‘Without Statehood Ladakhis Are Neither Safe Nor Secure’

Senior Congress leader and former minister, Asgar Ali Karblaie, who is co-chairman of a joint Leh-Kargil alliance tell Hilal Shah that the most strategic region having borders with Pakistan and China has been given to a bunch of bureaucrats

KASHMIR LIFE (KL): With the governance institutions multiplied, Kargil must be better now?

ASGAR ALI KARBLAIE (AAK): Before independence, Kargil was one of the three tehsils of Ladakh province with Skardu and Leh. Post-independence, it remained tehsil of Ladakh, was elevated a subdivision till 1979 and then became a district. In 2004, Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) was set up and in 2018, Ladakh was declared as division. Finally, in 2019 Ladakh was declared as Union Territory.

Till 2019, we had a representation and that just vanished.

There are two LAHDC’s in Ladakh, which had enough power. These powers are also restricted now. Funds that were non-lapsable are now lapsing. Now, all powers are in the hands of bureaucrats; people remain unheard. There is no source left now through which we can lend voice to our feelings.

On the ground, there is no development barring false commitments. Last year, the LAHDC budget was Rs 200 crore, of which around Rs 50 crore lapsed. The same budget is in the current year and the expenditure may touch 50 per cent by the year-end. We do get funds, but unfortunately, it is not being spent.

There is a three-tier system of development – District Development Council (DDC), Block Development Council (BDC) and Panchayat with UT administration at the top. But the process of development as was promised in 2019, is not happening. The people of Ladakh are anguished; they are fed up and wish to govern Ladakh themselves.

The divisional officers have their offices in Leh and nothing in Kargil. People are unhappy. We have a short working season, maybe six months. But e-tendering takes a long time, unlike the past.

KL: But you had meetings with the central leadership?

AAK: I met the Home minister twice. He assured us about the development of the region but nothing is happening.

KL: And now you have joined hands with Leh? What is the basis of this new alliance?

AAK: The basis of this exercise is that the people of Leh and Kargil are unhappy with the present setup. We all are concerned because neither our present nor our future is secure in the current setup. So, we jointly decided that so long Ladakh is not granted full-fledged statehood, till then Ladakhis are neither safe nor secure; unless Ladakh makes its own laws and rules for its people, nothing much change.

So, our first demand is that Ladakh is granted full-fledged statehood. Ladakh is a strategically and geopolitically important region that cannot be left at the mercy of bureaucrats. We have a 1000 km LoC with Pakistan, another 1000 km on LAC with China. Ladakhis are upset that a region of such huge geostrategic importance has been handed over to a few bureaucrats. We want to be custodians of our own land; we want our jobs to be reserved for us.

Besides, we would not accept a domicile law like the one that was introduced in Jammu and Kashmir. The Apex Body of Leh and the Kargil Democratic Alliance have categorically said that we would not accept any such law. Ladakh has a unique and distinct culture and way of life. This is a tribal area and we cannot accept such things in a tribal area. We want a Ladakh Residence Certificate on the pattern of Permanent Residence Certificate (PRC), which was there in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Besides, we have 10-12000 job vacancies in Ladakh, which must be filled by only Ladakhis. The fact is that the process for recruitment has been in cold storage for the last two years. We want the process to be resumed.

Whenever parliamentary elections take place; we see communal tensions between Leh and Kargil and some elements try to add fuel to the fire at that time. We want separate seats for both, Leh and Kargil in the Lok Sabha and one seat for Rajya Sabha to the Ladakh region.

These are four points on the agenda of the alliance. Out of them, progress has been made on one that is the recent notification that has been issued by MoS Home for the introduction of Ladakh Residence Certificate on the pattern of PRC of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir State.

However, there is no progress on any other point, so far. The pending vacancies are yet to be filled. There are attempts to outsource them or fill them with contractual, which is totally unacceptable to us. They had also assured us that a joint committee would be formed to talk to Home Minister in Delhi regarding the three remaining agenda points but that has also not happened.

KL: Earlier, you were seeking UT. When you got it, you want a state. You are shifting the goalposts?

AAK: The goalposts are not shifting. Earlier, people used to think that if we are declared UT, our demands and aspirations would be fulfilled. But the bitter experiences that we have had in the last two years, people of Ladakh came to realize that neither land, culture, jobs nor their future is safe. That is why there was a talk of the sixth schedule and UT with the legislature. So, we have had two-three meetings with the Apex Body of Leh in which we told them that the demand of UT with legislature cannot fulfil our demands and aspirations and cannot take care of our concerns because we have seen the results that UT with the legislature has yielded in Delhi. Delhi government despite having a two-thirds majority is dependent on their Lt Governor. Ladakh can become worse than Delhi if there are no safeguards for our culture, jobs, land and the fragile ecosystem. So, Ladakh’s entire leadership united to press for full-fledged statehood with constitutional safeguards and to address our concerns and that is our ultimate goal.

KL: But you do not have everybody with you on this?

AAK: Except BJP everyone is on board. The Apex body and the KDA have members from political parties, religious organizations, socio-religious bodies, NGO’s, Bar associations, transport associations. We have all the stakeholders on board except BJP. Perhaps, even our local BJP leadership might also have this realization and they would also join the Apex body and KDA.

KL: But BJP represents Ladakh?

AAK: The 2019 scenario does not exist in 2021. The BJP has almost been marginalized in Ladakh. The kind of image and footing the CEC of LAHDC or our MP from Ladakh had in 2019; is not the same anymore. Entire Leh is standing behind the Apex Body’s joint agenda today.

That is why the Home Ministry had to negotiate when we gave a call for Ladakh Bandh. If BJP had, had any footing, they would have introduced domicile law here like they did in Jammu and Kashmir. Amit Shah himself dialled the chairman of the Apex Body and MoS Home, Nityanand called the Apex Body and the KDA within 24 hours to tell us that domicile law won’t be imposed in Ladakh and Residence Certificates would be issued instead. Now, the central BJP leadership has also come to realize that the people of Ladakh are going against us.

KL: Kashmir and Ladakh had historic relations but for more than 170 years, they have been part of a state. With this bifurcation, how do you see the change at the societal level?

AAK: If you look at things from the societal point of view, the cultural, religious, geographical and historical relations remain unchanged. Merely drawing an administrative line cannot change these relations.

KL: Even Congress seems to be less visible on this?

AAK: Our members from Congress, Leh as well as Kargil are all on board. Congress’ district president for Leh is a member of the Apex Body and is always present in our meetings. Similarly, the Kargil district president of Congress is a KDA member. Congresspeople from both districts are on board.

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