LEH (Jammu and Kashmir): "This is the best gift given by the Central government to the people of Ladakh, who always had to take the burden of Kashmir's hegemony," said Member of Parliament from Ladakh Jamyang Tsering Namgyal amid a huge applause in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday.
Celebrations and congratulatory messages started in Ladakh on Monday right after Union Home Minister Amit Shah declared the removal of Article 370 and announced the region was being reclassified as a Union Territory (UT). The jubilation continued on Tuesday.
The Bharatiya Janata Party had promised the residents of Ladakh the UT status ahead of the parliamentary polls back in 2014. Even though nothing came out of it, the Ladakhis trusted the BJP again in 2019 and finally, got what they were promised.
In 2018, former BJP MP from Ladakh Thupstan Chhewang had resigned from the Lok Sabha on the grounds that the UT status was the demand of the people and the party was not able to meet it. The issue created an uproar in the region, with people vowing to teach the BJP a lesson in 2019. However, it was only after the local and national BJP leadership intervened that the BJP candidate Jamyang Tsering Namgyal won the 2019 polls by a huge margin.
Apart from the UT status, the Ladakhis were also overjoyed by revoking of Article 370, which was considered discriminatory by the residents of Jammu and Ladakh. MP Namgyal said Ladakh wanted separation from Kashmir for more than 30 years due to the discrimination the locals faced.
In February, Ladakh was granted divisional status with a separate divisional commissioner, Inspector General of Police and division-level offices. However, Ladakhis had intensified the agitation and started demonstrations, demanding the UT status.
In 2016, at least 40 delegations, including representatives of political, religious and social organisations, had met with the then Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh during his visit to Leh.
Tashi Wangail, a travel agent in Leh district, said Kashmir-based political parties, including Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party and National Conference, had always given step-motherly treatment to Ladakh when it came to development and jobs.
"With our own UT and power in our hands, we will not be required to look at others for financial assistance. Ladakh is already a popular tourist place and it will become an exotic destination for tourists from around the world as we are not a part of the violent Kashmir anymore," he said.
The Ladakh Buddhist Association, a major religious body, had been spearheading the demand for a UT status for Ladakh. The association had in past also organised many protests and peace marches to raise the issue.
Rinchen Angmo, a Leh-based journalist, said while people were content with the decision of the central government, there was a mixed feeling as they have not been granted a legislature. "Although a long-pending demand of Ladakhis has been fulfilled by the government, there is still some confusion as a legislature has not been granted to the UT of Ladakh."
Meanwhile, some protests took place in Kargil with calls for shutdown by a section of politicians.
Haji Asgar Ali Karbalai, senior Congress leader in Kargil, said Kargil did not want alteration in the structure of Jammu & Kashmir. "BJP gave a UT status to Ladakh and altered the structure of the state. It is unconstitutional. Now, we do not have a right to vote as there is no Assembly for the UT of Ladakh," he said.