To Safeguard Land, Job Rights, Ladakh Boycotts LAHDC Polls

Srinagar: The unusual political developments are taking place in the cold desert—Ladakh. As the Ladakh Area Hill Development Council (LAHDC) elections were approaching, all the political parties including the BJP, in the newly created Union territory (UT) gathered on Tuesday, not for the election campaign but to safeguard the land and job rights of its people.

The political parties met and decided to boycott the upcoming LAHDC elections till the region is granted a constitutional guarantee to protect the land and job rights of its people.

The hill council elections are scheduled to be held on October 16, the first such exercise in the region after Ladakh was carved out from Jammu and Kashmir on August 5 last year.

An apex body of veteran leader’s, people from ruling BJP, religious heads and student’s bodies was formed earlier to demand a sixth schedule to protect the regions’ jobs, rights, land, environment, and rich culture and to prevent mass migration.

The combined apex body for people movement, on Tuesday unanimously announced the poll Boycott and urged all to together fight for the rights of the region and refrain from the electoral process unless the demand for 6th schedule is met.

In a written statement in which leaders of 12 different political, religious and students bodies have unanimously called for Boycott of the forthcoming 6th LADHC polls scheduled to be held in October next month.

The poll Boycott joint statement was also signed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Leh district president Nawang Sawstan, whose party is currently ruling the region.

The apex body in a joint statement said: “The apex body of people’s movement for sixth schedule for Ladakh, unanimously resolved to boycott the ensuing 6th LAHDC Leh election till such time the Constitutional safeguard under 6th schedule on the line of Bodo territorial Council is not extended to Ladakh UT and its people.”

The development has created rift among BJP and can have ripple-effects across Jammu and Kashmir.

On Wednesday, Ashok Koul, BJP state general secretary, J&K reached Ladakh to “pacify” his party men.

“The meeting is going on, we can’t make any comments right now,” BJP district President, Nawang Samstan told Kashmir Observer on phone.

The development took place days after the BJP led Ladakh Hill Development Council Leh passed a resolution seeking safeguards under Article 371 of the Constitution of India or sixth schedule or domicile law to protect the tribal rights of the indigenous people of Ladakh on September 03.

Former BJP’s chief in Ladakh who, resigned from the party, citing loss of power of the Autonomous Hill Councils of Leh and Kargil districts after Ladakh was made into a Union Territory in the month of May told Kashmir Observer that the people of Ladakh feel betrayed and cheated in the name of giving UT.

“It was our long pending demand for UT status but with the legislature, however, we were not provided by the legislature after August 5,” Chering Dorjay told Kashmir Observer.

Dorjay said, it has been over a year of disappointment and betrayal. So political parties have decided to boycott the elections. He said the developmental activities in the region were dependent on the hill councils under LAHDC Act and they have been left powerless following the abrogation of Article 370.

“The UT administration in Ladakh was not allowing the functioning of LAHDC in the way they should be.So, all the developments came under halt and the people were angry,” Dorjay said.

After being 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 that enjoyed powers before the revocation of special statues.

Jigmet Paljor, Chief Coordinator Ladakh Students’ and Environmental Action Forum, who is also one of the members of the apex body told Kashmir Observer that it’s senseless to fight the elections for a body, which is powerless—while referring to LAHDC.

“We are demanding that until or unless the government doesn’t empower the hill council, there is no meaning of contesting the elections,” Paljor told Kashmir Observer.

Paljor said UT was a long pending demand but they expect domicile type law in Ladakh as well, that will protect their land and Job rights,

“We also want our culture, identity, environment and other things to be preserved and I hope the Govt will not take any step that will hurt us,” Paljor added.

The young students’ coordinator from Ladakh said the 6th schedule is the ultimate solution for the issue and they should be granted the same.

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.”

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

The Sixth Schedule provides for the administration of tribal areas in the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram after setting up autonomous district and regional councils.

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.

Over a year after the central Government read down article 370 of the Indian constitution that gave special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated it into two Union Territories (UT)—Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh.

But ever since the revocation of the special status, the Kargil district with Muslim majority showed a strong resentment against the parting away from Jammu and Kashmir. However, Ladakh and Leh district with Buddhist majority celebrated the UT status on roads. It was a long pending demand of the people of Leh that got fulfilled. But, as the new union territory administration took change, the hill council and the political leaders found themselves powerless and had a feeling of loss of ownership and special privileges, giving birth to new politics.

Ever since Ladakh became a new union territory of India, the protesting youth said they have been getting anxious about their job security.

Earlier, on July 24, Ladakh had observed a complete shutdown against “discrimination in jobs and recruitment”. The call for strike was given by Ladakh Students Educational and Environmental Action Forum and supported by other religious and political organisations.

Most of the people feared over the “demographic change” in Ladakh and demanded domicile-type law in the cold desert as well.

The political developments are gaining pace and at the same time, the anger among people is growing against “New Delhi’s betrayal”.

According to reports, many political parties were protesting in front of The Grand Dragon, in Leh where Ashok Koul is staying.

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Auqib Javeed

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

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