NEW DELHI: Delinking of Ladakh from Jammu and Kashmir and granting it the status of a Union Territory has been a long-standing demand of the people of the cold desert region, which shares borders with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and China.
The people of Ladakh, comprising a mix of Buddhists and Shia Muslims, had been frowning over the fact that their destiny was connected to Kashmir and complaining that the region had to depend on the Valley-centred government of the state for finances for development of the province.
The Rajya Sabha on Monday passed a bill providing for bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir state into two Union Territories -- Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
The people of Ladakh had been demanding "freedom" from Jammu and Kashmir state for over 50 years and had resorted to agitations from time to time to get their due political and economic share.
The grouse of the people of Ladakh was genuine in the sense that the largest region of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, in terms of area, had only four seats earmarked in the 87-member Assembly, giving it very little say in the affairs of the state.
The first organized agitation against Kashmir's "dominance" was witnessed in 1964 under the leadership of revered Buddhist icon Kushok Bakula. It, however, did not yield the desired results.
In late 1980s, a bigger agitation was launched to press their demand for UT status, so that the region could be governed directly by the Centre.
The movement was spearheaded by the Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA). Incidentally, the agitation was launched at a time when militancy was finding feet in Kashmir, resulting in disruption of supplies to Ladakh since the route to the region passed through the Valley.
"Why should we suffer because of problems in Kashmir?" This was the common refrain of the people of Ladakh, including the Shia Muslim-dominated Kargil, whose population never associated with the separatist movement witnessed in Kashmir Valley.
The agitation was, however, suspended after some months as the LBA thought it would not be proper to increase the problems for the central government at a time when it was dealing with the problem of rising militancy. Consultations were subsequently held and it resulted in setting up of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) in early 1990s, an elected body which would have governing powers for the region to a certain extent.
But since the funds for the LAHDC were to be routed through the state government based in Srinagar and Jammu (on six-monthly basis every year), the complaints about the financial choking continued.
The LAHDC leaders used to regularly complain that the "Kashmir-based government" was not letting the Council to function properly and they were made to plead for funds.
About three years back, All Religious Joint Action Committee (ARJAC), formed to press the demand for Union Territory status, passed a resolution at a meeting, underlining that Ladakh is "fundamentally different from Kashmir in all respects - culturally, ethnically and linguistically" and thus should be separated from it.
It complained that the successive state governments based in Kashmir had adopted a "policy of discrimination and subversion" towards Ladakh with the "sole objective of stifling its people and marginalizing its historical, religious and cultural identity."
The resolution highlighted that the people of the region have always been nationalists and played a key role against aggressions by Pakistan and China.
The granting of UT status would solve all its problems, the ARJAC said in its demand, which has been met now.