Jammu: The decision to make Ladakh an administrative division – on par with the two divisions of Jammu and Kashmir – with its headquarters in Leh, has sparked fury in other parts of the region.
Protests began in Kargil last week, the second district within Ladakh, to demand that the HQ rotate between the two towns.
The new division is to be established on February 18.
Mass protest in sub-zero temperatures
Kargil has experienced a complete shutdown for six consecutive days. Hundreds of people took to the streets to demand a rotational divisional HQ. Swagat Viswas, the newly-appointed divisional commissioner of Ladakh, was not allowed to enter Kargil.
Chain protests continue on the streets despite temperatures as low as -17 degree Celsius.
If the demand isn’t met, officers from Kargil have threatened to resign en masse.
Jammu and Kashmir governor Satya Pal Malik has constituted a committee of secretaries to look into the demand.
The protestors have issued a warning that denying the demands could push parts of Kargil’s populace away from the democratic state and towards separatism.
“Leh was the one demanding Union Territory status,” said one protester. “Our demand has always been divisional status. We did not want to divide the state by demanding a Union Territory. But they have reversed everything. Even the leaders of Leh have been saying that our demands are justified.”
Weathering the storm
As it stands, at 230 km, Leh is further away for the people of Kargil than Srinagar, which is 218 km away.
Transportation and accommodation have also been cited as reasons as to why their ought to be a rotating HQ. Since Leh is a hub for tourists and travellers, protestors have argued, both travel expenses and accommodation prices rise drastically during the tourist season.
This is why even though the protestors have welcomed the step of Ladakh’s divisional status, it is believed widely that the Kargil region should also benefit from the decision.
Like the rotational Durbar in British times, when the entire secretariat moved from Jammu to Kashmir in summer and vice versa in winter, the protestors say that the HQ should be Leh in the winter and Kargil in the summer.
“We demand that the headquarters should be kept in Leh in winter and in Kargil during the summer. We should also get our share. There should be permanent office of directors and deputy directors. Whichever director is in Leh, deputy director should be at Kargil, and whichever director is in Kargil, deputy director should be at Leh. We are demanding that only the IG and divisional commissioner office be rotated,” Haji Anayat Ali, the chairman of the J&K legislative council, said.
“Firstly, they have given the divisional status in name only. A division requires directorates to be established, but instead they have given Ladakh just a divisional commissioner who has revenue powers. And an IG will be appointed,” said Zakir Zaidi, a social activist.
“As for revenue powers, that are already with the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council and as for IG, there is no law and order problem in Ladakh,” he said.
“If they have given divisional status to entire Ladakh, that includes both Leh and Kargil district. They should have given it to only Leh and allowed us to remain with the Kashmir division since it is closer. But after giving the divisional status, keeping the headquarters at Leh is unjust,” said Feroz Ahmed Khan the chief executive councillor, Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council.
The road ahead
Since the CEC of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Kargil, has powers to take disciplinary action against all employees under the council, they have decided to boycott SRO 110 until the demands of people of Kargil are met.
This might pose as a challenge towards the federal system in Ladakh unless the demands are met.
“We will not allow anyone to work under SRO 110 until our demands are met,” said Feroz Ahmed Khan, CEC, LAHDC.
He also said, “What is the fun of being on this post? We are taking part in all elections but if our demands go unheard, then what is the fun of holding these positions?
“There will be a mass resignation from local bodies (panch, sarpanch) to lambardars and even councillors and employees. We will put an end to parties as well. If we are not getting anything, then what is the point? Give us a reason why we should accept SRO 110,” said Haji Anayat Ali, the chairman of the J&K legislative council.
Pallavi Sareen is a freelance journalist working in Jammu and Kashmir who writes for Kashmir Times and Kashmir Life. She can be contacted at email@example.com.