Multiple Political Parties in Ladakh occupying the same Political space: Need of a New Political Awa

By Lobzang Chosdup Leh, Mar 20, 2014
Leh :

This article tries to shed light on the need for a local political party in Ladakh. It tries to respond to the most important question: whether the present political parties in Ladakh have been serving the interests of the region or whether these political parties are dividing and polarizing the region.

For a healthy democracy, political parties have been playing a significant role across the globe. At the national level, the two major political organizations, Indian National Congress and Muslim League emerged during the independence movement in India. After partition, India witnessed single-party dominance: the Indian National Congress was the only party in Indian politics which shaped the internal policy and external affairs as well. With the increase in political consciousness and mobilization of regional aspirations, different regional political parties have emerged and played a significant role in the state and national politics resulting into an end of single-party dominance. These regional parties in today’s Indian politics are not only a state level political player but also are key allies in the respective regime in the coalition era of Indian politics. The emergence of regional political parties has resulted in not only the democratization and federalization of Indian politics but also the preservation and assertions of the regional identities of the different units of the Indian Nation -State.

The politics of Jammu and Kashmir has also witnessed the one-party dominance since its accession to India. The National Conference, NC, formerly known as Muslim Conference, was formed in 1932 by Sheikh Abdullah. This one-party dominance of the National Conference has been challenged by the emergence of the different political parties like People Democratic Party and National Panther Party in Jammu. Unlike in the case of national politics, the emergence of multiple political parties in Jammu & Kashmir has not democratized and federalized the political power. The obvious reason is the maximum number of constituencies, whether it is state Assembly or Parliament, concentrated in Srinagar.  It is also because these parties are Kashmir centric and have different outlook so far as Ladakh is concerned.

After India’s independence, Ladakh became a part of the Jammu and Kashmir state and Nation-State of India.  Ladakh as a part of the Jammu and Kashmir has been ruled administratively and politically from the Srinagar and Jammu and by political parties like NC, PDP and Congress. Though the political power has remained concentrated towards Srinagar and Jammu, Ladakh region has been left with only four seats in the state Assembly and one seat in the Parliament. Ladakh’s distinct geography, ethnicity, religion, rich culture, language and history are under-represented in the state and national politics. As the largest constituent regions and situated at India’s strategic location, the people of Ladakh are not considered and given importance in both state and national public institutions, political processes, and democratic institutions.

Due to the lack of its own regional political party, Ladakh region witnessed multiple political parties from national and state with the sole objective of vote bank politics with a view to increasing their numbers in the state Assembly and Parliament. These parties do not show interests in the welfare of Ladakh as a whole. Under-representation, domination and discrimination of the Ladakh region and its people by the majoritarian politics led by Kashmir, might be due to lack of political consciousness and awareness among the politicians and people of Ladakh. In the absence of Ladakh’s own regional political party, the politicians from Ladakh having elected from the other parties might not be able to articulate the interests of Ladakh in the government and assembly by going against their party high Command and party principles. Also, it might be owing to their self-centred interests. In order to grab the few seats, these political parties and politicians rather than unifying the society and communities of Ladakh have polarized the region into sub-regions on communal lines, for instance Ladakh is now sharply divided into communal lines for the MP seat: either you support a Muslim candidate if you are from Muslim community or you support a Buddhist candidate if you are from the Buddhist community.

If the present political environment under those different political parties continues in Ladakh, the probability of further discrimination, polarization and preference of party interests over the people interests will be paramount in the region. The interests of the Ladakh and national security will be subdued in the near future.

Therefore, in order to protect and harness the interests of both national and regional interests, Ladakh needs to have its own political party, different than the existing political parties. The new party should be formed on the basis of twin principles of secularism, and democracy and based on the paramount interest of Ladakh as a whole. If the people of Ladakh having their own regional political parties elect their MP and MLAs from their own party, they can not only be a symbol of regional representation in the state Assembly and Parliament but also can act as a symbol of Ladakh’s political identity in the plural democratic state of India. Since becoming a part of Jammu and Kashmir state and Indian nation-state, the identity of Ladakh, culturally or politically, has been assimilated in them. That is the reason why some writers argue Ladakh being neglected and as a forgotten identity within the J&K state and Indian state.

However, the new local party of Ladakh while contesting the election in the existing political structures and institutions can lead the political movement for restructuring and redefining the political relations with J&K and in Indian Union. It will also arouse the sense of political consciousness and awareness among the people of Ladakh for further bringing changes in the political institutions and processes in favor of Ladakh both at the state and national level. It will also help and enhance the political movement whether it is for UT or Divisional Status within the Indian Union and J&K state respectively. The assimilative approach adopted by the state towards Ladakh region has subdued the differences and interests of Ladakh in the process of assimilation. In order to counter this assimilative approach, the new party of Ladakh needs an approach to protect, accommodate and assert its interests and differences at the state and national level. Ladakh need to have a united voice under this new party to fight against the divisive politics represented by the present political parties to uphold and strengthen the identity of Ladakh and foster over all development of the region.

It is precisely for this reason that few years ago; the politicians of Ladakh disbanded their affiliation with the existing political parties and formed the Ladakh Union Territory Front, LUTF to demand UT for Ladakh. These politicians visibly understood the importance of uniting under a single organization and went to the extent of taking vow in a monastery before the Buddha to achieve a larger interest for the cause of Ladakh. It was perhaps the most positive development in the political history of Ladakh post-Independence. Unfortunately, the individual interests of some politicians have succeeded over the regional interests and the body could not last long to realize the desired objectives. UT is now a forgotten dream.

If a new party is formed, it will protect Ladakh’s regional identity and reduce the plights and grievances of Ladakh. It will not only strengthen the democratization and federalization of political power particularly in J&K politics and Indian politics as a whole but also rescind the hitherto Kashmir centric discourse and negative perception and conception over Ladakh region. Hopefully, it will protect the regional identity within the plural and the multicultural state of J&K and in Indian political system. It will bring harmonious relations within the communities of Ladakh irrespective of religion and sub-regions as well as bring prosperity in Ladakh as a whole.