Integrating Ladakh Region: Challenges and Aspirations

It remains to be seen how the new government addresses the issues of the much neglected Ladakh region

Lobzang Chosdup
Srinagar, Publish Date: Apr 21 2016 10:40PM | Updated Date: Apr 21 2016 10:40PM
Integrating Ladakh Region: Challenges and AspirationsFile Photo

After about two month long negotiation for the formation of government, Jammu and Kashmir has finally got its new government. This time it is unique and significant in the sense that first time in the political history of Jammu and Kashmir, a woman (Mehbooba Mufti) has become the Chief Minister of the state. Assuming highest power and responsibility by her symbolises women empowerment to some extent in a male dominated political discourse of J&K. Her rise to power is viewed by many with optimism. However, one cannot ignore that her rise is also a result of dynastic politics in the state after the demise of her father, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed on 7th January 2016.

Her party (PDP) and their coalition partner, BJP, have entered into an alliance on the plain pretext of integrating the diverse regions and sub-regions of state under the mantra of development on equal footings and inclusive growth. The real test of alliance and her leadership begins in real sense after the sad demise of her father. One can question, what does she signify towards the regional balance of the three regions, Jammu, Ladakh, and Kashmir and how would she achieve this balance? Will she be able to provide regional balance to hitherto neglected regions of Ladakh and Jammu, or will she further assert the continued dominance of Kashmir in the state politics? 
Mehbooba has a lot of challenges before her. One of the principal challenges is her party’s survival in the state. After the green (PDP) meets the saffron (BJP), the credibility of both parties is under a big question mark in the respective regions of Jammu and Kashmiri Valley. Despite big ideological differences, a consensus has reached between the two on a ‘Common Agenda of Alliance’. And on its basis, the governance of the state is expected to be carried on. However, from a Ladakhi perspective, the Agenda of Alliance is more Delhi-Srinagar and Kashmir-Jammu centric, while the regions of Ladakh have not been given any importance in this framework. Even the leadership of Ladakh has no say in either the so called “Agenda of Alliance” or their voices matter in any way even if they desire so.  Having the mandate this time from both regions, PDP from Valley and BJP from Jammu, it indicates that Jammu and Srinagar are politically and at government level equally balanced, however power is more tilted towards the latter.  Between these two power centres of Jammu city and Srinagar Valley, the semantics of J&K politics is increasingly creating a binary day by day. In the cacophony, what is or seems to be forgotten, by the respective alliance partners, is the legitimate grievances and sometimes even the existence of the subaltern region, Ladakh. Whether it is the issue of a Central University, AIIMS issue and smart city identification etc, no one seems to care about Ladakh region.  
Notwithstanding, the region of Ladakh despite its geo-strategic importance, having geographical proximity with both China and Pakistan, successive central governments in the past have been neglecting it. This could be due to the deliberate attempts by the central government or the reason could be lack of leadership within Ladakh. 
Within the state, Ladakh is one of the most neglected regions. It has no connectivity, no higher educational institutes, no higher medical colleges except for district hospitals and no daily Air India flights services from the state capitals, Srinagar and Jammu. Ladakh is the state’s third important constituent region, however it has been looked only from the prism of its twin districts, Leh and Kargil, as the least populated and deserted region by both state and central governments. Looking at Ladakh from the narrowed outlook and reducing it from region to districts speak about discrimination and exercise of dominance by Jammu and Srinagar which is not only undermining the distinct identity, tradition, rich history of Ladakh and geo-strategic important region of India but also undermining the states’ plurality and diversity. PDP under Mufti has found deep respect among the Ladakhis, since the former, as a regional party, empowered LAHDC (an autonomous body of Ladakh) by devolving power to it in 2002. PDP supporters in Leh are more in numbers in comparison to its arch rival National Conference. 
Before and after general election, Ladakh region had great expectation from the central government under the BJP as BJP supports the fight of Ladakh for Union Territory status and had promised the same before and during the election campaigns in 2014. On the contrary, PDP rejects the Union Territory status for Ladakh. 
Now with the emergence of new political realities after the state assembly elections, the prospect of Union Territory realisation has again been undermined. In this scenario, under the leadership of Mehbooba Mufti, Ladakh should hope for regional balance with the other two principal regions of state. Negligence of Ladakh by successive state governments is the results of Ladakh’s backwardness. As a result, a sense of alienation prevails among the people. There are many underdeveloped areas that need to be addressed by the new state government. 
However, Ladakh is popular among foreign tourists’ as a travel destination at global level. Thanks to the tourism industry, most of the youth here are now engaged in this industry and their livelihood is dependent on it. Many people are also benefited greatly by it. Imagine if the tourism industry would not have flourished and opened in Ladakh, then it would have been a challenge to the state. Despite all this, even after having less number of population region wise, there is a serious problem of employment crisis among the youth of Ladakh. New avenues for employment generation must be opened in Ladakh so that the youth, after graduating and completing their studies, can be absorbed and contribute towards the economy of the region. 
Due to lack of higher educational institutes within the region, students from Ladakh have to migrate outside and as a result economy of Ladakh is being drained. To stop this, there’s a need to setup a state university within Ladakh like the University of Kashmir and the University of Jammu. Degree Colleges like the one Leh and Kargil should be promoted to Post-Graduate colleges. In regard to connectivity, six months long disconnect of Ladakh from outside world has been a concern for each and every person of Ladakh. New government should give priority to the connectivity of Ladakh so that people of Ladakh can easily move within and outside the state throughout the year.
Symbolically, Ladakh is under-represented in the present nomenclature of the state which is ‘Jammu and Kashmir’ despite it is being recognised in the state flag. Promises were made by the BJP in the state assembly election manifesto to change the present nomenclature of the state as Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Present government under the leadership of Mehbooba Mufti should give a positive response for realisation of this demand of Ladakh. Successive Chief Executive Councilors of Leh have complained about the shortage of funds. Hopefully these problems would also be addressed by the new government. 
Lastly, the divisional status for Ladakh is more feasible than the status for a Union Territory and Ladakh would be more integrated within the state if this aspiration is materialised in the new government. Achieving all these would not fully rebalance the present imbalance of Ladakh within the state, but hopefully it would bring Ladakh a step forward towards its betterment and development. 
(Lobzang Chosdup is from Leh-Ladakh, currently pursuing PhD from JNU. Feedback at lobzangchosdupjnu@gmail.com)