Seeking Sixth Schedule, Craving Kashmir: Shifting Sands in Cold Desert?

NC leaders from Kargil in this file photo

Even as Dragon’s reported retreat has prevented Ladakh from becoming a potential war-turf, the public resentment and political rage have created a war cry around Sixth Schedule and restoration of scrapped status in the region now.

FINALLY breaking an ‘uneasy’ silence, National Conference’s Kargil leaders recently got together in a video interaction with their Kashmir-based party leadership for some tough talking.

In unison, they challenged the last summer’s sudden status quo — that saw Ladakh being sliced off from the former state of Jammu and Kashmir and relegated into a union territory.

While demanding restoration of their geographical, political and historical links with the Muslim majority Kashmir, the Kargil leaders told the party leadership that Ladakh’s NC unit still operates under the Kashmir provincial set up despite Kargil being part of Ladakh.

“The party should pursue the case in the Supreme Court with all its legal arguments and facts to get the Article 370 and statehood restored to J&K as it existed on August 4 last year,” Qamar Ali Akhoon, former minister from Kargil, said during the virtual interaction.

The NC leaders said that they were not happy with the current arrangement and that they had “serious reservations about their status, culture and opportunities in the UT of Ladakh”.

Domicile Demand

The meeting came in the backdrop of a “strong resentment and concern” among Ladakhis, after New Delhi “failed to protect” their land and jobs.

The new domicile law implemented in J&K gives non-locals the legal basis to own property in the region after meeting certain set criteria.

While the law has triggered a fresh wave of concern from residents of Jammu as well as Kashmir, who see it as a step towards “demographic change”, the residents of Ladakh are alleging that the BJP-led New Delhi central government ditched the locals in the name of UT status.

‘An Empty Shell’

Asgar Ali Karbalai, former legislator from Kargil, told Kashmir Observer that BJP not only betrayed the common people of Ladakh, but also their own voters and supporters.

“The day Ladakh became Union Territory [on 31 October 2019], people were celebrating the new status thinking they’ll get a special treatment, and that it will be in their favour,” Karbalai said.

“But in the month of May, people realised that this is an empty shell and the same people including the chairman of LAHDC knocked the door of Lieutenant Governor with the concerns on 4 May.”

Karbalai and other Kargil leaders during a presser

Today, Karbalai continued, Ladakh is in complete chaos and confusion, “as there’s no law and rules like we have in J&K UT”.

The former lawmaker raised concern over the “demographic change” in Ladakh and demanded domicile-type law in the cold desert as well.

“Though I’m not in favour of domicile law, as we’ve rejected abrogation of Article 370 and the bifurcation of the former state into two UTs, but still in J&K, there’re some rules that can bar outsiders to get the land and job rights,” Karbalai said. “But in Ladakh there’s no state subject or any kind of domicile law.”

People from outside will prefer to live and do jobs in Ladakh rather than in J&K because of the ongoing conflict, the former legislator opined.

“The demographic change will happen fast here and people have realised it already,” Karbalai continued. “Kargil was against this from the day one, and now even people from Leh are acknowledging that we were on the right path.”

After given UT status last year, Ladakh has been directly ruled by New Delhi. It has two Autonomous Hill Councils, one for Leh and another for Kargil.

The Chief Executive Councillor of the Council holds the status of cabinet minister, while the executive councillor works as minister of state.

‘BJP ditched Ladakh’

Rigzin Spalbar, former chairman of the Ladakh Hill Development Council (LAHDC), told Kashmir Observer that nothing is safe in Ladakh until New Delhi won’t implement Sixth Schedule.

“The Sixth Schedule grants considerable autonomy to tribal communities,” the Buddhist leader said. “The District Council and the Regional Council gets the real power to make laws.”

These bodies can sanction funds from the Consolidated Fund of India to meet the costs of schemes for development, health care, education, roads and regulatory powers in the area.

Rigzin Spalbar

“It [Sixth Schedule] provides the power of the enactment of autonomous district councils (ADCs) to protect the rights of tribal populations,” Spalbar said. “ADCs are those bodies representing the district. These bodies have been given autonomy within the state assembly.”

However, on December 3, 2019, New Delhi made it clear that Ladakh may not fall under Sixth Schedule of Constitution.

It informed the Lok Sabha that the existing autonomous councils set up under the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council Act, 1997, were already the most empowered in the country with powers “more or less in line with the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution”.

Since the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir no longer exists following the revocation of special status last August, the region’s legislature can make laws pertaining to matters contained in the state list or the concurrent list, except the subjects mentioned in entries one and two – Public Order and Police.

“UT was a long pending demand and when it was declared suddenly people were excited and there was celebration all around but little did they know what would happen,” Spalbar said.

“And the main demand was UT with the legislature but that didn’t happen,” he added. “Also, Ladakh was strong case for the Sixth Schedule because 90 percent population is tribal. It was recommended by many including the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.”

BJP ditched people of Ladakh and its representatives, Spalbar said. “They didn’t even talk about the Sixth Schedule and keep lying the LAHDC is powerful like before.”

Notably, the autonomous LAHDC lost all the powers after Article 370 was abrogated and the erstwhile state was divided into two UTs.

‘Misleading Campaign’

But Gyal P. Wangyal, Chief Executive Councillor (CEC) LAHDC, Leh, told Kashmir Observer that the opposition parties are misleading people of Ladakh.

“Our party (BJP) is working for the laws in Ladakh and I’m hopeful that we will soon have some law on pattern of domicile law,” Wangyal said.

Gyal P. Wangyal

“Government has to start from Ground Zero in Ladakh while in J&K everything was framed.”

With domicile law, he said, everything will be protected.

“The government has given UT status, and I’m sure they might’ve thought about something else too. But that will take some time,” the BJP leader said.

‘Youth Very Angry’

However, Sajjad Hussain Kargali, an independent candidate and runner-up in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Ladakh, told Kashmir Observer that a strong resentment is growing against the BJP’s “betrayal” with Ladakh.

“People are questioning those who danced on the streets of Leh and celebrated the UT status last year,” Kargali said.

“The party (BJP) is unable to face the people because they failed to deliver on their promise. Even the BJP president resigned in protest.”

Sajjad Hussain Kargali

On May 3, 2020, the BJP suffered a major setback in Ladakh when it’s newly appointed UT president and former minister Chering Dorjay resigned from his political position as well as primary membership of the party.

“Youth are very angry,” Kargali continued. “ There're serious apprehensions about the job and land rights.”

The current treatment, he said, is a systematic demographic change “and I must tell you Kargil is being systematically eliminated in Ladakh,” he said. “We’re being punished for opposing UT status.”

‘Serious Apprehensions’

Hassan Hundurmani, a social activist from Ladakh, told Kashmir Observer that demographic change is likely to happen faster in Ladakh, than in Kashmir.

“Nobody would like to live in Kashmir,” Hundurmani said. “They would prefer to live in Ladakh and thus we’ve serious apprehensions of job and land rights.”

The social activist said youth of both the districts—Leh and Kargil—are not happy with the UT status.

“People from Leh are talking about the Sixth Schedule, while those from Kargil are for restoration of Article 370 status,” he said.

“In both ways, people aren’t happy.”

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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