Unease in Jammu, Ladakh

Over the last year, Jammu and Ladakh have exhibited visible signs of disaffection with the fallout of the repeal of the ‘special status’ and the guarantees. A looming prospect of demographic change, loss of jobs and land rights have made people uneasy, writes Riyaz Wani

Members of the BJP women wing celebrating the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu in August 2019. Pic courtesy: PTI

On the second anniversary of the revocation of Article 370 on August 5, there was no celebration in Ladakh. Rather, political parties of the two districts – Leh and Kargil, which earlier held divergent views about the repeal of Article 370 came together to demand statehood.

The leaders from both districts addressed a joint press conference.  Earlier, the Apex Committee of Peoples Movement of Ladakh led by its chairperson Thupstan Chhewang and the Kargil Democratic Alliance Co-Chairman Asgar Ali Karbalai held a meeting to forge a political consensus.

“We need protection for land and jobs under Article 371 or under the sixth schedule of the Constitution,” Karbalai said. He demanded two parliamentary seats for the region. “We will negotiate with the Union Government around these very issues and demands.”

Article 371

Unlike in Leh, people in Kargil had opposed the revocation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019. Now while Kargil continues to seek restoration of Jammu and Kashmir autonomy and undoing of the former state’s bifurcation, it has joined forces with Leh to demand statehood and the special status under Article 371 for Ladakh.

The reason for this is that as a union territory, Ladakhis stare at a perpetual bureaucratic rule under a New Delhi appointed Lieutenant Governor. The Ladakh and Kargil Hill Development Councils which wielded significant power in the undivided semi-autonomous Jammu and Kashmir have become non-entities.

It took people in Leh two years to realize that the withdrawal of Article 370 is not the blessing that they had anticipated it to be. Similarly, the people in Kargil have grudgingly reconciled to the reality that the Article 370 move wasn’t going to be reversed, so they have settled for the demand for statehood along with Leh. This has created a difficult situation for the central government in Ladakh, a region whose aspirations it had apparently fulfilled by giving it union territory status. Now Ladakh has come up with the demand, New Delhi can’t possibly fulfil, and the people in the region feel that the status of a federally administered area that they had long aspired for had actually disempowered them.

2020 Boycott

Last year, in an unprecedented move, all political parties in Leh including the BJP had decided to boycott the then elections to Ladakh Hill Development Council (LAHDC) pending grant of the 6th Schedule of Constitution to the union territory. The safeguards under the constitutional provision were sought to protect the land, jobs and the identity of Ladakh.

Moments after Article 370 was read down, the Ladakh Buddhist Association came out in a huge procession in August 2019.

What is more, the parties even embarked on a political mobilization to demand their rights. When the then visiting senior Jammu and Kashmir BJP leader Ashok Kaul termed the demand for the 6th Schedule as “non-sense,” Ladakhis came out on the roads to protest.

Ladakh has two LAHDCs for its twin districts Leh and Kargil. The total population of Ladakh, according to the 2011 census is 2.74 lakh.  While Leh with a population of 1,33,487 is a Buddhist majority, Kargil with a population of 1,40,802 is a Muslim majority.

Disempowered

Leh district’s problem is two-fold: deprived of the constitutional protections under Article 370 and 35A, Leh feels suddenly vulnerable to an influx of people from the rest of the country and consequent dilution of its identity. In addition, as a union territory, Leh has even been deprived of local self-governance.

At stake is not only the identity of Leh as a Buddhist majority area but also the political empowerment of the place. In the new scheme of things, the democratically elected LAHDCs, both of Leh and Kargil, have become redundant. The region is now directly ruled by the centre through a Lieutenant Governor. So, elections to LAHDCs mean little for regional empowerment.

What does Jammu want?

In Jammu too, the situation of the last two years has had some sobering effect on the people. The celebration on August 5, was largely limited to the BJP and its supporters while the other parties watched from a distance.  While a significant number of people in Hindu dominated districts of Jammu support the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, some of its provisions have begun to bite.

It seems, however, improbable that the Jammu division and the Kashmir Valley would jointly demand a reversal of the Article 370 move.  The reasons are the deep mutually antagonistic political cultures and the largely contradictory interests of the three regions.

Leaders from Kargil and Leh had a joint press conference recently. They are demanding a full-fledged state

Different From Ladakh

It is true that over the last year, Jammu and Ladakh have exhibited visible signs of disaffection with the fallout of the repeal of Article 370.  Looming prospects of demographic change, loss of jobs and land rights have made people uneasy. But while the expression has been muted in Jammu, people have been vocal about their rights in Ladakh.

Last year when all parties in Ladakh closed ranks against the entry of outsiders and to this end threatened to boycott the then LAHDC elections, the centre promptly assured these protections to the region unlike its approach to Kashmir. But until these safeguards are actually granted, Ladakhis will have reason to feel apprehensive. At the same time, Muslims in Ladakh who are in a slim majority in the region, aren’t interested in these safeguards. Like their counterparts in Kashmir, they also want a reversal of the Article 370 move and rejoining of Ladakh with Jammu and Kashmir. Or else, they want statehood for the region.

Jammu Is The Key

In Jammu and Kashmir, the centre has shown it is sensitive to the public sentiment in the Hindu majority Jammu. This is why; it was only after Jammu protested against jobs in Jammu and Kashmir being made available to outsiders, that the centre reserved all of them for the locals.

Jammu thus holds the key to how New Delhi deals with Jammu and Kashmir. And so far the region has given little indication that it is unhappy with the existing state of affairs beyond a point. True, the region is also witnessing a degree of anxiety about the post-Article 370 state of affairs and for more or less similar reasons: loss of jobs, land and identity. People apprehend that their region would be the first destination for the eligible outsiders choosing to settle in Jammu and Kashmir.

But as things stand, these apprehensions are not deep enough to cause people to protest publicly. Besides, in the case of Jammu, the fears of a demographic change are being trumped by the expectation of development of the region and more importantly the anticipated shift of political power away from Kashmir Valley. In fact, under the current dispensation, this shift has already happened. And with delimitation that is expected to give more Assembly seats to Jammu, this power shift would also be inherited by a future democratic government. So, unlike Leh, Jammu is least likely to hit the road against the prospect of a demographic change and the potential loss of land to outsiders.

‘The Slave Feeling’

Where does this leave Kashmir Valley? Nowhere. Kashmir could have hoped for some restraint by the centre in the execution of its Jammu and Kashmir project only if some of its elements like say demographic change had been resolutely opposed in Jammu. There is, no doubt, an undercurrent of unease in Jammu over these issues but the people are willing to overlook it as the new dispensation gives the majority community in the region a political weight in the union territory that is disproportionately bigger than its demographic strength.

Jammu would certainly have fought any attempt at a demographic change and loss of land and jobs, had the region been carved into either a separate state or a union territory just like Ladakh. And it is probably for the same probable reason that New Delhi didn’t trifurcate Jammu and Kashmir despite the longstanding demand for statehood in Jammu.

This has created a structural reality that is inherently aligned against Kashmir. And the people in Kashmir are deeply conscious of this fact. The new situation has created a massive sense of disempowerment in Kashmir, something that Farooq Abdullah in an interview last year described as “a feeling of slavery”.

Going forward, it is difficult to predict how the situation would evolve over the remaining three years of the BJP government at the centre. But it would be safe to assume that Jammu would have little reason to complain if it gets more Assembly seats from the delimitation commission. Similarly, it is unlikely that the centre would do anything in Ladakh that could deepen alienation there.

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