December 2002 News

‘Everyone must give J&K govt a chance’

9 December 2002
The Indian Express

Thupstan Chewwang, chairman of the Ladakh (Autonomous) Hill Developmental Council, was recently in New Delhi to discuss the conrtours of developmental projects with the Centre. Chewwang, considered a moderate, led the 1989 agitation in the frontier region that led to the creation of the hill developmental council. Chewwang also played a key role in the formation of the Ladakh Union Territory Front, which has since extended support to the Mufti Mohammed Sayeed government in Jammu and Kashmir. Excerpts from an interview with AASHA KHOSA.

Why did the Ladakh Union Territory Front decide to join the Mufti Mohammed Sayeed cabinet?

LADAKHIS would not have been able to live in a political vacuum forever. The Mufti Government seemed amenable to our cause from the beginning. And for the first time, Ladakh is on the agenda of the government. Our experience with the National Conference was horrible. The party, when in government, broke all connections with the people of Ladakh and chose to pursue the policy of divide and rule. So we thought that it’s time to try out the new dispensation.

The Ladakhis staged quite a coup before the recent Assembly elections by creating the LUTF without other political parties getting even a whiff of it.

WE got the signal that this time, the elections in J&K would be crucial. And that they would be free and fair - the assurance came from none other than the Chief Election Commissioner. So we realised that this was the only time that Ladakh’s aspirations would be highlighted before a global audience. The various parties united easily since no leader dared defy the wishes of the Ladakhis.

What are your grievances?

THE National Conference regime put several obstacles in the path of the hill developmental council’s functioning. Ladakhis want genuinely autonomous hill councils in both districts of the region. We want the new government to remove all hurdles in the way of the normal functioning of the hill councils.

Is there any change in attitude in the new government in J&K?

OUR biggest achievement had been that for the first time, Ladakh is on the agenda of a government in Jammu and Kashmir. I personally feel that this government is seriously involved in giving good governance. I am told that the Mufti Government is making a list of bright IAS officers who they will request be repatriated to J&K to give exemplary governance to the people. This government has come with a mission, everyone must give it a chance.

If the J&K government continues to treat you as an equal region in the state, would you then give up your demand for union territory status?

WE will never give up our demand for union territory status. Ladakh was never a part of J&K until 1836. We were an independent nation until the Dogra warrior General Zorawar Singh conquered Ladakh for the maharaja. When India was divided, Ladakhis were the first people to demand a union territory status. We had then asked Pandit Nehru to set us free from Kashmir so that we could join India without pre-conditions. The three regions of Jammu and Kashmir have conflicting aspirations. We Ladakhis believe that granting us UT status would help the government sort out the Kashmir problem. We want to be centrally administered and would not care if Kashmir gets more autonomy or something else.

Why did you resign from the LADHC chairmanship, only to withdraw your resignation later?

THE decision to join the J&K Cabinet wasn’t an easy one for us. We were led into it by the promises made by Congress leaders. And when Mufti saheb chose to make two Ladakhis - Pintoo Narboo and Nawang Rigzin - only ministers of state, I was angry. Earlier, Farooq Abdullah too had given MoS status to two Ladakhis, and both of them were given no work during their tenure. The Mufti quickly got the message and started talking to us on real issues.


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