unite to fight for Ladakh’s UT status
Backed by the Buddhists’
association, members of the ruling National
Conference, the Congress and the BJP have resigned
to serve a warning to the nation that Ladakh will
no longer tolerate discrimination and only settle
for parity with the Jammu and Kashmir regions,
writes KAVITA SURI.
Campaigning is yet to gain momentum all over Jammu and Kashmir where
the four-phased election begins on 16 September. The far-flung, land-locked
mountainous region of Ladakh has sprung a surprise that threatens the political
existence of parties in the Buddhist-dominated region of the border state.
Almost all political parties and other organisations in Ladakh have
buried their differences to form the Ladakh Union Territory Front to strive
for Union Territory status for the region. The LUTF was floated on 25 August.
Parties like the National Conference, the Congress and the BJP have dissolved
their local units to form the front.
A statement signed by the Ladakh Buddhist Association president, Tsering
Samphal, the day the front was constituted read: “The heads of local units
have unanimously resolved to form the regional organisation and disband
all political parties functioning in Ladakh.”
The statement was endorsed by the National Conference president for Leh, Tsering Narbo
Lampa; BJP president Sonam Rinchan and Chairman of the
Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Thupstan Chewang and all LAHDC
councillors. The statement said the regional front would work with the
sole aim of achieving Union Territory status. What has been threatening
major political parties is the fact that most of their Ladakhi legislators,
leaders with clout in the area or those who were to be fielded for the
forthcoming polls in Ladakh by their parties, have either joined the front
by resigning from their parties or are in the process of joining the front
which seem to have assumed much importance within a few days of its formation.
Backed by the LBA – a powerful organisation of Ladakhi Buddhists which
fought hard for the formation of the LAHDC and tasted success during Governor’s
rule (receiving the Assembly’s concurrence in 1996) – the front also has
the support of important Buddhists leaders like Mr Samphal and Mr Chewang.
Ladakhis have a strong feeling that the region has suffered much at
the hands of the ruling National Conference and that it is time to accord
it a Union Territory status.
Besides, there is also a common feeling that the LAHDC has not been
able to do much on its own as the NC holds the reins in its hands. Ladakh,
they believe, should be given UT status to ensure its development and earn
parity with Jammu and Kashmir in all spheres of life. The Ladakh region
as a whole has been hostile to Kashmir rule. A sense of deprivation and
alienation has long plagued relations between Kashmir and Ladakh, especially,
In the 1998 parliamentary elections, National Conference candidate
Syed Hussain had defeated his Congress rival Phunsog Namgyal by 30,000
votes. The NC repeated the performance in the 1999 byelection. The NC fears
that the closing of ranks by Buddhist leaders at the time of elections
has the blessings of powerful leaders in Jammu and New Delhi. The ruling
party sees this as a move to corner it.
For those seeking trifurcation of the state on regional and communal
lines, the move is a shot in the arm. The development has far-reaching
ramifications for all political parties, particularly the NC which is under
pressure to repeat its performance of 1996. That year, of the four Assembly
seats from Ladakh, the NC bagged three from Leh, Nobra and Kargil while
the Zanskar seat went to the Congress.
Former minister P Namgyal of the Congress and some party office-bearers
have joined the LUTF, besides a Rajya Sabha member, Koshak Thiksey, and
two NC leaders from the region.
Koshak Thiksey, LAHDC members Rigzin Namgayal and Tizing Thiksey, have
resigned from the NC to join the Ladakh front. The NC Minister of State
for Agriculture and Horticulture, Tsetan Namgyal, resigned from the party
recently to join the LUTF. Mr Namgyal was elected from the Nubra Assembly
constituency in Ladakh in the 1996 Assembly elections on an NC ticket.
He had defeated his nearest Congress rival, Satnzin Tundup, by a margin
of 83 votes. NC chief Omar Abdullah and Kargil MLA Qamar Ali Akhoon air-dashed
to Leh to persuade party leaders against resigning. Though the NC leaders
have submitted their resignation to the party leadership, they are yet
to be accepted. Hectic lobbying is on to win Mr Namgyal back.
The president of the LBA, which is instrumental in forming the LUTF,
told The Statesman that the Congress and other members of the LAHDC had
resigned en masse. “If we are not given UT status, this entire northern
boundary will go,” warns Mr Samphal.
“There is lack of concern about Ladakh among all political parties.
That is the reason the LBA spearheaded a move to unite political leaders
to fight on a common platform for UT status,” says Mr Samphal. In another
development, the Leh-based Ladakh Muslim Coordination Committee has supported
the majority opinion of offering support to the front with the motive of
preventing “unnecessary divide of Ladakhis” and has decided not to field
any candidate against the LUTF candidate.
The NC faces stiff opposition from local Muslims in Kargil district.
They are supporting an independent candidate this time. Two organisations,
the Imam Khomeini Trust and the Islamia School, have opposed Mr Akhoon’s
candidature. Ghulam Hassan Khan of the NC represents Kargil in Parliament.
Considered the NC bastion till now, the party’s future seems bleak in these
two Assembly constituencies in Kargil.
With Muslims supporting the LUTF, speculation is rife that the Leh constituency
will opt for uncontested polling.
The LUTF received a shot in the arm when one of its contesting candidates,
Sonam Wanchok Narboo – popularly known as Pintoo Narboo – virtually emerged
the first victor in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly polls. He was the lone
candidate from Nobra in Leh district on the last day of nominations for
the first phase of the poll.
Nobra and 25 other Assembly constituencies spread over six districts
of the state are going to polls on 16 September. With this uncontested
win for the Ladakh front nominee, the ruling party got its first jolt in
the region where the LUTF is giving the NC sleepless nights. Mr Narboo
would be declared elected if his papers are found to be in order on scrutiny
by the Election Commission. He will then become the first person to be
elected unopposed to the new Assembly.
The BJP’s Jammu and Kashmir unit said the formation of the LUTF should
serve as a warning to all national parties that people of the region would
“Continuous discrimination against the Ladakh region by successive state
governments had generated resentment among the Ladakhis who are now clamouring
for development and parity with Jammu and Kashmir regions,” said the state
BJP general secretary, Nirmal Singh.