Geographically large, scantily populated, ecologically fragile mountainous Ladakh is India’s super-sensitive centrally-administered northern union territory (UT) sharing borders with China and Pakistan. It was hived off from Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) in 2019, following the abrogation of Article 370. While the restoration of statehood for J&K – with assembly – is likely this year, Ladakh remains a UT without assembly.

Massive weekend protests in Ladakh demanding statehood show local angst in this super-sensitive area. The ongoing military standoff with the Chinese PLA in eastern Ladakh and Pakistan’s attempts at fomenting trouble in border areas create serious security challenges and dilemmas for India.

In 2019, Ladakh welcomed UT status. Buddhist-majority Leh had long demanded treating Ladakh separately from J&K alleging discrimination in services and representation. They now allege bureaucratic rule with Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils under New Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor.

Some prominent leaders include Sonam Wangchuk, a prominent advocate for Ladakh’s rights, went onto fast-unto-death due to a perceived lack of progress on their demands. Despite talks and a high-powered committee, protesters feel their concerns have not been adequately addressed. Wangchuk argues that granting democratic representation through a legislature is crucial for Ladakh’s strategic position, countering Chinese claims and India’s commitment to democratic principles.

Buddhist-majority Leh as well as Muslim-majority Kargil agree on four demands:

  • Statehood – Alongside constitutional safeguards, Kargil Democratic Alliance seeks full statehood for Ladakah – greater political representation & better control over resources
  • Inclusion of Ladakh in the Sixth Schedule of Indian Constitution – autonomy & protection to the tribal communities
  • Job reservation for locals
  • A parliamentary seat each for Kargil & Ladakh

Environmental Concerns: Due to Ladakh’s sensitive Himalayan geography, there are fears industrialisation and infrastructure development in the region could lead to environmental disasters. There are concerns about mining in the glacial ecology, and fears that the region could see large number of migrants.

Times of India suggests, “For Ladakh a middle path should be a UT with an elected legislature. New Delhi’s security strategy must include adequate democratic representation in Ladakh.”

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