Demand For UT Status To Ladakh Takes Centre-stage

16 April 2014
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Arteev Sharma

Jammu: As the election fever grips Ladakh, the demand for a union territory status to the mountainous region has taken centre-stage with the Congress and the BJP including the issue in their local poll manifestos. The Congress, which had been quietly supporting the demand till now, is now openly backing the demand and has even endorsed the call for a separate Assembly for Ladakh. 'We all are united on the demand for a UT status to Ladakh. After the Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA), the Congress had made this demand. The BJP has been demanding only a UT status for the region but we have been asking for a UT status with legislature (separate Assembly) for the region,' Phuntsog Namgyal, veteran Congress leader and four-time winner of the Ladakh parliamentary seat, told The Tribune over phone from Leh. In 1980, Namgyal had won the seat as an Independent candidate for the first time. Thereafter, he won the seat as a Congress candidate in 1984, 1989 and 1996 parliamentary elections. Namgyal said, 'When we demand a UT status with legislature for Ladakh, we want to a similar Assembly which exists in union territories such as Delhi and Puducherry.' He, however, said the National Conference had always attempted to scuttle their demand by 'communalising' the situation in Kargil, which is predominately inhabited by Shia Muslims. 'We will approach the representatives of Kargil people and will take them into confidence. We want a UT status for the entire Ladakh region, comprising Leh and Kargil districts, as it will benefit the people of both districts. After the region becomes a UT, there will be an equal number of members in the Assembly from both districts,' Namgyal said. Yesterday, the Congress, while releasing its 29-point manifesto for Ladakh, said it 'stood for the struggle for a UT status to Ladakh.' The manifesto was released after the party candidate for Ladakh seat Tsering Samphel filed his nomination papers. The demand for a UT status has been a long-pending issue with Ladakh, which had witnessed the Buddhist community coming together under the Ladakh Union Territory Front (LUTF) banner in 2002. The LUTF won uncontested two seats in 2002 Assembly polls. Though the Front disintegrated later, the demand continued to dominate the politics of the region. Thupstan Chhewang, the BJP nominee for the Ladakh seat, said: 'The Congress is trying to deceive the people by making the demand for a UT status as well as a separate Assembly for Ladakh. The party has made the demand at the local level. If it was sincere towards the people of Ladakh, let the All India Congress Committee (AICC) announce its support to the demand. The BJP stand is quite clear on the issue as it has already adopted a resolution in this regard in its national executive as well as the state executive meeting.' He said the Congress had incorporated some 'petty issues' in its manifesto for parliamentary elections which created a doubt about its intentions. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed on Wednesday said 'The Congress promise of a union territory status to Ladakh in its local manifesto is an election time gimmick, which has been introduced only for votes and without realising that it is constitutionally impossible,' Mufti said.