Leh: Braving the extreme cold, tens of thousands of people took out a protest march marking ‘Leh Chalo’ in Ladakh demanding Sixth Schedule status, statehood, Public Services Commission (PSC), and separate Parliamentary seats for Leh and Kargil on Saturday.
Shutdown was observed across the with all business establishments, offices and other trading hubs closed, besides all the transport remained off the roads in twin districts of the UT.
Despite harsh cold people in Leh gathered and marched with the demand for Statehood, Constitutional safeguards under the Sixth Schedule, and PSC and employment opportunities for Ladakh.
Likewise in Drass area of Kargil district the second inhabitant coldest place in the world, People observed a complete shutdown in solidarity with the demand for Statehood, Sixth Schedule, and PSC and employment opportunities for Ladakh.
The protests were jointly organised by the Leh Apex Body (LAB) and Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA), besides all the majority of non-political organisations, Traders Associations and Transporters Union supported and participated.
Videos from Ladakh showed thousands holding banners and placards taking part in the march, stating that only a full statehood where they elect their representatives to govern the region could fulfil their demand.
According to the legal adviser of LAB and KDA Haji Ghulam Mustafa, the four-point agenda has been raised by these outfits ever since Ladakh has become a UT.
While addressing the people, Haji Ghulam Mustafa said, “All our powers, which were people-centric, have sapped. When we were a part of Jammu and Kashmir, we had four members in the Assembly and two in the Legislative Council. Now, we have no representation in the Assembly. Our demand has always been that the people of Ladakh should have representation in the Assembly and that we should get statehood.”
He added that Ladakh was a strategically-important place and a tribal majority area with the features of north-eastern states.
“Along lines of the northeastern states, we demand that the provisions of the 6th schedule be implemented in Ladakh to protect its culture. Ever since Ladakh became a UT, there have been no gazetted job openings in the region, while in J&K, two batches have already been commissioned, and the third batch is going to get commissioned soon. Ladakh immediately needs to have a Public Service Commission of its own,” he added, stating that the people of Ladakh demand that the region be empowered.”
The HPC is likely to consider the written points submitted by LAB and KDA in the February 19 meeting, along with other issues raised by committee members. Though statehood is unlikely, an announcement addressing some Ladakh issues is expected. These could include safeguards for land, culture, and identity.
Politician, Councillor Chushul and former EC Hill Council, Konchok Stanzi in a message said, “Ladakh One Voice demands environmental protection, job opportunities, land rights, and preservation of our rich culture under the 6th schedule of the Indian Constitution.”
Pertinent to mention here that, keeping in view the demands of Ladakh, the union Ministry of Home Affairs invited the Leh Apex Body (LAB) and Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) for the second round of dialogue on the various demand raised by them on February 19.
The meeting notice was sent a day before the Ladakh shutdown and ‘Leh Chalo’ call given by the two organisations—leading the protest in the newly created union territory for past three years now—to press for various demands.
The developments have created a fissures among the people of Ladakh, with several people demanding that the shutdown call be taken back, as the MHA is ready for discussion over the demands raised by LAB and KDA.
The MHA had constituted a High Powered Committee (HPC) under the chairmanship of Nityanand Rai, Minister of State for Home Affairs, for the Union Territory of Ladakh in January 2023. The committee was reconstituted as demanded by the Leh Apex Body and the Kargil Democratic Alliance in November 2023.
“It has been decided to hold the second meeting of the HPC on 19.02.2024 at 11.30 AM in room number 119, First Floor, MHA, North Block, New Delhi to discuss the issues as per the Terms of References (ToRs) of the said committee,” a meeting notice issued by Sunil Kumar, Under Secretary to the Government of India on Friday, said.
The February 19 meeting comes around a month after the Leh Apex Body and Kargil Democratic Alliance submitted a joint document of draft of the demands to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs in New Delhi, as asked by the latter after their first meeting held on December 4 last year.
The submitted draft by the Apex and the Kargil Democratic Alliance encompasses key demands, including Statehood for Ladakh, two Parliamentary seats, setting up of the Public Services Commission (PSC), besides Sixth Schedule status for Ladakh, and was accompanied by a template Act for the State of Ladakh under the Sixth Schedule, outlines amendments to the Constitution and the J&K Reorganization Act to accommodate the proposed demands.
Pertinently in the December 4 meeting, the LAB and KDA leaders had briefed MoS Home, Nityanand Rai, who heads the HPC, of the situation in Ladakh and alleged disempowerment of local people by the bureaucracy in the union territory, as they rued their non-inclusion in decision-making process by the administration.
The MHA had asked the LAB and KDA leaders to not hold protests and agitations till the official talks are on, with the latter assuring Rai that till the time talks are going on, they won’t carry on with their protests in Ladakh.
However, last month, the LAB and the KDA gave the ‘Leh Chalo’ call for February 3, while expressing their dissatisfaction with the periodic meetings with the MHA, and asking people to converge in Leh to mark their protest.
The two socio-political organisations have planned the demonstration to commence at 10:00 am from the NDA Stadium, concluding at Polo Ground Leh, where a rally will be addressed on Saturday.
Leh Apex Body and Kargil Democratic Alliance are coalitions of socio-religious, political and youth organisations of Leh and Kargil districts, formed after August 5, 2019, when the Centre abrogated the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated it into Union territories of J-K and Ladakh. They later joined hands and came out with the four-point agenda and held a series of protests in Leh, Kargil, Jammu and Delhi.
Meanwhile, Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, member of Parliament from Ladakh extended gratitude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah for scheduleding the second round of the HPC meeting, on behalf of the people of Ladakh.
“Their unwavering attention to our region and consideration of every concern reflect a commitment that the people of Ladakh deeply appreciate. The fulfillment of our long-standing demand for Union Territory status by the Modi Sarkar has left an enduring impact, and we eagerly anticipate positive outcomes from the crucial meeting of the High Powered Committee dedicated to Ladakh,” he said in a message.