The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Kargil Buddhists in seat plea

New Delhi, May 22: Buddhists of Kargil are unhappy with the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and want better representation for the Zanskar sub-division in the new autonomous hill development council.

The Buddhists, who are mainly concentrated in Zanskar, have been allotted three seats in the council on the strength of their population. The Zanskar Buddhist Association and the Student Union of Ladakh have been lobbying with the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed government to allot 10 councillors for the region. A team led by Sonam Namgyal, the president of the Zanskar association, was in Delhi recently to plead their case.

The Buddhists have submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. They have also written to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi who has assured them she will consider their demands and talk to her party workers in Kashmir. The Congress is part of Mufti’s coalition government.

Namgyal met defence minister George Fernandes and minister of state for home I.D. Swamy. Union home secretary . Gopalaswami also met the team.

The Buddhist association has threatened to start protest demonstrations for increasing the number of seats, saying Zanskar has always been neglected.

Namgyal says population should not be the only criteria for allocating seats. “Consideration has to be given for backwardness, topography and other factors,” he said. Zanskar is virtually inaccessible, with many areas completely cut off for nearly seven months from the rest of the country.

The sub-division is also culturally and socially different from the majority Muslim population of the state. It is socially, economically, educationally and politically backward because of its isolation and lack of political representation.

The Buddhists hope the state administration and the Centre will heed their plea. “Kashmir in any case is a complex issue. The state government should take action now if they want to avoid alienating the Buddhists of Zanskar,” Namgyal said.

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