Kavita Suri

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Buddhists join common front for UT status

Newly constituted Ladakh Union Territory Front gets shot in the arm

While electioneering is yet to pick up momentum in the border state of Jammu and Kashmir which would witness a four-phased elections starting from 16 September, a very interesting political development in far flung land-locked mountainous area of Ladakh seems not only having sprung up surprises for almost all the political parties but have also threatened their political existence in Buddhist-dominated region.

Shunning their political differences, almost all the political parties and other organizations in Ladakh which wield a tremendous influence on the Ladakhi people in that region, have joined hands together and formed a common Front by the name Ladakh Union Territory Front (LUTF) with the objective to strive for a union territory status for the region.

The Ladakh Union Territory Front (LUTF) came into existence on 25 August late last month when all the political parties of the Ladakh region, including National Conference, Congress and the BJP, dissolved their local units to form the Front to fight for Union Territory status for the region. A statement signed by the LBA president Tsering Samphal the day the Front was constituted read that “the heads of the local units have unanimously resolved to form the regional organisation and disband all political parties from functioning in Ladakh.” The statement was endorsed by the National Conference president for Leh Tsering Narbo lampa, BJP president Sonam Rinchan and Chairman Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council Thupstan Chewang and all councillors of LAHDC. The statement said that the regional party being floated shall work for the sole aim of achieving Union Territory status for Ladakh.

What has been threatening major political parties in the fact that most of their Ladakhi legislators and the leaders who wield some influence in the area or who were to be fielded as contesting candidates for the forthcoming polls in Ladakh region 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 in within few days of its formation.

Backed fully by Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA), a powerful organization of Ladakhi Buddhists which had agitated hard for getting Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) status and had ultimately earned it for Leh during Governor’s rule, (which was given concurrence by the state assembly in 1996), the Front has also the support of other  important Buddhists leaders like Tsering Samphel , LAHDC executive councilor Thupstan Chewang etc. 

Ladakhis have a very strong feeling that the region has suffered much on the hands of ruling National Conference and it is the high time to it accord a UT status. Besides, there is also a common feeling that LAHDC has not been able to do much on its own as the NC has kept its string in its own hands. Ladakh, they believe, should be given the Union Territory status to ensure its development and earn parity with Jammu and Kashmir in all spheres of life. Overall, the Ladakh region as a whole has been very hostile to Kashmir rule. A sense of deprivation and alienation has long plagued the relations between Kashmir and Ladakh, especially, the Buddhists. 

In 1998 parliamentary elections, NC candidate Syed Hussian had defeated the Congress rival Phunsog Namgyal by 30,000 votes. The NC repeated the performance in 1999 by elections.The ruling National Conference fears that the closing of ranks at the time of elections by  Bhuddists leaders definitely has the blessings of powers in Jammu and Delhi to corner the NC . For those seeking the 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, NC which is under tremendous pressure to repeat it’s performance of 1996.

Of the four seats assembly seats in 1996 polls, the National Conference bagged  three from Leh, Nobra and Kargil while the Zanskar seat went to Congress. 

Interestingly, the former minister P Namgyal of Congress and some of the party’s office bearers have joined LUTF besides a Rajya Sabha Member and two other National Conference leaders in Ladakh region . Rajya Sabha M P Koshak Thiksey and Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council members Rigzin Namgayal and Tizing Thiksey resigned from National Conference to join the Ladakh Front.

Not only this, but the National Conference minister  of State for Agriculture and Horticulture Tsetan Namgyal also resigned from the party a couple of days ago and joined the Ladakh Union Territory Front (LUTF). Mr Namgyal was elected from the Nubra Assembly constituency in Ladakh in the 1996 Assembly elections on the National Conference (NC) ticket by defeating his nearest Congress rival Satnzin Tundup by a margin of 83 votes.

Omar Abdullah and the Kargil MLA, Qmar Ali Akhoon, air dashed to Leh to persuade the party leaders against resigning from the party. Though the NC leaders have submitted resignation to the party high command, the same has not been accepted as yet .Hectic lobbying and persuasion is on to win back Namgyal.

Tsering Samphal, president of the LBA, which is instrumental in forming the LUTF campaigning for UT status to Ladakh, told The Statesman that Congress and other members of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) had also resigned en masse from their posts and joined the LUTF to unitedly fight for ensuring the Union Territory status to Ladakh.  “If we will not be given the UT status, this entire northern boundary would go,”warned Samphel adding there was lack of concern among all political outfits towards Ladakh and so the LBA spearheaded a move to unite various political activists and form a common front to concentrate on ensuring the Union Territory status to Ladakh which could only be achieved if everybody pitched in their efforts. 

In yet another interesting 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 candidature of the Ladakh Union Territory Front (LUTF).

The National Conference is also facing stiff opposition in Kargil district from local Muslims, who are supporting an independent candidate this time. Two organisations, the Imam Khomeini Trust and the Islamia School, have opposed its nominee, Qamar Ali Akhoon, though Ghulam Hassan Khan of the National Conference represents Kargil in Parliament. Considered as the National Conference bastions till now, NC seems to have a bleak future inthese two assembly constituencies in Kargil also which is a part of Ladakh. With the support of Muslims to LUTF, the speculations are ripe that Leh constituency will go for uncontested polling.

The newly constituted Front also received a shot in the arm when one of its contesting candidate Sonam Wanchok Narboo, popularly known as Pintoo Narboo virtually emerged as the first winner in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections after he remained the only candidate from the Nobra constituency after the expiry of the deadline for filing nominations late last evening.

With this uncontested win for the Ladakh Front nominee, the ruling National Conference got its first jolt in Ladakh where the Ladakh Union Territory Front (LUTF) constituted by various political parties by dissolving their difference and fighting for the cause of Union Territory status for the entire regions has already been giving sleepless nights to the ruling party.

Narboo was the lone candidate to enter the fray from Nobra constituency of Leh district of frontier region of Ladakh on the last day of nominations for the first phase of the poll. Nobra along with 25 other Assembly constituencies spread over six districts of the State is going to polls on 16 September 16. Narboo, however would be declared elected if his papers are found to be in order on scrutiny by the Election Commission which is to take place on 1 September. Thus, he would also become the first person to be elected unopposed to the new legislative assembly. 

Meanwhile, the Jammu and Kashmir unit of the BJP has said the formation of the Ladakh Union Territory Front should serve as a warning to all national political parties that people of the region would no longer tolerate discrimination.

“Continuous discrimination against the Ladakh region by successive state governments had generated resentment among the Ladakhis who were now clamouring for development and parity with Jammu and Kashmir regions,” said the state BJP general secretary Dr Nirmal Singh.

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