Modi govt’s attempts to break unity between Kargil and Leh trigger shutdown in Ladakh
The Narendra Modi government’s alleged attempts to break the fledgling unity between Muslim-majority Kargil and Buddhist-dominated Leh triggered a shutdown in the Union Territory of Ladakh on Saturday, forcing the Centre to invite the top leadership of the region for talks.
A key Kargil leader claimed that Union home minister Amit Shah had to step in to pacify the Ladakh leadership.
Ladakh has emerged as a major worry for the Centre after the rival Buddhist and Muslim leaderships joined hands early this month to demand full statehood for Ladakh with special status akin to that the undivided and erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir used to enjoy before August 2019.
Ladakh’s Buddhists, most of whom live in Leh, had cheered the August 5, 2019, dilution of Article 370 and the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories. Their age-old demand for a Union Territory was fulfilled but they immediately raised a fresh call for “Ladakh for Ladakhis”, seeking exclusive rights for Ladakh residents over the region’s land and jobs.
Ladakh’s Muslims, who live mostly in Kargil and are wary of domination by the more influential Buddhists, had bitterly opposed the August 5, 2019, decisions and had been fighting for the restoration of statehood and Article 370 provisions.
The two districts have floated the Leh Apex Body and the Kargil Democratic Alliance to fight for their rights.
The fresh crisis erupted on Friday when Union minister of state for home Nityanand Rai arrived in Leh for an outreach and invited for separate rounds of talks the political, student, social and religious bodies that make up the two alliances but did not call the apex leadership as a whole.
Barring the BJP, no other party or prominent group met the minister on Friday. The Leh Apex Body and the Kargil Democratic Alliance also asked all organisations to boycott the minister and observe a Ladakh bandh on Saturday.
Appearing taken aback by the decision, Rai invited both groups for talks on Friday night but the call for a shutdown was not withdrawn. The Leh Apex Body and the Kargil Democratic Alliance, however, jointly met Rai on Saturday.
The bandh paralysed life in Leh and Kargil.
Asgar Karbalai, co-chairman of the Kargil alliance, said it was the decision to boycott the minister and call for a shutdown that had forced the Centre to invite them for talks.
“As a result of the shutdown call, Union home minister Amit Shahji personally called up Mr Thupstan Chewang, the chairman of the apex body (in Leh) and told him that the government had no intention to ignore it or the Kargil Democratic Alliance. He said there was some confusion and that he would tell the MoS (home) to contact Chewang,” Karbalai said.
Chewang, a former BJP MP who left the party last year to fight for special status for Ladakh, on Saturday told reporters that they “suddenly” learnt on Friday that the junior home minister was in Leh and had invited the various groups individually while ignoring the apex leadership.
“This made us suspicious of the intention of the government. We had made it clear that whatever solution was to come should come through talks with the Leh Apex Body and the Kargil Democratic Alliance. Perhaps (by ignoring the two apex outfits and inviting the constituents separately), there was an attempt to break our unity, create a wedge between Leh and Kargil or between the various groups (in Leh and Kargil),” Chewang said.
After meeting minister Rai on Saturday, the Ladakh leadership tried to play down the objections they had voiced earlier and pointed to “vested interests”.
“Some vested interests are creating a divide. We could see at the meeting today that the (home) ministry had no role (in not inviting the leadership earlier). The meeting was cordial and we raised all our demands,” co-chairman of the Kargil Democratic Alliance and former Kargil MLA Qamar Ali Akhoon said.
He said Rai had given them firm assurance that a committee would be set up soon to look into their demands.
The joint leadership is fighting for full statehood for Ladakh, exclusive rights over land and jobs for Ladakhis, filing up of thousands of vacancies in government departments and granting two Lok Sabha and two Rajya Sabha seats to the region.
Ladakh, which was home to just 2 per cent of the population of undivided Jammu and Kashmir, now has one MP in the Lok Sabha and none in the Rajya Sabha.