Ladakh marches for statehood
Thousands of Buddhists and Muslims on Wednesday together staged protests in Ladakh to press for full statehood and special status for the region in a sign of growing unrest over the Centre’s alleged reluctance to give locals exclusive rights over land and shrinking jobs.
The protests were jointly organised by the Leh Apex Body, an amalgam of political and social organisations representing Buddhists, and the Kargil Democratic Alliance, representing mainly Muslims, and also highlighted rampant unemployment in the region.
The protesters marched through the streets of Leh and Kargil, the two main towns of Ladakh, raising slogans for statehood and recognition under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution to facilitate semi-autonomous rule. There was no report of any violence.
Bitter rivals Buddhists and Muslims have united to fight for their rights, three years after the Centre bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories, one of them Ladakh. Buddhists had cheered the move but Muslims were against it.
In addition to statehood and inclusion in the Sixth Schedule, Ladakhis are fighting for separate Parliament seats for Leh and Kargil districts, a Rajya Sabha berth and more government jobs.
“We are not begging but seeking our rights,” the protesters in Leh shouted as they marched in two long lines in the main town.
Many protesters in Leh carried the national flag. Large protests were held in Kargil too.
The protests have caused fresh worries for the government as people who had initially cheered the dilution of Article 370 and the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir are now fighting for rights similar to those guaranteed by the scrapped provisions.
The Leh Apex Body and the Kargil Democratic Alliance enjoy wide support, although Ladakh is represented in Parliament by a BJP member. The BJP was initially part of the Leh alliance but parted ways after allegations of double speak on the demands.
A Kargil Democratic Alliance spokesman said the march was the first of a series of street protests and agitations planned for the next two years to force the Centre to concede to their demands.
Kargil politician Sajjad Kargili said the Centre had claimed that the August 5, 2019, decisions to cancel the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcate it were aimed to empower Ladakhis but what had happened was to the contrary.
“We want empowerment of Ladakhis. Our youth have no jobs. You have PhD scholars without any job. Our schools have no teachers,” he told reporters.
“There is no accountability. In the name of development, they (government officials) are axing 40,000 trees. Bureaucrats don’t think they are accountable. We want Ladakhis to have a stake in running Ladakh. We want statehood and a legislature so that we get political representation.”
Chering Dorjey, who heads the Leh Apex Body, said the “burning issue” of unemployment was among the highlights of the protests.