Srinagar: A controversy has erupted in Ladakh after the names of elected councillors – in whose constituencies projects are being built – were missing from the foundation stone plaques laid for a series of development projects in Kargil district by BJP MP Jamyang Tsering Namgyal. Instead, the names BJP-affiliated councillors and the chairman of the union territory’s Haj committee, who is also affiliated with the rightwing party, were inscribed on the plaques.
The Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), Kargil has written to the union territory’s Lieutenant Governor B.D. Mishra over the issue. This decision is an “undermining of dignity” of the hill council, the union territory’s highest elected body, the LAHDC said.
Foundation stone laying ceremonies
On June 5, Namgyal laid the foundation stone of road projects being built under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) in Ranbirpora and Bhimbhat constituencies in the strategic Drass area of Kargil district. These hill council constituencies are represented by National Conference’s Mubarak Shah Naqvi and Sayeed Mohd Shah.
Apart from local MP’s name, the name of chairman of state Haj committee, Mohammad Ali Majaz, is also written on the plaques.
Majaz is affiliated with the BJP and is vice-president of its Ladakh unit. On November 18, 2022, then LG Ladakh R.K. Mathur nominated him as a member the committee. He was subsequently elected as its chairman by members of the Haj committee.
The local councillors told The Wire that they feel humiliated and insulted by the administration’s act of “sidelining” them in the development process. “We are representing the area, but we were not invited to these functions,” NC’s Naqvi, who represents the Ranbirpora segment, told The Wire.
Saeed Muhammad Sayeed, who is also affiliated with NC and represents the Bhimbat constituency, said that he was stunned to find his name missing from the plaque. “I went to the venue of the function and asked the MP why my name is missing from the foundation stone,” he said, adding that they are being discriminated against by the authorities.
In Karsha hill council constituency, on June 6, the BJP MP laid the foundation stones for four road projects being built under the PMGSY. Ironically, the names of BJP councillor from neighbouring Cha constuituency Stanzin Lapka and nominated councillor Stanzin Chosgyal, also linked with the party, were written on the foundation stones of these projects instead of local councillor Stanzin Jigmat, who is from the Congress.
Stanzin Chosgyal was nominated as a member of the LAHDC Kargil in September 2018 by the governor’s administration when Ladakh was still a part of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Talking to The Wire, local councillor Stanzin Jigmat said that he was not even informed about the function. “It is a murder of democracy and a rogue act. How can the name of a councillor from another constituency find a place on the foundation stone in my constituency?” he asked.
He said he worked very hard for the past three years to get these projects sanctioned. “The BJP councillor whose name was mentioned on the foundation stones in my constituency failed to get a single project under PMGSY for his constituency,” he said.
The locals of Kargil have also protested the move, claiming that such actions disempower the Hill Council.
“MP LADKAH is setting a new precedent by ignoring Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council #Kargil. It is regrettable that now the Hajj committee chairman is inaugurating roads in Kargil, and the LAHDC chairman and the members of the @LAHDC_Kgl have been ignored. I request Hon’ble @lg_ladakh sahib must intervene and stop such steps to disempower the only major elected body remaining in #Ladakh,” tweeted Sajjad Kargili, member of Kargil Democratic Alliance(KDA), a Kargil-based alliance of different groups seeking statehood and constitutional safeguards for Ladakh.
Hill council writes to LG
The action has triggered widespread resentment among the hill council members, with its chairman and chief executive councillor (CEC) Feroz Ahmad Khan writing to the Ladakh LG Sharma to express his displeasure.
In the letter, he has told the LG that the concerned department (PMGSY) didn’t inform the gill council nor the councillors in whose areas foundation stones were laid for road projects.
The letter states that the district commissioner Kargil, who is chief executive officer of the hill council, was also not informed about the functions.
The CEC has urged the LG to take necessary corrective action in the matter. “The LAHDC Kargil views this seriously and on behalf of the Council, I request you to take suo moto notice of the matter and take necessary corrective measures so that the same is not repeated in future. An early action in the matter shall be highly solicited,” reads the letter accessed by The Wire.
When asked whether any action has been taken on the matter, commissioner secretary roads and buildings, Ladakh Ajit Sahu said that they would see what needs to be done.
BJP MP Jamyang Namgyal couldn’t be contacted despite repeated attempts. “He is busy at a function,” a person who identified himself as Namgyal’s PA told The Wire over WhatsApp call.
Hill councils are highest elected bodies
The hill councils of Leh and Kargil became the highest elected bodies in Ladakh after it was separated from Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019. Both the bodies have 26 elected members and four nominated members.
The hill council for Leh came into existence in 1995, while the council for Kargil district was formed in 2003.
In the Kargil hill council, the National Conference currently enjoys power, while the BJP is ruling the Leh council.
It is pertinent to mention that Ladakh used to send six legislators to the legislature of erstwhile state of J&K – four MLAs and two MLCs.
Umer Maqbool is an independent journalist based in Kashmir.