Contours of Ladakhi Separatism


On March 3, the Legislative Council adopted a resolution seeking divisional status for the Ladakh region. Moved by Norboo Gialchan, an MLC from Ladakh, and seconded by Aga Syed Ali Rizvi, another legislator from the area, the resolution was passed by 5 votes to 4.  Initially, the Government opposed it, saying that Ladakh was on the path of progress and being given ample attention, but once the resolution was passed, the Deputy Chairman of the Legislative Council, Ajatshatru Singh, declared that the motion stood adopted.  Ladakh, is thus poised to be granted divisional status which, in fact, means its separation from Kashmir.

Nominally, Ladakh is part of the Kashmir Division, but during PDP rule, the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (L A H D C) was empowered and the new “three divisions” terminology introduced. For all practical purposes, Ladakh – Leh in particular – already stand severed from Kashmir. The writ of Kashmir no longer runs there. All symbols of unity have been dispensed with. Councilors no longer fly the state flag, only the national tricolor.  No state day or function is celebrated, and even transfers and promotions are ordered at the Hill Council level. Officers act merely as rubber stamps, since the Chief Executive Councilor has the powers of a cabinet minister.

The most surprising side of the story is that such “historic” and significant decisions are taken in such a light-hearted way – 5 votes to 4, and sold. No one can, or should, oppose a move that is genuine and in the interest of the people. On the front of empowerment, the people of Ladakh are uniquely, even disproportionately, favoured. A population of mere 2 .8 lakh has two Hill  Development Councils. Each Council has one Chief Executive Councilor with cabinet rank, and four councilors with the rank of minister of state, or MoS. In addition, there is one cabinet minister, two MLAs, one member of the National Scheduled Tribe Commission with MoS status. So, one  Hill Development Council of Leh or Kargil, with a population of roughly1. 4 lakh has this number of Ministers plus the usual funds from the State Government, overseen and managed by the Ministry of Ladakh Affairs headed by a senior cabinet minister.  Add to this the unusually high number administrative units – 48 at last count – plus central assistance and other developmental schemes run by the Army and specially-directed NGOs. Empowerment and development of this scale could be the envy of people anywhere.

The people of Kashmir have been clamouring for empowerment for the past six decades, but nothing has been conceded, not even nominal autonomy or self rule. New Delhi obviously wants to disempower the people of Kashmir and the adjoining areas of Pir Panjal and the Chenab Valley. Do the latter two not deserve empowerment on the Ladakh pattern? It seems that the time has come for the people of Kashmir to shed the burden of Ladakh.

Two points are important: the more Ladakh is empowered, the greater the tax burden on the people of Kashmir will be because Ladakh is exempt from tax.  Second, the communal outlook of the region’s Buddhists against the people of the Valley. Gradually, the Buddhists seem to have taken the Kargilis on board too, the latter having expressed anti-Kashmir sentiments several times in the past. Though anti-Muslim, anti-Kashmir anger has been nurtured in Ladakh for long, bursting into the open in the 1989-92 anti Muslim boycott of local Muslims and Kashmiri traders, it was first (stoked when) a group of Kashmiri Pandits led by Master Dhuloo who converted to Buddhism. Earlier, the Buddhists never had any anti Muslim feelings. Instead,  they were anti-Dogra who had suppressed them during their hundred-year rule, and even before. Unfortunately this anti- Kashmiri, anti- Muslim sentiment is quite discernible in the so called logic of Narboo Gialchan who moved the March 3 resolution.

Sample this: “Gialchan said that people of Ladakh region were facing inconvenience due to being with the Kashmir division, because the regions are hundreds of kilometres apart.”

And this: “Our area has been neglected and underdeveloped. People face problems because of large distances between Kashmir and Ladakh.”

Both are lies. There is no merit in them given the huge funding and disproportionate political empowerment accorded to just 1.4 lakh people. If distance is the yardstick for separation, then Kashmiris are one hundred per cent justified because they are one thousand kilometres from New Delhi. Moreover, will the learned Narboo explain how the distance of 440 km from Srinagar can get reduced by the office of a divisional commissioner in Leh. Then why not also separate Kargil from Leh as the two are 234 km apart? And Kargil is nearer to Srinagar than Leh.

How can geographical realities vanish by such moves? The geographical remoteness of Ladakh is not the creation of the people of Kashmir. The Kashmiri leadership has always promoted the Buddhist religion and culture even when it professed secularism at home to suppress religion in the Valley. Regional separatism is New Delhi’s policy against the larger separatism of Kashmir.