Ladakh’s journey from Wazarat to Union Territory
In its more than one thousand years of cultural and religious history, Ladakh has gone through many political upheavals, but on the socio-cultural front, the region could maintain the centuries-old essence of Mahayana Buddhist culture and civilization.
Well-documented religious, political and social history on the region points out that commencing from 900 A.D, the descendant of the mythical king of Tibet, Nyathi-tsanpo, ruled the region for about 1000 years and only in the year 1834, the forces of Maharaja Ghulab Singh lead by General Zorawar Singh subjugated the region. From that time onward, it became a colony of the successive Dogra Maharajas naming the region as Ladakh Wazarat, and the Dogra rulers divided the region into three tehsils namely Skardu, Kargil and Leh. Skardu was the summer capital while Leh the winter capital.
On August 15, 1947, India gained independence. With that, most of Ladakh became part of Jammu and Kashmir State. However, Skardu, historically part of Ladakh Wazarat, was annexed to Pakistan. In the new post-independent setup of Jammu and Kashmir State, the region was divided into two tehsils namely Leh and Kargil, and from the administrative point of view, they were put together under one district, with Leh as the district headquarters. Later, Kargil too was made a district, in the year 1975.
From the very 1st day, placement of Ladakh as a part of Jammu and Kashmir in the year 1947, the successive government at Jammu or Srinagar treated Ladakh indifferently. For the sake of their carrying routine administration and to pour funds liberally as well as to folly Central Government at New Delhi, they would project Ladakh as a regime as per of Kashmir and Jammu region. But for distribution of the hefty funds poured by New Delhi, they would project combine Leh and Ladakh as the district of Kashmir division. By doing so the successive administrators of the State fooled the people of Ladakh and chunk of funds to use in the valley only. This policy of the government was openly challenged in 1952, none other than by Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, the then undisputed leader of Ladakh and presently acknowledged as the architect of Modern Ladakh on the floor of State assembly in presence of She-re Kashmir Sheikh Abdullah, who in the year 1947, emerged as the saviour of Kashmiri people aftermath of the partition of India and Pakistan.
And, on the other hand, Ladakhis coming with the protest march against the step-motherly treatment had became common phenomenon in the region and on due to the first massive Buddhist agitation of the year 1967, to resolve the stalemate, a cabinet minister of then Kashmir government was deputed among the corrective step taken aftermath of the visit of the minister was creation of 32 Ladakhi/Bodhi language teachers, some numbers of Arabic teachers and induction of a Buddhist minister in the Kasmir government. Still, the grievances of the Buddhist could not resolve. This lead the Government of India and the State Government at Srinagar had to constitute a number of commissions for the redressed of the people grievances.
Among the commissions constituted were the Gajendragadkar Commission after the Buddhist agitation 1968, the Sikri Commissioner in 1975. Among the major demands of the Ladakhi was a degree college at Leh. Since this and other demands were not fulfilled, the Buddhists again came on the streets and demanded NEFA- type administration, which finally turned for the demand for UT status for Ladakh. With that momentum was gained for the grant of Schedule Tribe status to the region in the year 1972, the status which was finally confirmed to certain tribes of Ladakh in the year 1985. Still, the demand for the separation of Ladakh from Kashmir and the grant of Union Territory status to Ladakh stayed unabated. This resulted in the successive government at New Delhi to intervene in the Kashmir government affairs, which coincided with the long spell governor rule in the J&K State. The Government of India, without touching the sanctity of section 370, granted the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils (LAHDC) Leh and Kargil instead of UT status through a Presidential notification.
With the emergence of two Hill Councils, 30 persons in each of Leh and Kargil district got elected as Councillors with hefty monthly salary. On the other hand, discontentment started brewing among the youngsters, particularly among the unemployed youth. As the State government did not empower the Hill Councils regarding the creation of posts and promotions, particularly of the Divisional Cadre posts, the two LAHDCs could not do much for the unemployed educated youths.
On the other hand, in those days for the government of India, the main task was to cool down the turmoil in the Kashmir Valley on a priority basis. Towards this direction, the Government of India appointed three-men Interlocutor Group on J&K in 2010 and its report was submitted in 2012. In the report of the interlocutors, among other recommendations, it was said that Ladakh may be separated from Kashmir, meaning granting of Divisional status. Unfortunately, on this attention-grabbing recommendation, Ladakhi leaders belonging to various political parties kept silent, and in the year 2013, I attended the 14th conference of International Association for Ladakh Studies (IALS) held at Heidelberg University, Germany, with a paper on Divisional Status to Ladakh, highlighting the benefit from the Division Status particularly to the educated youth regarding employment. In this regard, I must say, to some extent, I succeeded in mobilizing people’s opinion on the issue. Interestingly, Greater Kashmir newspaper, published my write-up in the issue of July 5th, 2012.
While in the Kashmir valley, the separatists carried out violent activities, in Ladakh, the demand for UT status got momentum. In the General Elections of the year 2004, Thupstan Chewang contested under the banner of Ladakh Union Territory Front, a newly-formed political party. Interestingly, in the year 2014, he again contested the Lok Sabha election, but this time on the ticket of the Bhartiya Janata Party with the same demand of U T status. He remained member of Parliament for more than four years, and then got disillusioned with the functioning of the Bhartiya Janta Party and its government. He resigned from Parliament as well as from the party in protest that the Government led by the BJP was not serious enough on the Ladakhis’ demand. That put the BJP, the Centre and State leadership in an awkward position.
The issue of UT status to Ladakh was very much on the agenda of the BJP manifesto. In a significant political as well as administrative development, on February 8th, 2019, the Jammu and Kashmir Governor, Satya Pal Malik, granted the Divisional Status to the Ladakh region, separating it from the Kashmir Division. This historic decision of the governor turned out to be the first step toward implementation of the BJP agenda. In April, 2019, the general elections for the 18th Lok Sabha was held and in May 2019, the results were declared. The BJP returned to power with a thumping majority and gained a position to implement the party manifesto. Interestingly, Ladakhis did not have to wait for long. On August 5th, 2019, the Government of India revoked the special status/ autonomy of the J&K State granted under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, and declared Ladakh as a Union Territory, completely separating it from the administrative bullying of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir Government.
Now the time has come to rejoice but with more responsibility for the small population of Ladakh which is barely 2.5 lacs. No doubt, the Centre will liberally pour in funds to the region and it will do great progress outwardly, but Ladakh needs the development of its centuries-old cultural values for which it is well-known all over the world. And I feel that the top-most priority for the development of the region is teaching and promotion of the indigenous language and culture. The administrators of the Union Territory of Ladakh must make Ladakhi language a compulsory subject at least till the 5th standard in every school, following the education pattern of its neighbouring UT of Chandigarh, where Punjabi language is taught compulsorily in schools.