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Can’t Remove Democracy In The Name Of Development: Ladakh’s Petitioners Who Challenged Article 370 Abrogation

While the government has been arguing that the development is taking place in the Ladakh region since the abrogation of Article 370, some people realised that it was happening at the cost of their constitutional safeguards.

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While political parties in the Kashmir Valley, National Conference, and People's Conference, were among the prominent petitioners challenging the abrogation of Article 370, the initial petitioners were three politicians from the Ladakh region – Asgar Ali Karbalai, Qamar Ali Akhoon, and Sajjad Kargili. However, they have not been in the limelight.

Karbalai, a former Congress leader; Akhoon, a senior member of the National Conference currently serving as the co-chairman of the Kargil Democratic Alliance; and Sajjad Kargili, a prominent leader within the Kargil Democratic Alliance, filed a petition before the Supreme Court days after the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, challenging its removal.

Kargili tells Outlook that they filed the petition as the Supreme Court is their last hope. “We have hope on the Apex Court. We have expectations that the Supreme Court would nullify the executive orders of the president that led to abrogation of Article 370 and restore Article 370 and subsequent bifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir,” he says. 

Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh regions were adversely affected by the August 5, 2019, decisions. “You can see even today people of Ladakh are seeking restoration of democracy and they have been agitating for it for the past four years,” he had said before the Supreme Court judgement. “The Supreme Court is our last hope for justice.”

Soon after the abrogation of Article 370, Leh celebrated the decision. However, a year following the repeal of Article 370, the political landscape in Leh underwent significant changes with the formation of the Apex Body of Leh, a grouping of various political and religious parties of Leh. The Leh Apex body started advocating for constitutional safeguards to protect the local population, seeking the implementation of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.

Later on September 3, 2021, the BJP-led LAHDC Leh passed a resolution urging for safeguards either under Article 371 of the Constitution of India, the Sixth Schedule, or domicile laws to uphold the tribal rights of the indigenous people of Ladakh. However, Kargil has consistently opposed the abrogation of Article 370 and the division of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir. Only in January of this year, since its establishment in 2020, the Kargil Democratic Alliance joined with the Leh Apex Body to present a four-point demand. The demands include full statehood for Ladakh, constitutional protections under the Sixth Schedule, the establishment of a Public Service Commission, and the creation of two separate parliamentary constituencies for Leh and Kargil.

“In Ladakh, especially in Kargil, people were against bifurcation of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir and removal of Article 370. The decision was a shock for all of us. I can say in Leh there was this sense that they would get the Sixth Schedule after the removal of Article 370. But they soon realised the reality and started asking for full statehood and other constitutional safeguards,” Kargili said.

Kargili said the government had been arguing that the development was taking place in the Ladakh region. “We have been asking for democracy. You cannot remove democracy and federal structure of the country in the name of the development,” he said. “No one in Ladakh likes Union Territory status. Our representation has been taken away from us and we are hoping that the Supreme Court will talk about it and give directions about our representation in its verdict.”

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He said they had filed the petition before the Apex Court as they had apprehensions that without democratic set-up and constitutional guarantees like Article 370 and Article 35A of the Constitution people of Ladakh and its environment would be vulnerable. “And I think we were not wrong in our apprehensions,” he added.

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