New Delhi, Oct 31 (IANS) The birth of Union Territory of Ladakh, carved out from the state of Jammu and Kashmir, is a dream come true for most of the people of this cold desert region bordering China and Pakistan.
The day has come for them after several agitations over the last 72 years, which were aimed at getting “freedom” from Kashmiri rule and creation of Union Territory to be directly ruled by the Centre.
The people of Ladakh had been alleging that “Kashmir-centric” state governments based in Srinagar did not provide enough finances to this Province, comprising Leh and Kargil sub-districts, and even usurped the funds sent by the Centre.
The people of Ladakh, comprising a mix of Buddhists and Shia Muslims, had been frowning that the region could not see development because their destiny was linked to Kashmir.
“Why should we suffer because of problems in Kashmir?” This has been the common refrain of the people of Ladakh, including the Shia Muslim-dominated Kargil, after militancy erupted in Kashmir.
Even though Kargil has 95 per cent Muslim population, the people of this part never associated with the separatist and militant movement of the Kashmir valley and the region has been terrorism-free all through.
The people of Ladakh also had a grouse on account of representation of the region in the state Assembly. The largest region of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in terms of area had only four seats earmarked in the 87-member Assembly, giving it very little say in the legislature.
The people of Ladakh, under the banner of Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA), carried out a sustained campaign over last seven decades in demand for UT status.
The first organized agitation against Kashmir’s “dominance” was witnessed in 1964 under the leadership of revered Buddhist icon Kushok Bakula. It, however, did not yield the desired results.
In late 1980s, a bigger agitation was launched to press their demand for UT status, so that the region could be governed directly by the Centre.
The movement was spearheaded by the Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA). Incidentally, the agitation was launched at a time when militancy was finding feet in Kashmir, resulting in disruption of supplies to Ladakh since the route to the region passed through the Valley.
The agitation was, however, suspended after some months as the LBA thought it would not be proper to increase the problems for the central government at a time when it was dealing with the problem of rising militancy. Consultations were subsequently held and it resulted in setting up of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) in early 1990s, an elected body which would have governing powers for the region to a certain extent.
But since the funds for the LAHDC were to be routed through the state government based in Srinagar and Jammu (on six-monthly basis every year), the complaints about the financial choking continued.
The LAHDC leaders used to regularly complain that the “Kashmir-based government” was not letting the Council to function properly and they were made to plead for funds.
About three years back, All Religious Joint Action Committee (ARJAC), formed to press the demand for Union Territory status, passed a resolution at a meeting, underlining that Ladakh is “fundamentally different from Kashmir in all respects – culturally, ethnically and linguistically” and thus should be separated from it.
It complained that the successive state governments based in Kashmir had adopted a “policy of discrimination and subversion” towards Ladakh with the “sole objective of stifling its people and marginalizing its historical, religious and cultural identity”.
The resolution highlighted that the people of the region have always been nationalists and played a key role against aggressions by Pakistan and China.
The granting of UT status would solve all its problems, the ARJAC said in its demand, which has been met now.