Markets in Leh were deserted today after a half-day shutdown was observed in the district in the Ladakh region to protest against Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ashok Kaul’s comment, who called the demand for an extension of the sixth schedule of Constitution to the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir “nonsense”. A call for a shutdown was given by the Merchant Association in Leh, who condemned Kaul’s comment and expressed their solidarity with the newly-formed People’s Movement in Ladakh.
Speaking to NewsClick, Jet Namgyal, the president of the Merchant Association said that the statement by Kaul was “unacceptable and irresponsible and we unequivocally condemn it. The bandh was in support of the People Movement’s decision to boycott the upcoming Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) polls.”
After successfully observing bandh for half the day, public protests were witnessed in Leh with people chanting slogans against Koul and demanding the implementation of the Sixth Schedule of the constitution, which provides autonomy to tribal areas.
“We protested today and yesterday as well – when the BJP leaders arrived in Leh. We are united and won’t keep silent until our demands are met,” said student activist Jigmet Paljor.
Commenting on the BJP general secretary Koul’s statement, former chief executive councillor of Leh, Rigzin Spalbar said: “I think he should mind his own business. He has no locus standi. We, the people of Ladakh are demanding the Sixth Schedule for us. We are not demanding the Sixth Schedule for Ashok Koul or anyone else. People are hurt by his statement.”
Notably, the Leh district president of the BJP, Nawang Samstan, is also a signatory to the poll boycott statement issued by the People’s Movement.
On Tuesday, the People’s Movement for the Sixth Schedule for Ladakh – a conglomeration of different political parties and socio-religious organizations – announced its decision to boycott the upcoming polls held by the LAHDC. The group said they would boycott the polls until constitutional safeguards on the lines of the Bodo Territorial Council were not extended to Ladakh.
A special provision under Article 370 which granted land and job protection to the residents of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, including Ladakh, was abrogated last year following which the state was bifurcated into two union territories.
While the Muslim-majority Kargil region had opposed the Centre’s decision by protesting against it, the Buddhist-majority Leh had hailed it. A year later, a call for a boycott of the forthcoming elections echoes the fear among the residents about jobs, resources and the environment.
Speaking to NewsClick, the former chief executive councillor of Leh, Rigzin Spalbar, had said: “We are not asking for anything outside our Constitution. People are very worried that they will be exploited by the non-tribals. People see this as an attempt to change the demography of the UT.”