A recent development dragged media attention from Ladakh’s border to inner Ladakh when a body called the “Apex Body of Peoples Movement for Sixth Schedule for Ladakh” called for complete boycott of the upcoming sixth round of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) Leh elections. This came immediately after a media report suggested the central government had defied Ladakh’s demand for inclusion in the Sixth Schedule of the Indian constitution.
However, the Apex Body, after meeting with Home Minister Amit Shah on September 26, agreed to withdraw the boycott call. Shah assured the Ladakhi delegation that all issues related to Ladakh’s language, demography, ethnicity, land and jobs will be considered positively, said a press release. It is also assured that “a dialogue between a larger Ladakhi delegation comprising of representatives from Leh and Kargil District under the aegis of the “Peoples Movement for Constitutional Safeguards under VI Schedule” and Union Home Ministry would commence after 15 days of the culmination of LAHDC election. Any decision so reached in this connection would be in consultation with the representatives from Leh and Kargil.” However, no decision on Ladakh’s inclusion in the Sixth Schedule has been made yet.
The current Sixth Schedule episode began when the BJP-led current LAHDC Leh administration, in presence of the BJP Member of Parliament (MP) Jamyang Tsering Mangyal, passed a resolution in the first week of September demanding safeguard for Ladakh under anyone of Article 371, the Sixth Schedule, or Domicile Law. “Keeping in view the aspirations of the people of Ladakh, I would like to move the resolution that the Union Territory of Ladakh be granted constitutional safeguards for land, environment, employment, business and cultural resources either under 6th Schedule, or under Article 371 or domicile act under constitution of India to protect the tribal rights of the indigenous people of Ladakh,” read the resolution.
In a sharp contrast to the resolution passed by the LAHDC Leh, the public representatives of Sham region of Leh unanimously rejected the demand for “Article 371” and “Domicile Law” and revived the demand to include Ladakh in Sixth Schedule. Grabbing this opportunity as a launching pad, the elders in Leh — whom the locals call “veteran leaders” — intensified the demand for Sixth Schedule and a legislature for the centrally administered Union Territory (UT). The demand was made in a joint meeting that was attended by veteran leaders, representatives of various religions (Buddhists, Christians, Sunnis, Shias), student organizations and political parties.
“We have time and again expressed our gratitude to the present Central Government headed by the Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, for fulfilling our long struggle of separating us from J&K and elevating us as a UT. We don’t, therefore, feel happy to enter into any comparison between them and the rulers of the erstwhile J&K who barring one or two exceptions would treat us as if we did not exist,” read the press release issued after the joint meeting of all stakeholders in Leh.
“Our experience during the last one year shows that the Union territory status merely is not enough in itself. We are astounded that its actual implementation falls way short of fulfilling our dream of ensuring our individual and collective growth… First, we had the impression that we were being remote-controlled from Srinagar. Now we are increasingly being given a feeling that we continue to be remote-controlled albeit from New Delhi,” maintained the press release.
Meanwhile, a media report revealed that the Union Ministry of Home Affairs has ruled out the granting of tribal status to Ladakh noting that the powers given to two autonomous hill development council of Leh and Kargil are in line with the Sixth Schedule of the constitution of India. This was stated by Union Minister of State for Home G. Kishan Reddy in response to a written question by Sajjad Ahmad in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian parliament.
In response, the Apex Body called for a complete boycott of the upcoming LAHDC elections. “The Apex Body of Peoples Movement for Sixth Schedule for Ladakh, unanimously resolved to boycott the ensuing 6th LAHDC Leh election till such time the constitutional safeguard under the sixth schedule on the lines of Bodo territorial council in not extended to UT Ladakh and its people,” said a statement that is signed by heads of different religious, political and student groups.
It is pertinent to mention that a Union Territory of Ladakh was a long pending demand of people in Leh district there which was fulfilled by the BJP-led central government last year, after separating it from the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. The people in Leh district who had aspired for the UT status celebrated the move while people in the Kargil district opposed it.
After one year of Union Territory status, in absence of any “constitutional safeguard,” people in Ladakh fear loss of land, jobs, change in demography, erosion of their unique culture, and pollution of a fragile environment. In particular, the people of Leh have started demanding safeguarding Ladakh’s land, employment opportunities, culture and environment through inclusion into the Sixth Schedule of Indian Constitution which grants special provisions to tribal areas in India’s northeast. In effect, by allowing Autonomous District Councils under the Sixth Schedule, their leaders can legislate to restrict land acquisitions and jobs to locals. Ladakh had enjoyed analogous autonomy as part of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir through Article 35A of the Indian Constitution till it was repealed in August last year.
The district president of the BJP is a signatory to the joint statement that demanded Sixth Schedule protection for Ladakh. However, the current situation has emerged as a conundrum to the BJP local unit. It is only in this election that the BJP and its MP has pushed for it, after having opposed it for a year. From their opposition, it seems New Delhi has communicated to the MP that Sixth Schedule protection is out of question for Ladakh. However, any opposition to the Sixth Schedule demand at this time would cause huge political setback for the party in the upcoming LAHDC election.
The stand of the BJP came under question when the general secretary of Jammu and Kashmir Ashok Kaul in a controversial statement to a media outlet denigrated the election boycott. He was quoted as saying that “This resolution means nothing. Yeh Sab Bakwas hai (All these are nonsense). We are going to Leh soon to talk to our people and we will fix everything.” Immediately, Kaul, accompanied by another BJP leader, Ram Madhav, reached Leh triggering protests by students over Kaul’s “irresponsible statement.”
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The group of the veteran leaders that now has emerged as a group called “Apex Body of Peoples Movement for Sixth Schedule for Ladakh” along with District Congress Committee, Bahujan Samaj Party, and many other were very quick to condemn Kaul’s statement. Later, Kaul himself in a press conference in Leh claimed that the media has “twisted” his comments, and further said that he stood behind all the demands made by the people of Ladakh.
The Delhi meeting with Shah has somewhat silenced the protests in Leh but not reduced the apprehensions of the locals. Only a clear promise to fulfill the demand of Sixth Schedule inclusion can reestablish the BJP on LAHDC Leh but the party’s leadership in New Delhi remains noncommittal.
Nonetheless, the Muslim-majority Kargil district is silent on the demand for Sixth Schedule inclusion as they have always maintained the need to restore statehood and Article 370 for the region. “Why don’t they ask for statehood for Ladakh with the legislature? We are not with the UT. We do not support the extension of the Sixth Schedule. We are and have always been against the division of the state,” former Member of Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly Asgar Ali Karbali was quoted by media.
“We have decided neither to oppose nor welcome the promise made by the MHA on the Sixth Schedule. It’s a complex issue and requires a wide-ranging deliberation. Any opposition or acceptance will be based on rationale and rules. We have already suffered due to the UT status which was not Kargil’s demand,” said President, Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust, Sheikh Sadiq Rajai to media.
Anwar Ali Tsarpa was born and brought up in Ladakh. He is a research scholar at the Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.