Ladakh has finally got a political status under the sun, for the region has been long suffering due to the protracted nature of the political crisis in J&K. For a long time, circumstances never allowed Ladakh to shape its own political identity. Intermittent attempts by people to voice their local aspirations were either ruthlessly crushed or skilfully outmanoeuvred by political masters from outside. None of the demands raised by Ladakh, some of them predating J&K’s merger with the Indian Union, has been fulfilled. The reasons are numerous, but essentially Srinagar and New Delhi have so far succeeded in exploiting the simplicity, backwardness and fragility of Ladakh, and also played on local faultlines to keep the region under their thumb.
Being a small community, there was a limit to how much Ladakh could withstand the pulls and pressures of political dynamics elsewhere at the national level. Moreover, Ladakh has its own specific and distinctive social, political and economic issues, which cannot be addressed by juxtaposing or over-identifying with the larger trend. It cannot allow its political aspirations to be driven by external motivations, which seems easier, but is not an ideal choice, for it will amount to exposing its political bankruptcy.
The people of Ladakh had their own regional identity, which is more distinct by any yardstick compared to Jammu and Kashmir. The situation around Ladakh has changed rapidly in the past 20 years, and the people have their own aspirations. Clearly, the time had ripened to deal with the status quo and the widespread shortcomings that are not without detriment to national interests.
Ladakh’s problems couldn’t have been addressed without the engagement and ideas, thoughts, actions and wisdom of the people themselves, to be able to reflect their regional distinctiveness and aspirations. Abrogation of Article 370 and the withering away of J&K is a welcome move for Ladakh. It should integrate Ladakh fully with rest of the country as an equal stakeholder in building the nation. It should allow the people to nurture a political expression and outlook for Ladakh, to be able to uphold its political identity and interest first. It would steer an alternative political discourse based on local aspirations and challenges, and work towards mitigating the prolonged political neglect of Ladakh by putting the key issues on the forefront of national attention. The Union territory status should cater to the rising expectations of the people, especially the younger generation, to prevent them from drifting, and to exploit the full political potential and economic interests of Ladakh.
The writer is a Ladakh native and strategic expert. Views are personal.