Climate activist Sonam Wangchuk on Tuesday urged voters to “use their ballot power very carefully this time” as he ended his 21-day hunger strike demanding statehood for Ladakh and the protection of the Himalayan ecology.

“The first phase has ended but the hunger strike has not come to a close,” Wangchuk said in a video shared on social media. “After me, women will begin a 10-day fast tomorrow. This will be followed by the youth taking up the fast and then the Buddhist monks. Then, it could be women or I could come back. This cycle will go on.”

Wangchuk was on a hunger strike to press the Centre to implement the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution for Ladakh.

The Sixth Schedule under Article 244 (Administration of Scheduled Areas and Tribal Areas) of the Constitution of India guarantees certain protections for land and a nominal autonomy for citizens in designated tribal areas. In Ladakh, more than 97% of the population belongs to the Scheduled Tribes.

On August 5, 2019, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Union government rescinded the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcated the state into the Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

This, along with the lack of a legislature in Ladakh, has led to increasing insecurities among the residents of the Union Territory about their land, nature, resources and livelihoods and stoked fears that the region’s cultural identity and fragile ecosystem may be in jeopardy.

As the last day of the activist’s hunger strike began, Wangchuk said in a video shared on social media on Tuesday morning that a record 300 people were accompanying him, sleeping outdoors when the temperature had dropped to -10 degrees Celsius.

“We are trying to remind to remind and awaken the conscience of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah to safeguard the fragile ecosystems of Ladakh and the unique indigenous tribal cultures that thrive here,” said Wangchuk.

He added: “We do not want to think of Modi ji and Amit Shah ji as just politicians. We would rather like to think of them as statesmen. But for that, they would have to show some character and farsightedness.”

Stating that India is the mother of democracy, he said that citizens are the “kingmakers”.

“We can compel a government to change their ways, or change the government,” said Wangchuk. “So let’s remember to choose our ballot power very carefully this time in the interest of the nation.”

In February, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Central government had agreed to examine whether the provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution can be implemented in Ladakh.

The inclusion of Ladakh in the Sixth Schedule would allow for the creation of autonomous development councils to govern land, public health and agriculture. Ten such councils exist in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram, the only states where the Sixth Schedule has been implemented.

Also read: A tale of two mountain springs in Ladakh and what it says about the demand for autonomy