Sajjad Kargili is a political activist from Kargil. He is a senior member of the Kargil Democratic Alliance that is at the forefront of the struggle for Ladakh’s statehood and guarantees under the Sixth schedule of the Constitution. In an interview with Frontline, Kargili draws attention to the social unrest in Ladakh, as their jobs and lands are thrown open to everyone in India. Excerpts:
Ladakh was euphoric when it became a Union Territory. But now there is a sense of disillusionment and we see frequent protests.
Basically, Ladakh was divided between two different narratives and demands: the people of Leh aspired for a Union Territory of Ladakh whereas the people of Kargil were opposed to the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir on the basis of region, religion, and language.
Following the establishment of Ladakh as a Union Territory, there was a sense of celebration in Leh, but Kargil saw significant protests against this decision. Over time, leaders from both Leh and Kargil realised that Ladakh’s new status did not guarantee it land- and employment-related securities.
As part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh had enjoyed privileges of special status under Article 370 and Article 35A. The sentiment now is one of disempowerment, as the absence of safeguards for jobs, land, culture, and identity has led to growing insecurity. The lack of a legislative body means that decision-making has shifted from public participation to bureaucratic processes.
The Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) and the Leh Apex Body are pressing for guarantees for Ladakh under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. What is New Delhi’s response?
We had a meeting recently with the Ministry of Home Affairs in which they expressed willingness to engage in discussions regarding constitutional safeguards and other pertinent matters. However, their stance on the Sixth Schedule and the demand for statehood remains unclear. Nevertheless, we are steadfast in our efforts to push for all our four demands, including statehood, the Sixth Schedule, PSC [Public Service Commission] and jobs safeguards, and an additional Lok Sabha seat.
In relation to the high-powered committee, our proposal entailed determining Ladakh’s representation through the Leh Apex Body and the Kargil Democratic Alliance. This proposal was put forth to ensure fair representation.
After the LAHDC [Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council] Kargil election, we are planning to meet with the Leh Apex Body and then we will collectively decide on how to continue the dialogue with the MHA.
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The people of Leh and Kargil seem to have shed their political differences and come together for shared aspirations. Will this last?
I believe that the residents of both districts in Ladakh have come to recognise that unity is the only viable path forward. Therefore, forging unity between Leh and Kargil, as well as between the Buddhist and Muslim communities, holds importance. On both sides there is an understanding that we share a common culture, nearly identical language, and traditions. Our collective future is intertwined, and our interests are now aligned. Neglecting to stand up for one another will ultimately be detrimental to us all.
Consequently, both Leh and Kargil are fervently advocating for statehood and the implementation of the Sixth Schedule. This is driven by a growing sense of insecurity among the populace. It’s worth recalling that leaders in Leh have reiterated their sentiment multiple times, expressing that they were in a more advantageous position within Jammu and Kashmir and highlighting bureaucratic challenges in Ladakh. These observations underscore a tangible undercurrent of discontent among people.
There was concern in Leh when the construction of a Buddhist monastery in Kargil was stalled. What is the situation now?
The monastery issue has been resolved amicably. The 40-year-old controversy over a Buddhist monastery (gompa) in Kargil was resolved after negotiations between the KDA and the Buddhists of Leh. We initiated talks over the issue and we have decided that two kanal [one kanal is 0.05 hectare] land will be allotted at Kurbathang (new town area) through the LAHDC, Kargil, in favour of the LBA [Ladakh Buddhist Association]. As per my knowledge, the LAHDC has finalised its allotment work.
“The performance of the Union Territory administration has been notably deficient in terms of generating employment opportunities for the young workforce.”
Unemployment seems to be widespread in Ladakh. How do you assess the performance of the Lt Governor vis-a-vis creating new jobs and filling existing posts?
The performance of the Union Territory administration has been notably deficient in terms of generating employment opportunities for the young workforce. Four years have passed since the establishment of the Union Territory, but the absence of a public service commission has created a sense of anger among the youths. Qualified youths and PhD scholars find themselves grappling with joblessness.
A glaring issue compounds this situation—the lack of a comprehensive job policy within the Union Territory. The administration’s inability to formulate and implement such a policy has contributed to the prevailing job scarcity and uncertainty. A concerted effort is needed to establish robust mechanisms for job creation, policy formulation, and the efficient utilisation of the region’s skilled human resources.
There are reports of alcohol addiction and drug abuse in Ladakh. How can this be best addressed?
As far as drugs and drinking are concerned, it is alarming and we are cautious about it. In Kargil and Leh, our ulemas often speak against these issues in the Friday sermons. We organise seminars and rallies against drug addiction. The Lt Governor’s administration is organising awareness programmes in schools and colleges.
Any push to expand tourism infrastructure in Ladakh attracts criticism from environmentalists for the ecological hazards involved in it. Where do you stand on the tourism versus ecology debate?
Tourism is a big industry in Ladakh, and the people benefit from it. But we have climatic hazards, too. For the last five or six years, people have been discussing eco-friendly tourism. Our demands include a policy for promoting eco-friendly, sustainable tourism in Ladakh.
The China problem seems to be festering, with Indian patrolling now reportedly limited to two kilometres behind Finger 4. How has this impacted the border population and how serious is the threat to India’s external security?
In my view, both China and Pakistan are on the same page with regard to India. Sadly, the government has no clear policy to deal with China. We lost 20 bravehearts in Galwan. Similarly, intrusion incidents have been reported from the Arunachal Pradesh side of the border as well.
Being a resident of a border village, I think that this issue must be dealt with seriously. We must be assured that China cannot be our friend because China is disappointed with the growing Indian economy and its subsequent influence in the region.
India has good ties with the US and European countries, which has irked China. China wants to play big brother in the region, and India is the big hurdle. India’s stand on the Gilgit-Baltistan issue also disrupts China’s China-Pakistan Economic Corridor where Chinese interests lie. India needs to engage people in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh and also focus on strengthening the borders with China.