Leh, Kargil Together In Azaadi Fight

Leh, Kargil Together In Azaadi Fight

12 July 2013
Greater Kashmir
Muzaffar Raina

Srinagar: Ladakh’s Buddhists and Muslims have joined hands for the first time to fight for a separate Ladakh division and greater autonomy for the twin districts of Leh and Kargil. Elected leaders of Buddhist-majority Leh and Muslim-majority Kargil have together called for the creation of a third division in the state, virtually seeking azaadi from Kashmir. The state now has two divisions, Kashmir and Jammu. Ladakh is part of the Kashmir division although its two districts, Leh and Kargil, are run by autonomous hill development councils. “We want a separate Ladakh division whose divisional commissioner will be headquartered in Leh for six months and in Kargil for another six months,” said A.A. Khan Kachu, chief executive councillor, Kargil Autonomous Hil Development Council. “We (Leh and Kargil) have become one…. We are making efforts to unite Kargil and Leh.” Additionally, leaders from the two districts are demanding more powers for the two autonomous councils, including a greater say in the appointment of district-level officials. “We want the government to take our consent in the postings and transfers of district-level officers, including deputy commissioners. Also, the executive councillors in each district should be given the status of ministers of state within Ladakh,” Kachu said. The united front put up by the two districts is the result of a series of meetings between their leaders over the past several months, whose latest round was held in Kargil last week. Kachu and his Leh counterpart, Rigzin Spalbar, attended it. “We are working together for the cause. We are from the same region and have similar problems and a similar culture,” said Sonam Wanchuk, executive councillor from Leh. Hostilities have run deep between the two communities for decades, at times triggering communal violence. A few years ago, the bitterness led to a “population war” of sorts, with Buddhist leaders urging their co-religionists to shun family planning and produce more children lest their population decline. (The 2001 census put the population of Ladakh at 2.36 lakh, 47.40 per cent of whom were Muslim and 45.90 per cent Buddhist.) Kargil’s Muslim leaders, on the other hand, had staunchly opposed the creation of a united autonomous hill development council for Ladakh or grant of Union territory status fearing Buddhist domination. Both demands were popular in Leh, which subsequently got an autonomous hill development council for the district in 1995. The rapid development that followed in Leh prompted Kargil’s leaders to later call for an autonomous council in their district as well, which they got in 2003.