By Murtaza Fazily, Stawa 11-18
Over the last few months, the demand to grant Divisional Status for Ladakh has gained momentum in Leh and Kargil. In fact, the CECs of the two Hill Councils met J&K Governor, Satya Pal Malik and submitted a memorandum reiterating the demand. In December, both Hill Councils passed a resolution to create a “better administrative set-up” for the region.
A delegation from Leh led by CEC of LAHDC, Leh Jamyang T Namgyalmet Governor Satya Pal Malik, Advisors Vijay Kumar and Kewal Sharma and Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam to demand the granting of Divisional Status for Ladakh. Similarly, a delegation led by CEC of LAHDC, Kargil, Feroz Khan met the Governor and Advisors to demand Divisional Status for Ladakh.
CEC of LAHDC, Kargil Feroz Khan said “While we oppose the trifurcation of the state, we have been demanding Divisional Status for Ladakh. It is good that Leh is also supporting this demand. The UT demand is a political issue, while the Divisional Status is an administrative one. The two districts must work together for Divisional Status. We can resolve our differences over issues such as UT later.”
In November, LBA organised a rally to demand UT status for Ladakh. At the rally, President of LBA, Tsewang Thinles said, “The UT demand has been pending for more than 60 years. The leaders in Kashmir cannot decide the fate of Ladakhis. We have been forcefully kept under Kashmiri rule. We want to stay with the central government.”
In response to the growing demand to grant Divisional Status to Ladakh, Governor, Satya Pal Malik said that the administrative would decide if this was in the interest of the people of Ladakh. “It has been a long-standing demand from the people of Ladakh and they will evaluate its merits and demerits before taking a decision,” he added.
Governor’s rule has been a boon for Ladakh as the Hill Councils were granted during such a period in 1995. More recently, Governor Satya Pal Malik announced cluster university for Ladakh. Ladakhi leaders are hopeful that Divisional Status will also be granted in this period.
State Secretary of BJP Yuva Morcha, Mohamad Hasan Pasha said, “The leadershipof the two districts have to work together for Divisional Status and very stakeholder must join to ensure that Ladakh gets its rightful share in development.”
The recent demand for Divisional Status has pushed the UT demand into the background. However, Jamyang T Namgyal said that there will be no delusion of the UT demand. “This will strengthen our quest for UT. Right now, all our proposals have to be sent through Kashmir and are identified as Kashmiri. We have a distinct identity and Divisional Status will strengthen our demand for UT.”
The UT demand goes back to 1947. After the Instrument of Accession was signed, a delegation led by Kalon Tsewang Rigzin met Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru to submit a memorandum in 1949. Jamyang T. Namgyal explained, “We want to free ourselves from Kashmir and work directly with Government of India. It will take a few years to achieve UT status as the government cannot grant it so easily in the context of Article 370, Article 35-A and terrorism in Kashmir.”
In 1964, Ven. Kushok Bakula led an agitation demanding North East Frontier Agency-type administration for Ladakh. Another agitation took place in 1974 under the leadership of Lama Lobzang, Thupstan Chhewang and Tsering Samphel. The demand reached a fever pitch in 1989 just as militancy was taking root in Kashmir.
Former president of District Congress Committee, Tsering Samphel said that there is no substitute for UT. “Divisional Status cannot substitute UT. I understand that Divisional Status will bring some relief to the people of Ladakh but we must not forget the larger goal of UT.”
The demand for Divisional Status gained momentum after the resignation of MP from Ladakh, Thupstan Chhewang. He accused the state and central government of not being serious about addressing the issues faced by the people of Ladakh. In the wake of this, the two Hill Councils raised the demand of Divisional Status for Ladakh. Divisional Status will be granted by J&K Government, while UT can only be fulfilled by Government of India. It is assumed that administrative autonomy will benefit the people of Ladakh.
If Divisional Status is granted, separate directorates will be established in Ladakh along with a separate police zone. All promotions will be done in Ladakh instead of having to go to Srinagar for such issues. However, the Divisional Status will not serve any purpose if it fails to recruit Ladakhis for the newly created posts. Tsering Samphel said, “Unemployment is one of the biggest challenges today. I hope they recruit Ladakhis for the new posts that will be created in the new Division.”
President of PDP, Kargil, Kacho Gulzar Hussain argued that Division Status is necessary for Ladakh due to its unique geography and social structure. “Ladakh will benefit immensely.” The establishment of a Divisional Commissioner is expected to strengthen the regional aspirations of Ladakh. Former Indian Ambassador, P. Stobdan has written in the media to explain, “Currently, only a DC-level officer exists in Leh and Kargil and they report to the Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir. The Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir supervises 12 districts including Leh and Kargil. Having a separate Divisional Commissionerate in Ladakh will go a long way in meeting the regional aspirations of the people.”
In December, Governor Satya Pal Malik hinted that he was considering Divisional Status for Ladakh. This was greeted with varied reactions. BJP welcomed the news, while PDP President, Mehbooba Mufti declared, “If the governor is giving Divisional Status to Ladakh then he should also extend autonomy to the Pir Panjal and Chenab regions. If not, we will be forced to agitate peacefully against this move.”
Senior Congress leader, Dr Karan Singh responded by saying that Mehbooba Mufti was trying to divide the Jammu region along communal lines. He released a statement to say, “The attempt to link this [Ladakh] matter with some Pahari areas in Jammu is an unfortunate effort to divide Jammu on communal lines. This is wrong and is in no way connected with the Ladakhi demand.”
When asked about the PDP’s stand, Kacho Guzar Hussain explained that Mehbooba Mufti’s statement was misinterpreted by the media. “She said that Ladakh deserves Division Status while also highlighting the need for a similar framework for Chenab valley. It was the PDP that gave special powers to the Hill Council. How can she oppose any development for Ladakh?”
Congress favoured the creation of a separate division for Ladakh but raised doubts on the timing of the move. Jamyang T Namgyal responded by saying party workers in Ladakh must brief their leaders on the issues faced by Ladakh. “The Government of India and the Governor seems to have been discouraged by these reactions. Why are these parties interfering when someone is doing something good for Ladakh?”
There is a lack of clarity on how Divisional Status will impact the Hill Council. Tsering Samphel said that there might be protocol issues and warned that the Divisional Commissioner may overshadow the Hill Council. Jamyang T Namgyal countered this by saying that the Hill Councils are already dealing the Divisional Commissioner without any problems. “Moreover, the Hill Council is governed by LAHDC (Amendment) Bill, 2018, which does not mention a role for a Divisional Commissioner. They will function in their own domains.”
Another big challenge is the location of the headquarters once Divisional Status is granted to Ladakh. This question gains importance in the light of the protests in Kargil after the office of the cluster university was located in Leh. President of the National Conference, Kargil, Hajji Hanifa Jan explained, “We support Divisional Status for Ladakh but oppose the UT issue as we do not want to divide the state. People in Leh know that UT cannot be achieved and use it as a political gimmick during elections.”
This was echoed by Vice Chairman of Religious Affairs at Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust, Kargil, Sheikh Bashir Ahmad Shakir. He said, “In the present political context, we cannot undermine the integrity of the state by demanding UT. However, we must fight for Divisional Status as this is our right and easily achievable.” Others like Mohamad Hasan Pasha did not oppose or support UT demand as it was not achievable under Article 370.
Thankfully, the demand for Divisional Status has brought Leh and Kargil on the same platform. Kacho Feroz Khan said, “When a decision is taken to grant Divisional Status for Ladakh, we need to give some thought to the location of the divisional headquarters to ensure that Leh and Kagil are not pitted against each other.”
Recently, BJP’s National General Secretary, Ram Madhav tweeted that several pending bills for J&K will be cleared once President’s rule is imposed in the state. He wrote, “Understand d order is awaiting proclamation of President’s Rule which is before d Parliament. As soon as that happens several pending bills in J&K will be cleared, I was told.”
Jamyang T Namgyal welcomed this and said that BJB supports the people of Ladakh. “I am very optimistic that Divisional Status will be granted to Ladakh soon.” However, Chairman of J&K Legislative Council, Hajji Anayat Ali was less enthusiastic. “Once President’s rule is implemented I fear that Divisional Status issue will go to the centre and get delayed further. Whatever happens, we must maintain political unity in Ladakh.”