Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik's decision to create a separate administrative division for the arid Ladakh region is being seen as a political gimmick by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Centre ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha and state Assembly elections.
However, with this move, what the Centre has done is trifurcate the this border state with Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir as separate administrative divisions, each of which will have their own divisional commissioners and police chiefs, besides heads of various state departments.
However, Ladakh — one of the most sparsely populated regions in Jammu and Kashmir and the highest plateau in the state — is geographically isolated. It remains landlocked for nearly six months in a year.
According to an official government spokesperson, the region is "riddled with insurmountable problems with respect to delivery of developmental schemes, redressal of public grievances, conduct of administrative affairs and governance as such."
"The people of Ladakh have, for a long time, been demanding effective local institutional arrangements which can help promote and accelerate the pace of development and equitable all-round growth and development having regard to its peculiar geo-climatic and topographic conditions, stimulate and seek fullest participation of the local community in the decision-making process,” the spokesperson said.
However, the speed with which the decision has been taken has lend credence to the fears that the BJP-led Centre, with Governor Malik in its stead in the state, was attempting to further erode the electoral foothold of Kashmir Valley, of which Ladakh was a part before the decision was taken.
"It is a timely move to earn more votes. If the BJP was truly concerned about development in Ladakh, why would the government stop work on Zojila tunnel? After facing major setbacks over the past year, the party is trying to win back people's confidence and the move will benefit the region to some extent," Noor Mohammad Baba, a political commentator based in Srinagar, said.
State's former chief minister and erstwhile BJP ally Mehbooba Mufti also welcomed the creation of Ladakh as third administrative division, however, she added that ignoring regions like Chenab Valley and Pir Panjal will raise doubts about the intentions of New Delhi.
"Creation of a separate administrative division for Leh (sic) is a welcome step. However, ignoring Pir Panjal and Chenab Valley raises questions about the Centre’s intention. Seems like Governor saab is peddling BJP's agenda by ignoring other equally deserving regions," Mehbooba tweeted.
According to political commentators, the move to grant Ladakh a separate administrative status is the last ditch attempt by the BJP to entice voters after losing the recently held local body elections in the arid region. Another reason behind this move could be BJP Lok Sabha MP from Ladakh, Thupstan Chhewang from Ladakah quitting the party in November; he accused the party of making "false" promises and taking unwise decisions jeopardising the welfare of the region.
The BJP failed to open its account in the region with the Congress bagging all the 13 seats in Leh municipal committee of the total 26 wards in this region, and also five wards in the neighbouring Kargil district. Six seats in the region were won by independent candidates.
The party also faced a major setback in last year’s elections to the powerful Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Kargil where it managed to secure only one seat.
This was followed by resignation of five elected councillors of the party in the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Leh, in January due to which the party lost even the simple majority in the 30-member council. The resignations came after Chhewang quit the party and Lok Sabha on 14 November last year.
With BJP in deep crisis in the Ladakh region, political parties are seeing an opportunity in the Governor’s decision to draw battle-lines in other two divisions as well, ahead of the upcoming election.
Former chief minister Omar Abdullah said his party will grant division status to Chenab Valley and Pir Panjal regions if they are voted to power in upcoming state Assembly elections. In a series of tweets, Omar said granting division status to these regions was already laid in their regional autonomy promise. Omar also said his government will take care of regional and sub-regional aspirations.
We will take care of regional & sub-regional aspirations. We won’t adopt the pick & choose approach of the Governor but will instead take a holistic view & address the wider problems. Our regional autonomy document will be our template.
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) February 8, 2019
Jumping into the bandwagon, Mehbooba too demanded that the administrative headquarters of Ladakh should not be fixed at Leh, but should be shifted between Leh and Kargil districts, apparently in a bid to appeal to the Muslim voters in Kargil district.
"Keeping HQ permanently at one place is total discrimination with the other area , so the best option is to keep the HQ at both Leh and Kargil on rotational basis," she said in a tweet.
However, for the people of Ladakh, the decision by Governor Malik may be an attempt to address the long pending demand of the region which remains cut off from mainland for six months in a year. This is not to say that the timing of the move is not suspicious.
Updated Date: Feb 09, 2019 16:44:47 IST