A delegation of political representatives from Ladakh on Sunday withdrew their call to boycott the upcoming hill council elections after holding talks with Union Home Minister Amit Shah. The Leh Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council elections are scheduled to be held on October 16.
The People’s Movement, a platform representing various politicians and organisations, had on Tuesday decided to boycott the elections over their demands for bringing Ladakh under the ambit of provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
A three member delegation, comprising former MPs Thiksay Rinpoche, Thupstan Chhewang and former minister Chhering Dorje, met Shah in New Delhi and said in a statement that the government is open to discuss protection available under Sixth Schedule of the constitution for the region. Minister of State for Home Affairs G Kishan Reddy and Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports Kiren Rijiju were also present in the meeting.
The statement also said that the delegation members were assured by Shah that the Centre would take care of matters relating to land, jobs, demography, ethnicity, among others. “Union home minister assured the delegation that the government of India is committed to empower the Leh Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council and would safeguard the interests of the people of the Union Territory of Ladakh,” it added. “It would explore all avenues towards this objective.”
It also said that a dialogue would be held between the delegation and the home ministry after 15 days of elections to Leh council. “Any discussion so reached in this connection would be in consultation with the representative from Leh and Kargil,” it added.
The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution protects tribal populations and provides autonomy to the communities by creation of autonomous development councils, which can frame laws on land, public health, agriculture, etc.
The demand for an autonomous council came after the abrogation of special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 and the bifurcation of the erstwhile state into two Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, The Indian Express reported.
In 1997, to address the demand of Buddhist-dominated Leh of making Ladakh a Union Territory, the Centre formulated the Leh Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council under an Act. Two such councils were set up in Ladakh, one for Leh and another for Kargil, a Muslim-dominated region, which did not share the demand of being separated from Jammu and Kashmir.
After the Centre’s August 5 move, Leh got its demands fulfilled, but unlike the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, it did not get a Legislative Assembly. This culminated in rising fears among the people of losing their employment opportunities and land rights as well as apprehension over losing their culture and identity. Earlier, the special status under Article 370 protected the residents from these fears.
The council, which has executive powers, can decide on the matter of the use of land. However, Dorjay, a former Bharatiya Janata Party MP, said the erstwhile state government did not interfere with the decision of the LADHC, but now concerns have been raised as the council is directly under the Centre.
“Earlier, we had the protection of 370 and 35A,” Dorjay said. “We want similar protection for Ladakh’s state land and private land, and for our identity and language, and jobs.”
The elections would be the first such exercise in the region since the August 5 move. The date for filing of nomination papers is from September 21 to September 28, followed by scrutiny to be held on September 29. The last date for withdrawal of nomination papers is on October 1.
The group comprises people from the Congress, Aam Aadmi Party, Bharatiya Janata Party as well as religious leaders.