LADAKH: Politics and Governance

Autonomous Powers in Ladakh need not mean Disaggregation of the State


In a meeting of senior state representatives and bureaucrats chaired by the Chief Minister, the government has decided to recommend to the cabinet that it create a separate police range for Ladakh headed by a DIG. (See Greater Kashmir, July 17, 2013). It was also decided to empower the Hill Councils of Leh and Kargil to transfer officers other than district officers. Turned down at this same meeting was the suggestion, made by both the Leh and Kargil Councils, to give divisional status to Ladakh and to grant the status of ministers to the CEOs and Executive Councilors of the two Hill Councils.
The headlined report described the decisions as ones in which Ladakh “inches closer to Union Territory (UT) status”. I tend to disagree with this conclusion. This, however, is not to be blind to the fact that there are those who would like to see the State broken up. But let me get to that a little later. For now let me explain why, in my opinion, the recent decision is not a stimulus for Union Territory status and why we should be careful not to characterize it as such in the interest of intra-State unity.
A common feature of complex territorial and legal conundrums, such as that of the State of J&K in its entirety, is that it is difficult to separate governance issues from political dispute. The former relates to our civic lives, the latter has to do with our historical personality. To unpack governance from politics is not only difficult, but if not cautiously done can lead to unnecessary intra-State rivalry and deeper (unfortunately) distrust. And this happens especially if the analyses are overly instant. More nuanced analyses can reveal opportunities for better understanding.
Firstly: after initially shrill calls for disaggregation of the State by sections of political opinion in Ladakh and Jammu, the voices for it have significantly diminished in both provinces. In part this is for legal reasons. To dismantle the State would be tantamount to encroaching on the autonomy of the State at a very foundational level. Simply put, it would mean the abrogation of Article 370 which neither Jammu nor Ladakh wants. This provision which, foreshadowed by the State Subject status under the Dogra rule and redefined under the Delhi Agreement in 1952, allows for a truly federal relationship between New Delhi and J&K State, which is absent in Delhi’s relationship with all other States.
Another reason why the voices of disaggregation have softened is the possible socio-economic impact of the dilution of local control over its economy and society. Ladakhis have sensed this: hence a slow down, for example, after initially welcoming the institution of the much heralded “Sindhu Darshan Festival” under the NDA regime over a decade ago. Once this “Darshan” became operational the citizens of Leh became aware that they could be quickly inundated by pilgrims overpoweringly outnumbering the local population of a little over a lac. If the pilgrim numbers for Shri Amarnath and the Mata Vaishno Devi yatras are anything to go by, it would reduce the local population to a miniscule for the pilgrim season, with significant implications on local life and livelihood in an environment that is fragile in nature and culture. Given this realization, the “Sindhu Darshan Festival” has since been renamed the “Sengge Kha Bab” Festival, that being the Ladakhi name for the Indus.
The second reason why the recent government decision is not a step towards disaggregation has to do with the logistical implications of UT status. Administratively it would be untenable for the District of Leh alone to acquire UT status. So if Ladakh as a whole were to become a Union Territory, it would require the support of the citizens of Kargil. The latter are opposed to such a move. This is not for communal reasons but because Kargil has always felt it has received step-child treatment by the citizens – Buddhist or Muslim – of Leh District. To become a Union Territory and, in the Kargil perception, be at the ‘mercy of Leh’ would be an avoidable option. Apart from this, Ladakh as a whole is marginally Muslim majority according to the last census report, which would put a different dynamic in play for the Buddhists of Kargil and, for that matter, Leh. In addition, it would entail further feelings of isolation and minority politics amongst ‘nested’ communities of Muslims in Leh and Buddhists in Kargil.
A third reason indicating that the decision need not be a step toward UT status is that the meeting has rejected two suggestions from among those asked for by the Leh and Kargil Councils. One of these is the status of a division within the State. Another is the rejection of granting the status of ministers to the CEC and the Executive Council. The first could be seen as a prelude to separation, although personally I feel it would speak more to governance issues, especially if divisional status is granted with conditions that preclude Ladakh’s separation from the State. The second suggestion would mean setting up a parallel hierarchy within the State, which is a prelude to separation.
As I said at the start there are forces, both within and without the State, that are happy to lend a shoulder to the break-up of the State. Some do so by description and some by overt prescription. Those of us opposed to the dismantling of what B.R. Singh dismissively refers to as an “agglomerate” and “mottled” entity (See “Economics and Politics in J&K”, Greater Kashmir, July 14, 2012) need to respond to such characterizations. For example: if the J&K State is “mottled” what, pray, ought we make of hugely heterogeneous India? Interpreters of world history, ranging from Fernand Braudel to Perry Anderson, have pointed out that “India is an amalgam of areas, and also of disparate experiences, which never quite succeed in forming a single whole” and that “The idea of India was essentially a European, not a local invention…” Yet India, it must be accepted, is very real today. 
The J&K State is also, albeit only in part, a creation of the British Empire pulled together between 1834 and 1846. That makes it just over a hundred years older than India or Pakistan as a modern State. Just because it is not a power (“emerging” or otherwise) does not obviate that fact.
The Hill Council “model” is an assertion of a will for local governance and should not perfunctorily be equated with a will to disintegrate the State. To be sure there is opinion that proffers the argument to disaggregate the State as a serious solution to the J&K dispute. But that is a different polemic that I will address in another column. For now, suffice it to say that we should not base our analyses of developments in governance models, wittingly or unwittingly, on suspicion. In that context the two Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils of Leh and Kargil are stories of the relatively successful devolution of political power in the J&K State. It should not, through faulty understanding of motivation, create unnecessary distrust amongst the State’s constituent parts.

Lastupdate on : Fri, 19 Jul 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 19 Jul 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 20 Jul 2013 00:00:00 IST

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