Ladakh BJP MP Jamyang Tsering Namgyal’s attempt to play the patriotic card amid rising tension on the border and growing fear of demographic changes within has elicited angry reactions, reflecting how Ladakhis dread intrusions from mainland India as much as the Chinese incursions.
Namgyal touched a raw nerve when he changed the display of his Facebook account on Wednesday by uploading a picture of himself splashed in the colours of the national flag and silhouettes of soldiers wielding guns with the following writing in bold red: “I am a Ladakhi. I stand with Indian Army.”
The leader was immediately accused by many of diverting attention from a resolution passed by the BJP-led Leh Autonomous Hill Development Council in Ladakh last week urging the Centre to grant the fledging “Union Territory of Ladakh… constitutional safeguards for land, environment, employment, business and cultural resources either under 6th schedule, or under Article 371 or domicile act under Constitution of India to protect the tribal rights of the indigenous people of Ladakh”. The MP had played a key role in drafting the resolution.
Ladakhis feel the Sixth Schedule alone will protect their exclusive rights over land and jobs, and that implementation of domicile laws would lead to the influx of outsiders, as is happening in Jammu and Kashmir. They feel that attempts to highlight other issues, as Namgyal had done in the Facebook post, were aimed at paving the way for an inflow of outsiders.
“Very proud of you sir.… You are the only desh bhakt neta, rest are only raising their genuine demands like 6th schedule all the time and all the Ladakhi people are also supporting them too,” mocked Stanzin Gonpa Saspol, a Netizen. Many other Facebook users raised the demand for the Sixth Schedule.
Ladakh’s Buddhists had overwhelmingly supported the scrapping of Article 370, which granted similar privileges to all residents of Jammu and Kashmir, and the bifurcation of the state into two Union Territories last year. Muslim-majority Kargil, which is part of Ladakh, had opposed the changes.
However, the mood changed after the Centre this year began issuing domicile certificates to certain categories of outsiders in Jammu and Kashmir, which locals believe is aimed at altering the Muslim-majority character of the region. Ladakhi Buddhists, supported by some Muslim and Christian groups in Leh, are now up in arms against the possible extension of the domicile law to Ladakh, fearing this would lead to the influx of outsiders.
“We reject any suggestion of implementing the domicile law in Ladakh on the lines of the one introduced in the UT of J&K,” said a joint statement issued by influential political and religious parties in Leh on Thursday. “First we had an impression that we were being remote-controlled from Srinagar. Now we are increasingly being given a feeling that we continue to be remote-controlled, albeit from New Delhi”.
The signatories to the resolution are the Ladakh Buddhist Association, the Ladakh Gompa Association and the local units of the Congress, BJP and the AAP, former MPs and ministers.
LBA president P.T. Kunzang said Ladakhis were against the influx of outsiders into the Union Territory as the place had a sparse population of less than three lakh.
“Ladakh is a tribal area. We have our own culture, ethnicity and language. We are different…. The main point is if we are not given this protection, there will be an influx of outsiders. They will take all the jobs and spoil the environment. There won’t be any protection for our culture,” Kunzang told The Telegraph.
He said the people did not support the resolution passed by the Leh council.
“The BJP’s (Leh unit) president and general secretary were at (Thursday’s) media conference. That is the latest development. They have supported sixth schedule,” Kunzang said. The joint statement was issued at the media conference.
Namgyal did not respond to calls from this newspaper.
The BJP’s Jammu and Kashmir spokesman, Anil Gupta, said the Leh council’s resolution was political motivated.
“The move is politically motivated, though it has become an all-party demand. The strengthening of the hill council (in Leh) is ultimate. If all the powers are given to them, it is better than Sixth Schedule,” he said. “They want to keep up pressure on the government. Earlier, they wanted a Union Territory, they got it. Now (since) they don’t have an issue, (they think) the Centre could neglect them,” Gupta said.