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On Kargil and Leh streets, a joint protest to seek statehood for Ladakh

SRINAGAR: Two organisations from Leh and Kargil on Wednesday came together to hold a massive protest in the two towns of Ladakh to demand statehood for the union territory, separate Lok Sabha seats for its two regions and its inclusion under the constitution’s sixth schedule to safeguard land, employment, and cultural identity of the local population.

“Our demands are statehood, protection under the sixth schedule, separate Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha seats and employment of youth,” said Tsering Dorjay, one of the two convenors of the core committee set up by the two organisations, Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) – an amalgam of various political and religious parties of Kargil.- and Leh Apex Body (LAB), which comprises Leh’s socio-religious and political parties Nasir Munshi from Kargil is the other convenor.

Nasir Munshi said this was the first time that social and political organisations of Buddhist majority Leh and Muslim majority Kargil have come together in an effort to secure their future after August 2019 when Parliament scrapped the special status of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and carved out Ladakh as a separate union territory without a legislature.

Leh had celebrated the move back then. But Dorjay said, now there is disillusionment with the new system in which all decisions are being taken by bureaucrats without involving local residents.

“We demanded a UT with the legislature which we did not get. Now… outsiders are taking decisions on our behalf and public representatives of Ladakh have no say,” he said.

A protest march was also held from Hussaini Park to Lal Chowk in Kargil town 200km from Leh. The local unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was part of LAB till recently but exited the group as it came up with the protest plan.

Leaders of the two groups complain that the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils in Leh and Kargil were practically redundant. “They are autonomous only in name,” Dorjay said, accusing the union territory administration of needlessly interfering in its functioning.

“Since the formation of the union territory, we lost our land and employment safeguards. Now Leh and Kargil have come together with their joint agenda. Our foremost demand is full-fledged statehood,” added Nasir Munshi said.

He said since Ladakh has one representative in Lok Sabha, it leads to polarisation in the region. “We demand two seats each for Leh and Kargil. Also since the abrogation of Article 370, not a single recruitment process has been held in the region,” he said.

“The home ministry should listen to our aspirations. The Government of India can’t treat Ladakh as any other state. We are a strategically important region besides having tough geographic and weather conditions. They need to take a favourable decision keeping in view our aspirations,” he said.

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