Will launch fast unto death from Febuary 19 for constitutional safeguards for Ladakh — Sonam Wangchuk
NEW DELHI — Sonam Wangchuk, a key campaigner for constitutional safeguards for Ladakh, on Monday said they would launch a fast unto death from February 19 to press their demands and that details of participation of local residents in the agitation were being worked out.
The Ramon Magsaysay Award winner said a sense of desperation is growing among the local residents over their unfulfilled demands, including safeguards under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and full statehood for Ladakh.
On the proposed fast unto death, Wangchuk told PTI Videos, “First it will be Thupstan Chhewang (former BJP Lok Sabha MP) and me and if we die, who next and how many? All that roster is being prepared.”
He said he was earlier planning to go on a three-week-long fast from February 3 but postponed it after Chhewang, the chairman of the Leh Apex Body (LAB), asked him to wait till February 19, when prominent leaders from the Union territory would meet Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai in New Delhi.
Rai heads a high-powered committee, set up to look into various issues pertaining to the protection of rights of Ladakh residents.
Ladakh witnessed a major protest rally on Saturday when the Union Territory observed a complete shutdown in response to calls given by the Leh Apex Body (LAB) and the Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) in support of their four-point agenda.
“People came out in numbers like 30,000, which is unprecedented in the history of Ladakh. It’s like one third of the adult population of Ladakh came out to tell the government that it was not the voice of one person but everyone wanted the safeguards for the region,” Wangchuk said.
He said this was the result of restlessness among the people as several rounds of talks have taken place and nothing came out of them.
Wangchuk explained what the safeguards under the Sixth Schedule meant for them.
“All that the Sixth Schedule does is that it requires the consultation of local indigenous people in any agenda. It is about setting up councils of indigenous people with legislative rights, lawmaking rights, and any industry can come, but not without consultation or consent of the people.
“Secondly, it’s not also about protecting Ladakh from outsiders alone. It’s as much protecting Ladakh from Ladakhi people. We can do a lot of damage also. Like there’s Pangong lake, there’s Tsomoriri lake, very fragile ecosystems,” he said.
The LAB has been demanded inclusion of Ladakh in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, which provides safeguards for tribal rights. It is in force in tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.
The KDA has been demanding statehood for Ladakh.
Wangchuk said the prevailing desperation was making people say that they were better off being with the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, which was bifurcated into Union territories in 2019.
“…many people are saying that. I think that’s the extent of their pain. I don’t think that people really want to be in a state where their peculiar environmental conditions do not match. But people are expressing their anguish and pain…,” he said in reply to a question.
Wangchuk, while advocating for the Union territory to have its own legislature, said that strategically also it was important for the region to have its elected representatives.
“In Chinese maps, they show Ladakh. Now, if India says yes, it is disputed. We are keeping it without democracy, because it is disputed. China will be happy to say, yes, it was ours. You have acquired it,” he said.
After the reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019, Ladakh was made a Union territory without any legislature and is governed by an lieutenant governor.