Ladakh assured of special status: Parties agree to contest polls

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The impasse over upcoming Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) Leh elections has ended after a meeting between Home Minister Amit Shah and political leaders from Leh.

The development was announced in a statement by the Home Ministry: “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.”

On Saturday morning, former Rajya Sabha member Skyabje Thiksey Khanpo Rinpochey, former

Lok Sabha member Thupstan Chhewang and former minister in erstwhile J&K State Chhering Dorjey Lakrook were called by Home Ministry to New Delhi in a chartered flight.

The amalgam “Peoples Movement for Constitutional Safeguard under VIth Schedule” headed by the trio, consisting all political and religious parties from Leh including BJP and Congress, had announced boycott of the polls scheduled for October 16.

The amalgam is seeking safeguard to distinct Ladakhi identity and a place in sixth schedule of the Constitution. It had also demanded empowerment of LAHDC on lines of Bodoland Territorial Council.

The provisions in sixth schedule allow tribal-designated areas to restrict ownership of land and government jobs to local residents only.

The Home Ministry in its statement has stated: “The delegation was assured that all issues related to language, demography, ethnicity, land and jobs will be considered positively and taken care of.”

It added: “A dialogue between a larger Ladakhi delegation comprising of representatives from Leh and Kargil districts under the aegis “Peoples Movement for Constitutional Safeguard under VIth schedule” and Union Home Ministry would commence after 15 days of the culmination of LAHDC, Leh elections. Any decision so reached in this connection would be consultation with the representatives from Leh and Kargil.”

“…Government of India is committed to empower the LAHDC of Leh and Kargil and would safeguard the interests of the people of UT of Ladakh. It would explore all avenues towards this objective. GOI is open to discuss protection available under the sixth schedule of Constitution of India while looking into issues related to Ladakhi people,” it added.

Former minister in erstwhile J&K State, Chhering Dorjey Lakrook who was part of the delegation told the Greater Kashmir: “We are not fully satisfied, though it is a good beginning and meeting has taken place in a friendly atmosphere. Both sides sat together and sorted out things. We will take it forward with the Home Minister who looked positive.”

However, a source told the Greater Kashmir that the government is mulling to accommodate apprehensions of Ladakhi people regarding land and jobs, and grant constitutional safeguard on the lines of the sixth schedule.

“It is still vague considering there wasn’t any representative from Kargil. This should be acceptable to the people of Kargil also. It cannot be decided unilaterally,” said a source.

Another source said a meeting between representatives of Leh and Kargil would be held soon to reach a consensus, following which discussions would be held with the Home Ministry.

Besides, sources added that the decision of local BJP in Leh to take part in LAHDC elections, following pressure from high command, also played a key part in poll boycott withdrawal.

Addressing a press conference, along with the Ladakhi leaders, Rijiju said the MoS for Home, Reddy would visit Ladakh on Monday and meet cross sections of people in the Union Territory to allay their apprehensions. Rijiju said the provision of the sixth schedule and other provisions of the constitution will be looked into to allay the apprehensions of the people of Ladakh and protect their rights

Chhewang said after the abrogation of Article 370, which gave special status to J&K, people of Ladakh have some apprehensions about their future, land, culture and jobs since there is no longer any legislative body there. “After creation of the UT, people thought that the autonomous bodies will be empowered. Unfortunately, the kind of work should have been done, did not happen. COVID pandemic also played a role,” he said. “Many people thought that powers of the autonomous bodies have been curtailed. There have been strong feelings of unhappiness. We were worried that such unhappiness among the youths should not go in wrong way.”

The Peoples Movement for Constitutional Safeguard under sixth schedule for Ladakh, he said, has been seeking the empowerment of the autonomous bodies similar to the Bodo Territorial Council in Assam under the 6th schedule of the constitution. He praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh for taking “proactive” steps during the current standoff with China, and said no government in the past has taken such decisions. “When the Indian Army was facing difficulties to send ration to some of the heights it has captured, the people of Ladakh voluntarily delivered the ration to these posts,” he said. “Because of the sacrifice the people of Ladakh have been making since 1947, there has been expectation that the central government would sympathetically resolve the problems of Ladakh.” With PTI