbridled "executive powers" to control fully the regionís land and administration, formulate and finalise the budget for the Leh area, generate employment and alleviate poverty, promote tourism in the cold desert, set up educational institutions and small-scale cottage industries, open up health centres etc.

However, to say all this is not to suggest that everybody in Ladakh shared the same feeling that the Presidentís Act would harmonise inter-regional relations, and that the politics of confrontation between Ladakh and the Valley would become a story of the past.

There was a section which then warned that the LAHDC was not a permanent solution to the kind of ills afflicting the Ladakhis. It stated that differences may surface again as soon as the Presidentís rule ended and power was transferred to the leaders in the Valley. In effect, this group told the Ladakhi Buddhist Association (LBA), who had been spearheading the "empower Ladakh movement", that the key to the age-old Ladakhi problem lay not in a dispensation within the State but in a total segregation of the trans-Himalayan region from the  Valley into nothing short of a "Union Territory status".

The developments in the Leh area after the end of Presidentís rule in 1996, leave no doubt whatsoever that the apprehensions expressed by the ardent believers in the concept of "Union Territory status" were legitimate. But some of the noteworthy things are the unambiguous resolve of well established political formations like the LBA, the LMA and the Congress, of taking extra-constitutional methods to revive their demand for Union Territory status. Total boycott of the officially organised Republic Day celebration at Leh in 1998 and 1999, massive strike throughout the Leh district in January 1999 and the rise of a feeling among comparatively more radical Ladakhis that they do not have any future in the present geographical dispensation are some of the disturbing developments in the recent past.

All these developments point to the fact that the euphoria of 1989 and 1995 has given way to despair, and that a strong anti-Valley sentiment is sweeping the cold desert region. Known for its October 1989 unprecedented violence, these developments also suggest that the problem has serious dimensions.

The question arises: what aggravated the Ladakhi political scene and provoked the people there to look beyond India? The most important of all reasons is what the Ladakhis call repudiation of their 13 immediate demands by the Valleyís "ruling elite". They had even vehemently opposed New Delhiís move of setting up an autonomous hill council at Leh, denouncing the step as a deliberate move to hurt the Kashmiri psyche and jeopardise the interests of the alienated people of the Valley.

Some of the demands of the Ladakhis, which were put down by the Valley leaders were: A free hand to LAHDC to administer all the 45 subjects placed under its jurisdiction by the Presidential Order, 1995; Financial autonomy and more funds to the council to enable it to undertake developmental activities in the extremely backward area which remains cut off from the rest of the country for more than six months in a year; reversal of the policy being pursued by the Kashmiri leaders to undermine the authority of LAHDC and render it defunct; finalisation of some General Business Conduct Rules and Executive Council Rules; ratification of rules pertaining to land otherwise vested in the LAHDC and control over Government employees serving in the Leh district, including the Deputy Commissioner-cum-Chief Executive Officer of the Council; and implementation of the Master Plan notified three year ago.

Besides this, they also demanded increase in the number of blocks in the Leh district from the existing five to nine; Cabinet Minister status to the chairman of the LAHDC on the Darjeeling pattern and minister of state status to its executive councillors; continuation of the pre-October 1996 practice under which the chairman of the Council used to take salute at Republic and Independence Day functions; reappointment  of Bashrat Ahmad Dar as the Deputy Commissioner of Leh district, who was removed from office by the State government following boycott of the officially-held Republic Day celebrations by all Ladakhis; revision of the Councillorsí salary and allowances.

It is obvious that the State governmentís attitude towards the far off Ladakhis is apathetic and provocative. The fact is that it has practically wrecked the 1995 reform scheme as originally conceived and has systematically minimised the concessions made available to the Ladakhis to conciliate them and retrieve the situation in the sensitive border region.

The generation of aggressive thinking among the Ladakhis has to be viewed in the context of the impatience with stagnation and an urge for developments as well as the difficulties which are created by the Valley-based leaders at every step and their unwillingness to shed off what may be termed as their archaic bias against non-Kashmiri.

Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah would do well to sit up and dispassionately review the political situation as it is developing in Leh and take appropriate steps to strengthen the LAHDC so that it is able to mitigate the hardships of the Ladakhis. The people of this region undoubtedly deserve a special treatment and extraordinary attention. For, they have been suffering since ages from abject poverty, illiteracy, endemic unemployment and, above all, depredations of the Valley rulers.

Not to meet their demands (and these appear quite petty and non-preposterous) would be to play with dangerous tools in the sense that the suffering Ladakhis appear determined not to allow anyone to take them for a piggy-ride any longer. Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah must act before it is too late. The Centre should also step in as the developments in Leh have the potential of harming the national interests as well.

Source: The Pioneer

Pakistan's Role

Kargil 1999

 

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