The grant of Union Territory (UT) status to Ladakh, a long time demand of Ladakhis, particularly Leh Buddhists, should have perhaps led to a groundswell of goodwill for BJP. The results of Ladakh Autonomous Hill District Council (LAHDC) in Leh on Monday indicate otherwise. Of course, the BJP has retained power in the district winning 15 out of 26 seats for which elections were held a couple of days ago. But this majority is less than the party had in the outgoing council where it had won 17 seats. The Congress winning nine seats, as against four last time when LAHDC polls were held in 2015, shows that the BJP has lost ground. One thing more that needs to be taken note of is that several Central leaders of BJP had campaigned for the party. In contrary, the Congress campaign was led entirely by local leadership.The main reason for the BJP losing ground in Leh seems to be the refusal of the Centre to grant Sixth Schedule protections to Ladakh. After scrapping Article 35 A and restating Article 370 to make it ineffective, the BJP brought in new domicile laws in J&K. Applying largely the same principles, the BJP would perhaps want similar domicile laws for Ladakh also. This is something unacceptable to a very large section of Ladakhis, be they from Kargil or Leh. The Centre can liberalise the laws of domicile for settlement in Ladakh UT on the pattern witnessed in J&K, if it wants, but there is hesitation on this count. Anything less than opening up Ladakh for all Indians would amount to a compromise on principles, but for now compromise seems the only way forward.The incursions by Chinese in Ladakh have also complicated the issues for BJP in Ladakh. Even if it wants to liberalise laws pertaining to settlement, it does not want to antagonise local population at this juncture. The locals have gone out of their way to support the troops deployed near their respective villages and carried food & water to forward posts. In these voluntary efforts, all Ladakhis, irrespective of their social strata and standing, participated in a display of goodwill towards the Indian troops. The BJP will have to make haste, but slowly, and caution rather than deja vu should guide it’s actions in Ladakh.
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