Article 370: Why Leh’s Sixth Schedule Demand Is Pushing Kargil To An Extreme In The New Desert Power Play?

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SRINAGAR: Leh leaders have rolled back their boycott decision and would participate the upcoming LAHDC Leh polls next month. Kargil, however, has continued maintaining its distance from the Sixth Schedule debate and sis seeking restoration of status quo ante in Jammu and Kashmir, reports appearing in the media said.

Senior leaders former MP Thupstan Chhewang, former Rajya Sabha MP Thiksay Rinpoche, former Minister Nawang Rigzin Jora and former Minister Chhering Dorjay Lakrook addressing a press conference on Monday.

Cutting across party lines, Leh has joined together in seeking protection to their unique identity, culture and demography. To press their demands, came together on a platform, The People’s Movement that announced boycotting the upcoming elections of the dis-empowered LAHDC in Leh. The elections are scheduled for October 16.

Meeting Amit Shah

On the weekend, however, a delegation of the Forum met the Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi. On basis of the assurances, they withdrew the boycott call.

Given the urgency of the issue, Home Minister – who has not been meeting any public representative since August 2, met the delegation led by former Rajya Sabha Member Skyabje Thiksey Khampo Rinpoche, the head of the Thiksay monastery in Ladakh, for 30 minutes on Saturday. The delegation sought the protection under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India. The Schedule protects tribal populations and provides autonomy to the communities through the creation of autonomous development councils, which can frame laws on land, public health, agriculture and many other things. Already, there are 10 such autonomous councils in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.

The Ministry tweeted, “Union Home Minister @AmitShah met with former MP Thupstan Chhewang, former MP Thiksay Rinpoche, former Minister Chering Dorjay Lakrook & other public representatives of Union Territory of Ladakh in New Delhi. MoS Home @kishanreddybjp and MoS (IC) @KirenRijiju were also present.”

“Chering Dorjay Lakrook, former BJP president in Ladakh who met Mr. Shah, told The Hindu that they were demanding restoration of protection as granted under Article 35A of the Constitution that was revoked last year,” The Hindu reported. He was quoted saying: “We do not want a domicile policy like that in J&K; anyone who has spent 15 years in J&K can be a domicile now. This is why we want inclusion in Sixth Schedule to protect our identity, culture and land.”

Assurances Given

The delegation was told that the MHA will take a call on the issue after the LAHDC elections in Leh are over.

Shah, The Tribune reported said that the Centre would explore all avenues towards this objective, including those under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. They later issued a joint statement.

“A dialogue between a larger Ladakhi delegation comprising representatives of Leh and Kargil districts under the aegis of Peoples Movement for Constitutional Safeguard Under Sixth Schedule for Ladakh and Union Home Ministry would commence after 15 days of the culmination of the LAHDC, Leh elections,” the statement read.

“Any decision so reached in this connection would be in consultation with the representatives from Leh and Kargil,” it added. The statement said the Centre was open to discuss the protection of Ladakh’s language, demography, ethnicity, land and jobs under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and other provisions while looking into issues related to Ladakhi people. “The delegation has agreed to withdraw its call for the boycott of the coming LAHDC, Leh elections and promised its wholesome support for the smooth conduct of these elections,” it said.

Under the understanding, Union MoS for Home G Kishan Reddy would fly to the region on Monday (today) and meet a cross-section of people to allay their apprehensions.

Not Kashmir

Former MP, Thusptan Chhewang told reporters that the people in the region are apprehensive after the abrogation of Article 370. “After creation of the UT, people thought that the autonomous bodies will be empowered. Unfortunately, the kind of work should have been done, did not happen. Covid pandemic also played a role,” Chhewang was quoted saying. “Many people thought that the powers of the autonomous bodies have been curtailed. There have been strong feelings of unhappiness. We were worried that such unhappiness among the youths should not go in the wrong way.”

Leaders from Leh seeking the implementation of Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India in Ladakh for protecting their identity and demography met the Home Minister Amit Shah on September 26, 2020. On his assurance, they withdrew the decision of boycotting the October 16, LAHDC polls.

Chhewang told reporters that said people of Ladakh have been doing their best for the security of the nation since 1947 and even helping the Indian Army now when China is trying to making incursion (Atikraman) in Ladakh. He made it clear that “their agitation should not be linked with issues of the Kashmir valley and they were also not in favour of a domicile law similar to UT of Jammu and Kashmir”.

Disinterested Kargil

Kargil leaders, however, have continued maintaining a distance from Leh demands. Top leaders of Kargil, including two influential seminaries of the Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust (IKMT) and the Islamia School Kargil (ISK), told The Hindu on Sunday that they have nothing to do with Sixth Schedule and instead want status quo ante in Jammu and Kashmir. The leaders told the newspaper that a Kashmiri Shia leader had also intervened and sought to create Kargil’s consensus with Leh, a project that failed.

“We never demanded Sixth Schedule status ever since the UT was carved [on August 5, 2019]. It’s a demand raised by leaders in Leh district. The ISK has always opposed the creation of Ladakh as a UT. We put forth our demands already after the August 5 decision, which are yet to be fulfilled. Kargil is ignored. We want the pre-August 5 status to safeguard our identity and job prospectus of youth,” the newspaper quoted Sheikh Nazeer Muhamadi, president ISK saying.

Artists singing during Kargil Ladakh tourism festival 2018. KL Image by Shuaib Wani

“We have decided neither to oppose nor welcome the promise made by the MHA on the Sixth Schedule. It’s a complex issue and requires a wide-ranging deliberation. Any opposition or acceptance will be based on rationale and rules. We have already suffered due to the UT status which was not Kargil’s demand,” Sheikh Muhammad Sadiq Rajyee, who heads the IKMT told The Hindu.

Kargil leaders said they stand by the 14-point charter they submitted to then-Governor Satya Pal Malik and for them, it “is the way forward”.

LAHDC-Kargil’s Chief Executive Councilor Feroz Ahmed Khan told the newspaper: “It (Sixth Schedule) is mainly the demand of Leh. Our council elections are not due yet. We had already expressed our apprehensions over land, jobs and demography but unfortunately, Leh preferred to celebrate the UT status last year.”

Kashmir Leader Intervenes

Interestingly, the Kargil leaders revealed to the newspaper that a “Kashmir valley’s prominent Shia leader” flew to Kargil from Delhi on September 22 “to build a consensus”.

“The Shia leader, who belonged to a Valley-based political party and was also detained in the clampdown of the police on August 5 last year, met the religious leaders including the top leadership of the two religious seminaries in Kargil,” the newspaper reported. A senior Kargil leader was quoted saying: “The Shia leader made an attempt to have consensus on the Sixth Schedule but the Kargil leaders made it clear to him that a lot depends on the 14-point list already put forth before the Centre.” The particular leader’s intervention led to the decision that Kargil will oppose the Sixth Schedule demand.

It’s because of the efforts of the Shia leader that many religious seminaries decided against opposing the Sixth Schedule demand on its face.

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