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In Conversation With Reach Ladakh

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In conversation with Member of Parliament (MP), Thupstan Chewang
By Hajira Bano Balkhang, Thursday, July 31, 2014

Leh: The recent parliamentary elections had shocked many over the results, what with Bhartiya Janta Party gaining the upper hand in this Himalayan region. The now BJP MP, born on 1st September 1947, in the Lonpo family of Shey, was named by his parents with utmost love, Thupstan Chewang.† During his childhood, he shuttled between many schools across the country. After clearing PSA in 1978, he served in AIR Leh for 9 years, worked as a Director in Ladakh Ecological Development Group and was also the President of Ladakh Buddhist Association in 1988. He served as chairman of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), Leh, from 1995 to 2004. Tsewang won the 14th Lok Sabha Election and 16th Lok Sabha election in 2014 from Ladakh as BJP candidate. As diverse as his educational and career track has been, Tsewang, watched by many observant eye promises the development in region to be high on his agenda, without any regional bias and talks about some of the important issues that Ladakh has been grappling with for long now.†

Q. Tell us something about your childhood and educational background.

A. I was born in Shey and my father was a teacher. I completed my primary education till class 5th from my village and after that H.H Kushok Bakula Rinpochey my uncle, took me with himself to Kashmir for studies. There I used to put up at Rainawari in Pandit Nehruís house. Back then the students of officers working in the Secretariat also used to shift to Jammu, with the annual Durbar move so during winters we would to attend Model Academy School Jammu and during summers Tyndale Biscoe School in Srinagar. Bakula Rinpochey took around 16 students to Sarnath Varanasi at Mahabodhi Intermediate College from where I did my matriculation in 1962. In 1967, I completed my graduation from Delhi University in law.†

Q. Was the sudden jump into politics a conscious choice or did the profession find its way to you?

A. I started practising Law in 1972; I would say in a way I found myself involved in politics and it was not a deliberate choice. I personally never preferred politics, but as my uncle Kushok Bakula Rinpochey was associated with politics, I was inadvertently drawn into it given my proximity with him. At that time the condition of Ladakh was not really good, given the fact that there was no representation of Ladakh in the parliament. There was just one MLA and quite obviously given the poor representation politically, Ladakh was neglected in every way by the state government.

At the time that Mir Qasim visited Ladakh, I along with some other youth protested carrying black flags symbolic against his visit. We demanded separation of Ladakh from Kashmir and that was the beginning of my journey in politics and as a political activist in 1972. I was even imprisoned for around 20 days and was beaten up very badly. I also used to campaign for Bakula Rinpochey. After that I served as a Public Relation Officer (PRO) to Mr. Nurboo and working with such an honest, hard working and dedicated person was a journey of learning and exploring new depths of politics and administration.

Q. Your party promised Union Territory status to Ladakh during the recent election campaign and Nitin Gadkari announced from Leh Polo Ground that Leh will be a Union territory within six months. What is your take on that?

A. Earlier the demand for UT was laced with communal undertones, as it was raised by Ladakh Buddhist Association but it was evidently clear that UT status could not be gained without the support of the Muslims. At that time an agreement was reached that Ladakh would win self autonomy in 1989. In 2002 LUTF (Ladakh Union Territory Front) was formed and we continued to struggle for UT; I continued my struggle for the sake of Ladakh without any personal interest. We were ourselves taken by surprise by the statement of Nitin Gadkari as attaining UT status is not possible in an overnight turn of events, but is a gradual, slow process quite practically not possible in six months. We should welcome the fact that even before I joined the party, BJP supported the demand of UT for Ladakh. On the other hand Congress party also kept UT as the main agenda during election but that demand was rejected the next day by the Centre clearly stating that they would not support UT status for Ladakh.

We may or may not gain UT status in six months as for that abolishing Article 370 is a prerequisite. I reiterate, it is not an overnight process so instead of targeting Nitin Gadkari for his statement of creating a UT status within six months, people should recognise the positive stand that BJP government has taken on the UT status issue. It remains to be seen whether or not the Ďsix monthí deadline is feasible, but what Iím very sure of is that under the BJP government, Ladakh will eventually gain UT status.

Q. There seems to be a lot of confusion in the minds of people regarding Article 370. What are the merits and demerits of its abolition?

A.† India is a democratic republic and we can bring in amendments in the law if we want. Article 370 has not at all benefitted common people in any manner except for some bureaucrats and politically inclined people. If people of Kashmir understand how it has not been of any benefit to the common people, Iím sure they will also not support Article 370. People are convinced mistakenly that if Article 370 is removed, it will lead to loss of state subject but in reality these two are not at all linked. Ladakh is 95% tribal area and can be declared a scheduled area. Actually removal of Article 370 will help us more in protection of the land, as under scheduled tribe area certain rules will ensure that sale of land in Leh is not allowed to anyone, not even to people from Kashmir and Jammu regions. This will help secure the exclusivity of Ladakh and the land distribution power will remain with the state only.

Q. Majority of the population in Kargil is not in support of UT and in that situation achieving UT status becomes quite difficult for Leh. Please comment.

A. At the time when Leh started demanding UT in 1989, Kargil back then was not in support of UT. In 1995 Government of India established LAHDC in Leh district and Kargil again was against the demand of UT. But gradually the progress Leh made saw Kargil demand self autonomy and in 2003 Kargil was also declared self autonomous district. I think the same trend is visible this time around too.

Few people with vested interest are trying to create trouble and divide people along communal lines using the demand for UT as an excuse. People of Kargil are misled by the fact that UT will empower the Buddhist and the Muslims will be left vulnerable and marginalised. The 2001 census report showed that Ladakh has more Muslim population than Buddhist and if Ladakh wins UT then it will become the second Union Territory in India with Muslim majority after Lakshadweep. In that sense it is the Buddhist who would be a minority and not the Muslims. The fact the Muslims have a great impact on the Indian politics cannot be denied and hence we cannot ignore the Muslim population in Ladakh.

Q. People of Kargil demand Greater Ladakh whereas Leh demands UT. In your opinion, what are the advantages of UT over Greater Ladakh?

A. Greater Ladakh is just a tool used by some politicians and people with vested interests to counter the UT demand. Greater Ladakh includes the inclusion of Gilgit, Skardo and Baltistan with Ladakh; but that becomes a complex and an international issue. Will the Pakistan government ever grant Gilgit and Skardo to India? I am afraid I doubt that. The demand for UT is far more realistic and the present BJP government has already agreed to grant UT status to Leh. The UT status will open up new avenues for Ladakh in every way possible. Take the example of Lakshadweep, whose annual allocation is around 800 crores whereas at present Leh doesnít get more than Rs. 100 Crores annual allocation from Centre. Transforming into a union territory will not only raise the annual allocation to our district but will also open new employment opportunities to the educated youth.

Q. If the Kashmir issue is resolved, how is it going to affect Leh and Kargil?

A. We all know that the future of Kashmir is uncertain and whether we want it or not we are a part of J&K. Since the time of independence of India, Ladakh has been demanding separation from Kashmir since Ladakh is geographically, culturally, ethnically and linguistically different from Jammu and Kashmir. Our lifestyle is different and there is no commonality between Ladakhis and the people from Jammu and Kashmir; our needs and demands are also markedly different from theirs. Unless Ladakh is separated from Kashmir, I think Ladakh will remain segregated, neglected and will not progress. There is a common myth created by certain people that separation from Kashmir is because of communal tensions and chasms which is not at all true. All we need is equal attention from the government and equal development in all spheres and secure our future and it is not asking for too much.

Q. What do you think about future of Kargil in terms of development? What are your major objectives towards Kargil?

A. During my tenure as MP earlier I served both the regions equally. Being the MP of Ladakh region (Leh and Kargil), I assure the people that there will not be any discrimination with any of the districts. As I said earlier, I will work on whatever is mentioned in our manifesto, without any exceptions. I am also considering the opening of Skardo road, road to Kang Rinpochey, Zojila tunnel and early construction of an airport at Kargil. Kargil will equally be benefitted from the MP funds and will get equal share in the development process.

Q. Air connectivity, rising air fare and internet has become a major problem for the Ladakhis. Where do you see your role as an MP in resolving these issues?

A. Regarding these problems, I have already talked to the concerned minister two times. Earlier Hill council meeting was held and during the tenure of the former government many decisions were taken and even though the order was circulated, it was never implemented. I took out all the papers and visited the ministers and I really appreciate that many important points were raised earlier. I am taking these issues very seriously and am demanding more private airlines for Ladakh with low air fare. This is not the demand of BJP only but we all will strive together to implement these for increasing the benefits to the people of Ladakh.

Q. When will the only life line of Ladakh i.e. the Zojila Tunnel be complete ready for traffic?

A.† I am very glad to share with you that on first day of the office as Surface Transport Minister, Nitin Gadkari took up the issue of Zojila as first priority. The project reports have been completed and only need to be finalised. Within two to three months hopefully the work on the Zojila tunnel will begin. Nitin Gadkari has promised this and I have full faith in him. Once the work starts, there will not be any problem in terms of fund allocation.
Q. What are the main issues that you will be raising in the parliament on priority basis?

A. We have mentioned in our election manifesto about the main issues that I will raise in the parliament. These include the demand for UT; inclusion of Bhoti language in the 8th schedule of Indian constitution; construction of road to Kang Rinpochey; Skardo road; Zojila tunnel;† Chadar road Zanskar; Nimoo Padum-Darcha road; central university in Ladakh; professional courses through private sector; different scholarship schemes and employment opportunities for the youth and especially educated women.

Q. Thank you for the wonderful interview. Do you have any message for the readers?

A. Ladakh has always been famous for peace and communal harmony among different communities. I would appeal the people to maintain the unity for which Ladakh continues to be famous all over the globe. All of us must strive together to take Ladakh towards new heights in terms of progress and development.

Prasad DV Says-   Tuesday, August 12, 2014
 An excellent and enlightening interview - surprisingly from a politician. We, from Tamilnadu, deeply appreciate the concerns of the people of Ladakh and wish you well.