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Ladakh parties boycott Hill Council polls, demand BTC-type powers

Demanding powers on the pattern of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), political parties in the union territory of Ladakh have unanimously resolved to boycott elections to the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) Leh.

With no candidate coming forward to file nomination papers in the 30-member LAHDC Leh on the third consecutive day on Wednesday, 23 September, a representative delegation of three top political leaders met the LG, Radha Krishna Mathur. Former Lok Sabha member of BJP Thupstan Chhewang; former Rajya Sabha member of the National Conference Kushok Thiksey; and former Minister of the PDP-BJP government in J&K Cering Dorjay comprised the delegation. They are among the senior Ladakhi politicians who resigned from BJP and NC and have not joined any party.

In the meeting, also attended by LG’s advisor and Chief Secretary Umang Narula and IGP Satish Khandare, the politicians made it clear to the LG that no political party would participate in the LAHDC Leh elections till the Centre grant it powers on the pattern of BTC under the 6th Schedule of the Indian Constitution.

“We submitted a detailed memorandum to LG Sahab, as also a letter through him to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on behalf of the people of the UT of Ladakh, seeking powers for the Hill Council on the pattern of the BTC,” Chhewang said. “We have made it clear that in case the J&K UT gets back statehood, the UT of Ladakh must also get a legislative assembly. That’s our right as, before splitting the state into the two UTs, Ladakh was also its part”.

Created in 2003 under the 6th Schedule of the Constitution of India, BTC administers independently East Assam’s four tribal districts of Kokrajhar, Udalguri, Baksa and Chirang. The Governor acts as its constitutional head. “We have politely conveyed to the Prime Minister and the Home Minister that our agitation would be completely peaceful and within the framework of the Constitution of India”, Chhewang said.

Under the J&K Reorganisation Act, passed by Parliament in August 2019, the erstwhile state of J&K was stripped of its special constitutional status and divided into the two UTs of J&K and Ladakh. While J&K retained the legislative assembly, the UT of Ladakh was left without any legislature. Making Ladakh a Centrally governed UT was a long time demand of the people of Buddhist-dominated Leh district.

The election department of the UT of Ladakh had on 19 September announced elections for the 30-member LAHDC Leh. While the councillors are elected by universal franchise for 26 seats, LG has powers to nominate four members for the council. A similar arrangement is in place for LAHDC Kargil which has completed only two years of its five-year term. For now, elections are due in LAHDC Leh.

The process of filing nomination papers of the candidates began on Monday, 21 September. No independent candidate or nominees of political parties filed nomination papers in the first three days. As per the notification, the last date for filing of nominations is 28 September. The scrutiny of papers will be held on 29 September and the last date for the withdrawal of nominations is 1 October. Elections, if necessary, will be held on 16 October. The counting will be held on 22 October and the election process will be completed on 27 October.

Last week, all the religious, social and political organizations of Leh, including the BJP, resolved to boycott the elections. The Muslim community was represented by the president of Anjuman Imamia, Ashraf Ali. The participants unanimously demanded constitutional safeguards and powers for LAHDC Leh while complaining that the promises made to the people of Ladakh had not been fulfilled. Notably, a number of senior leaders had resigned from the BJP months before Ladakh got the status of an independent UT. Of late, some of the leaders have also resigned from NC.

The 6th Schedule of the constitution makes separate arrangements for tribal areas. After getting the status of UT, the people in Ladakh have been expressing apprehensions that instruments like the Domicile Certificate of J&K would not safeguard land and job rights of the aboriginal and permanent residents of the region.

A resolution passed by an all-party meeting last week reads: “The apex body of People’s Movement for Sixth Schedule for Ladakh has unanimously resolved to boycott the ensuing Sixth LAHDC Leh election till such time the constitutional safeguard under Sixth Schedule on the lines of Bodo Territorial Council is not extended to UT Ladakh and its people”.

This is for the third time in the last over 30 years that all political parties, social and religious organizations in Ladakh have formed a joint platform, leaving behind all differences and party politics. In 1989, all organizations had launched collective agitation for the UT status for Ladakh. At least three persons had died during the agitation that ultimately forced the government during President’s Rule to concede the demand of a semi-autonomous hill council in Leh. Later, Farooq Abdullah’s NC government created an identical council in Kargil.

In the year 2002 again, all political, religious and social organisations in Leh created a joint platform, titled Leh Union Territory Front (LUTF). They fielded consensus candidates in the Assembly segments of Leh and Nobra who were declared elected without the polling..