The government on Sunday announced it would consider all “issues related to language, demography, ethnicity, land and jobs” for which the Ladakhi people have demanded constitutional protection.
The People’s Movement for Constitutional Safeguard, an umbrella body of the Ladakhi leadership, agreed to call off its boycott of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) elections scheduled for October 16.
The contours of a broad understanding were reached at a meeting of three senior Ladakhi leaders with Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Saturday. The announcement was made by Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports Kiren Rijiju, Minister of State for Home Kishan Reddy, and the Ladakhi leaders on Sunday morning.
The Ladakhi leaders said they had agreed to call off the boycott in the light of the government’s commitment, but also because they did not want to vitiate the atmosphere and adversely affect “national security” at a time the situation on the China border is tense.
Rijiju said that Reddy would fly to Leh on Monday with the three delegation leaders – former Rajya Sabha MP Thiksay Rinpoche, former Ladakh MP Thupstan Chhewang, and former Minister Chhering Dorje – and communicate the agreement to members of the People’s Movement, with a commitment to begin a dialogue with a larger number of people in Leh, and representatives from Kargil.
Reading out the text of the understanding reached with Shah on Saturday, Rijiju said: “The delegation was assured that all issues related to language, demography, ethinicity, land and jobs will be considered positively/taken care of. A dialogue between a larger Ladakhi delegation comprising of representatives from Leh and Kargil districts under the aegis of ‘Peoples Movement for Constitutional Safeguard’ under VIth schedule and Union Home Ministry will commence after 15 days of the culmination of the LAHDC, Leh elections. Any decision so reached in this connection would be in consultation with the representatives from Leh and Kargil.”
The statement Rijiju read out also stated that the central government was open to the idea of safeguards under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution for Ladakh.
“Home Minister assured the delegation that Government of India is committed to empower the LAHDC of Leh and Kargil and would safeguard interests of the people of the UT of Ladakh. It would explore all avenues towards this objective. The Government of India is open to discuss protection available under the 6th Schedule of Constitution of India while looking into issues related to Ladakhi people. The delegation has agreed to withdraw its call for the boycott of the ensuing LAHDC Leh elections and promised its wholesome support to the smooth conduct of these elections,” the statement said.
Former MP Thupstan Chhewang said the people of Ladakh backed the changes to Articles 35A and 370 which had been a demand since 1947-48. “However, when the union territory of Ladakh was carved out, we had felt that there would be a legislature as well. There are two autonomous hill councils, and we feel that these two should be strengthened such as happened in some parts of Assam,” he said.
Chhewang said the meeting with the Home Minister was held in a cordial atmosphere, and the government had agreed to “consider the protections the Ladakhi people want”.
“As far as the election boycott, as you know, there is a tense situation with China at our borders. We did not want that our boycott should be read with the boycotts in Kashmir. It should not be that at this time, others misinterpret our views and adversely affect national security. That is why we have agreed to call off our boycott.”
The last date to file nominations for the October 16 LAHDC Leh elections is September 28. With the entire Ladakh political leadership backing the boycott call thus far, not a single nomination had been received. However, Rijiju said that in light of the talks over the weekend, the date for the nomination would be extended by three days.
Chhewang said that “unfortunately”, work that should have happened in the last year, had not taken place. “The LAHDC had several powers, that they could appoint officials; creation of posts has not happened either. We have faith that fears will be removed, but people should not feel that they are not included in the democratic process. There is disgruntlement in the young people. At the same time, the Ladakhi people have always stood with the Indian government and the Indian Army. Even today, when there is a difficult situation, local people are helping the Army with carrying ration in areas where it is not otherwise possible,” he said.
Chhewang said that Ladakh has a 97 per cent tribal population, and a constitutional safeguard exists under the Sixth Schedule. He said that they were not looking for a return of the domicile law, and it was clear that this would not happen. “What we are seeking are provisions that exist, and are in operation in places like Assam. Under the Sixth Schedule, a non-tribal cannot buy or sell land in a tribal area. This will give us more protection than under (Articles) 35A and 370,” Chhewang said.
Former Minister in the Jammu and Kashmir government, Chhering Dorje, who quit the BJP in May, said that the demand for protection comes from the fear of demographic change, and the loss of potential employment for locals.
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