A former Jammu and Kashmir cabinet minister Qamar Ali Akhoon has watched with dismay the transformation of Ladakh over the last year. As one of the influential regional leaders, Akhoon thinks revocation of Article 370 and its conversion into a Union Territory (UT) is in no way in the interest of people of Ladakh. In an interview, Akhoon tells Umar Mukhtar, that a majority of people in Kargil and Leh have seen through the new arrangement and want status quo ante for Jammu and Kashmir
KASHMIR LIFE (KL): It has been a year since the abrogation of Article 370 and Ladakh as a separate entity was born. How changed is Ladakh now?
QAMAR ALI AKHOON (QAA): Ladakh is totally changed. We have lost what we already had. In fact, we have lost everything. Earlier Ladakh division had four MLAs in the assembly of the state, two each from Kargil and Leh districts. Then, we had two MLCs (members to state’s legislative council), and cabinet ministers. In short, we have been bereft of all public representation. Also, the powers of the Hill Councils have been minimized. We used to have representation in administrative examinations like the Kashmir Administrative Services (KAS) and Kashmir Police Service (KPS), now that is all over. People cannot get their problems redressed anywhere.
One example makes it clear: in Ladakh, i.e. in Leh, the BJP MP said that the (Lieutenant) Governor was dictating to us and even the Hill Development Council Leh – a BJP elected council had to protest outside the governor’s office to get the issues redressed.
KL: You are associated with a mainstream political party that is a signatory to the Gupkar Declaration. Do you also believe Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh should be one entity?
QAA: Yes, we have been always in favour of a united state, especially the Kargil region. You know we observed August 5 as a Black Day and all religious and social parties endorsed our move. We want Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh to be one. We even have also passed a resolution to that effect.
With the scrapping of Article 370, we lost our dignity also. These are not just apprehensions only but the reality is that we have lost everything. It was the process of dispossession.
KL: Are regional parties still relevant in Ladakh or have they lost the political turf to the national parties like BJP and Congress?
QAA: Everyone knows it well; BJP always has one modus operandi; they do not let anyone go democratic way. They want to run the government by undemocratic means. But as far as regional parties are concerned, our presence is as it used to be before August 5, 2019. National Conference (NC) has a robust cadre in Kargil. Yes, in Leh it is Congress and BJP that have a presence.
KL: As a senior National Conference leader what are you up to right now as far as your political activities are concerned?
QAA: We have resumed our political activities. There are meetings with party workers and with our block presidents. Right now, our political energies are spent raising our demand for a unified state of Jammu and Kashmir. We want to see our previous Jammu and Kashmir, one and unified again. We are in constant touch with our party high command. We have done video conferences with Omar Abdullah where he was told about the ground realities of Kargil.
Those who at one time of point have supported the UT status, now say that Ladakh is a “bogey without an engine.” And these are those people who have been parliament members.
KL: Ladakh Union Territory is without representation of its own. Does it make it difficult for leaders to address the issues of masses?
QAA: Let me tell you, the Development Councils were made powerless, public representation is nowhere. These were the institutions where problems of people used to get redressed. So, it shows how desperate and betrayed people of Ladakh would be feeling. Those who at one time of point have supported the UT status, now say that Ladakh is a “bogey without an engine.” And these are those people who have been parliament members.
KL: What would be the impact of Rohtang Tunnel and Zojila Tunnel on Ladakh. How would they change Ladakh?
QAA: These tunnels are jugular veins to Ladakh region and will give us 24×7 access to the rest of the country. It would definitely have a dynamic impact on the whole of Ladakh region in every aspect. When I was the minister in Congress-NC coalition government, the foundation stone was laid for the tunnels. But now due to unknown reasons, the work has been repeatedly delayed.
KL: You have witnessed the transgression in Ladakh by the Chinese army at different places. As a leader from the same area, what are your views, how better the situation was dealt with?
QAA: No, it was never dealt in a fairway. No statements were based on facts. What is happening on the ground and what government, home ministry are saying in their statements are totally contradictory. Even the former army generals give contradictory statements. China has come inside and grabbed our territory, and it is a fact. Almost at four places, this conflict is going on and they have grabbed our lands.
KL: How vulnerable is Ladakh in future to such misadventures?
QAA: There is no doubt in it that the conflict is taking an ugly turn and there has been no improvement so far. If by talks or diplomacy this issue is not resolved as soon as possible, there is a fair possibility that Ladakh would see something unexpected. The village heads who reside in these areas are witness to what has happened and what is happening.
KL: How is the relationship between Leh and Kargil? Are they treated equally in the new dispensation since October 2019?
QAA: As far as people are concerned, they enjoy cordial relations. But Kargil has always been at zero when it comes to equality. It has always been left out when it comes to sharing in development expenditure. But as far as the whole of Ladakh region is concerned, people are not happy with the present situation.
KL: Are there apprehensions about the loss of jobs and demographic changes following revocation of Article 370?
QAA: Article 370 and Article 35A, acted as a bulwark whether it was land protection or job reservations or anything else. With the scrapping of Article 370, we lost our dignity also. These are not just apprehensions only but the reality is that we have lost everything. It was the process of dispossession. Youth have lost job opportunities massively. Even our student community, they have lost the reservations in the professional colleges.