Trouble in Ladakh – All Parties Demand Legislature, Set to Boycott Hill Development Council Polls

Cutting across party lines members of the recently constituted People’s Movement for Sixth Schedule for Ladakh have called for the boycott of the forthcoming Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) Leh polls scheduled to be held on October 16. Former BJP leaders are part of the campaign. The People’s Movement for Sixth Schedule for Ladakh is a broad based association of leaders of all political parties along with representatives of religious and social organizations. The boycott was announced on Tuesday through a single line statement saying, “The apex body of People’s Movement for Sixth Schedule for Ladakh, unanimously resolved to boycott sixth LAHDC election till such time the constitutional safeguard under sixth schedule on the lines of Bodo Territorial Council is not extended to UT Ladakh and its people.” The signatories to the statement include the BJP district president as well. The other political leaders who have issued the statement include former Lok Sabha MP Thupstan Chhewang, former Jammu and Kashmir minister Cherring Dorje Lakrook, president of the powerful Ladakh Buddhist Association P T Kunzang, former Rajya Sabha member Skyabje Thiksey Khanpo Rinpochey, president of All Ladakh Gonpa Association, Ven Shatap Chamba, president of Anjuman Immamia Ashraf Ali Barcha, president of Anjuman Moin-ul Islam Dr Abdul Qayum, president of Christian Community Dechen Chamgha, former minister and president of Territorial Congress Nawang Rigzin Jora, district president of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) Nawang Samstan, convener of Aam Aadmi Party T Phuntsog and president of LEAF (Ladakh students’ Environmental Action Forum) Jigmet Paljor. Cherring Dorje Lakrook who is one of the senior most members of the apex body told The Citizen, “The reason why we had to resort to this drastic step is that our preset council has become useless as it is not being allowed to function under the LAHDC Act of 1995. Things were very fine under the undivided Jammu and Kashmir when the council had the powers to carry out developmental works. Ever since Ladakh was converted into a union territory the councils in both Leh and Kargil lost their powers to the union territory administration and we have not been able to carry out our responsibility of carrying out development.” Lakrook pointed out that the Council was responsible for all the development except that in power sector which was earlier vested with the state government and now with the union territory administration. Former Lok Sabha BJP MP Thupstan Chhewang told The Citizen, “I had resigned from the Parliament on the grounds that a union territory status would only mean interference of the home ministry and there would be no representation of the locals. We are seeking union territory with legislature like what has been extended to Jammu and Kashmir. When there is talk of giving statehood back to Jammu and Kashmir, the union territory of Ladakh must have a legislature of its own.” The members of the apex body were scheduled to meet the Lieutenant Governor of Ladakh Radha Krishna Mathur on Wednesday evening to ‘formally’ apprise of their decision of boycotting the forthcoming polls. “We had to resort to this decision as our approaching the BJP high command as well as Government of India over the last one year has yielded no results,” Cherring Lakrook told this reporter. The immediate question that raises its head in context of their demand is their seeking parity with the Bodoland Territorial Council in Assam. “Although there are autonomous district councils established under the Sixth Schedule in six states in the North East, we are seeking parity with the Bodoland Territorial Council since it is the latest one that came into existence in 2003 and is the most effective and powerful,” he said. The autonomous district councils under the Sixth Schedule have the powers to make laws, rules and regulations in various spheres including land and forest management, water resources, agriculture, public health, formation of village councils, sanitation, village and town level policing etc. These councils can also form courts to hear cases where both the parties are from Scheduled Tribes and the punishment is imprisonment up to five years. They also have revenue collection and taxation powers.

“We have support of around 95 % of the population of Ladakh. The supporters are pretty aggressive with their viewpoints on the powers pertaining to the autonomous council under Sixth Schedule that are being demanded,” Cherring Lakrook added.

His claim stands substantiated from the views being expressed by the residents of the union territory of Ladakh on social media platforms where there are pages of the People’s Movement for Sixth Schedule for Ladakh.

For example, one of the supporters Stanzin Gawa expressed his views in the following words, “Kudos to our veteran leaders and apex body for people’s movement for 6th schedule for unanimously resolving to boycott upcoming council elections until Ladakh is included under 6th schedule on the line(s) of Bodoland. Now second step should be all Goba members, Sarpanch, Panch, numbardars, BDCs and all other public representatives should resign from their post to further assert the demand for 6th schedule.

Last but not the least our humble MP should also resign from MP post if still centre don’t declare Ladakh under 6th schedule as per the wish and will of the people of Ladakh just like union minister Harsimrat Badal who resigned from the Modi government in protest against the farm bills.”

Various groups and organizations like the District Bar Association, Leh have extended their support to the apex body. The Association has announced its decision to approach its counterpart in Kargil and also start an awareness campaign to educate the masses on the Sixth Schedule.

Thupstan Chhewang further said, “We are also against any move on granting domicile status to those from outside Ladakh after their stay here for a stipulated period of time. This would result in snatching away opportunities from locals as the people coming from outside have an advantage in various spheres like education.”

The polling for LAHDC Leh that is scheduled for October 16 is the first such electoral exercise in the region after Ladakh was carved out from Jammu and Kashmir and granted the union territory status on August 5, 2019. The polls to the council in Kargil are still about three years away when the tenure of the present council there is over.