How BJP fooled Ladakhis with UT status "Jumla"
Recently, it repeated the same in Ladhak. I was quite baffled with the BJP’s victory in the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Leh elections on 17 October. It was doubly surprising because Ladakh had returned most of the Congress candidates in the Assembly elections barely a year ago, and despite its explicit polarisation drive the BJP had bitten the dust in the region.
Besides that, the Congress has long espoused the struggle and challenges of the Ladakhis. It was during Congress regime that the LHDC was established. It was the Congress government again which had felicitated the victims of the Kargil war. From Pt Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi , Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi to Ghulam Nabi Azad all have been admired by Ladakhis. Confounded, I asked one of my colleagues how could the Congress possibly lose this election? “What is BJP famous for?” he replied with a grin. “Communalism?” I answered. “No, this time it was their jumlas.”
The colleague then explained to me how the BJP fooled the Ladakhis with the plank of a Union Territory status for them. The irony cannot be starker. The state is bound by Article 370, which accords it a special status. A UT status means this provision will have to be abrogated, which is next to impossible. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley of the BJP had clarified in Rajya Sabha sometime back that the Centre will not dilute this Constitutional arrangement. True, the BJP centred its entire campaign of the general election in 2014 on scrapping Article 370 and went on length explaining how this might benefit the state. But once they had stormed to power, they went back on their words. “It was a chunaavi jumla,” the FM announced in Parliament.
And now the theatrics are being repeated with pomp. Throughout their campaign, the BJP insisted on the Ladhakis that if its candidate was returned, the party would initiate efforts to turn Ladhak into a UT. One cannot help feel nauseated at the BJP’s lies. But then, people are vulnerable and lies told from the roof top often find buyers. The Congress, which had won 22 seats last time, was reduced to merely five seats, ending its 15 year domination of the LHDC.
One wonders how the BJP will now convince people that a UT is not conceivable. The Apex Court has already pulled down the appeal to revoke Article 370. Any state legislation too is unlikely, since the BJP’s own coalition partner in Jammu and Kashmir, the people’s Democratic Party, has made its aversion known for any alteration in the special provision.
In the heart of its heart, even the BJP knows scrapping Article 370 would spell devastation for Jammu aswell as Kashmir and Ladakh. If Article 370 is abrogated, investors would mushroom the state, edging out the local population. There will be a major setback to local traders, shopkeepers and transporters, and the ethnic Dogra, Ladakhi, Kashmiri, Gujjar and Pahari people would be forced to migrate to other places in want of a livelihood.
The BJP’s fixation with Article 370 itself is an irony. J&K’s autonomy has been eroded to a large extent through successive legislation over the decades and only a faint shadow of the special provision now remains. This shadow has to remain for some time until the Kashmiris get more economically integrated with the rest of India.
The BJP’s jumlas on UT status for Ladakh started first during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It bagged the seat on the UT plank but in the last year and a half precious little has been done to improve the situation in Ladhak. In fact, all other promises of the BJP remain unfulfilled. These include the inclusion of the Bhoti language in Schedule 8 of the Constitution, a deemed university status for the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies, early completion of the tunnelling at Khardung-la, opening a route to Kailash Mansarovar via Demchok, a central university or medical college, and a Regional Advisory Council for Leh and Kargil.
Ladakh, no doubt, is a hotbed for tourists, but people who are not engaged with tourism suffer a lot. Women of Ladakh are hard-working but the opportunities are missing. There is no proper health care facility and people also lack access to clean water. There is not much awareness about education schemes available in the state. The students are not aware of the government-run scholarship programmes. In the want of good road connectivity, people cannot be rushed to hospitals in an emergency. There have been cases when people lost their infant children half way before they could reach the hospital.
The congress, no doubt, tried to connect the region and improved the health and education sectors. But the BJP shifts the political discourse from these basic issues to controversial subjects in order to win elections. Only a self-interested party like the BJP can refuse to focus on education of women, promotion of tourism, or the regional economy. The BJP has got a mandate to rule the centre as well as the state. It should keep its jumlas aside and focus on development. Fake promises cannot steer India to development. Dividing people on religious lines too is not going to take us anywhere.