On Friday, February 8, the government of Jammu and Kashmir ordered an administrative division for the Ladakh region, sparking protests across the state.
The Department of Information and Public Relations of the government of Jammu and Kashmir released a statement outlining that Kargil and Leh districts will make up two parts of the revenue division, and its headquarters will be at Leh.
Previously, administrative powers were decentralised and divided among the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils (LAHDC) in Kargil and Leh, respectively.
What does the statement say?
Framing this as a fulfillment of the “governance and development aspirations of the people of Ladakh region”, the government has sanctioned the establishment of administrative headquarters in Leh to oversee Leh as well as Kargil.
Now, the state will have three distinct areas—Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh.
The statement says that among other organisations, the LAHDCs requested this change because Ladakh’s isolated geography and harsh terrain contribute to the lack of “delivery of development schemes, redressal of public grievances, conduct of administrative affairs and governance as such”. Ladakh is especially vulnerable to isolation during the winter months.
According to this press release, Ladakh residents have been demanding “effective local institutional arrangements that can help promote and accelerate the pace of development and equitable all-round growth”.
Heading this new Ladakh division will be a divisional commissioner and inspector general of police (IGP), both of whom will be stationed at Leh.
Responses to the decision
The people of Ladakh did not receive the government’s decision positively; they believe it was made along communal lines, especially because the headquarters is being set up at Leh.
Politicians from Kargil, a Muslim majority area, warned that they will organise protests if the government does not review the decision. News18 also reports that Kargil residents have asked for these offices to rotate between Kargil in the summer and Leh in the winter.
National Conference Leader Feroz Khan said, “We are not against the divisional status to Ladakh region, comprising both Leh and Kargil districts. We are against posting the divisional commissioner’s headquarters along with the IGP office permanently at Leh.”
Other opponents to the decision have asked for two separate offices in each district, and BJP ally Sajad Lone agrees. He tweeted: “The rotational demand for divisional headquarters between Leh and Kargil is justified. Kargil has been ignored in the developmental processes. The government runs the risk of wronging a right. Divisional status is a right step, while static headquarters is wrong.”
He added that having the headquarters at Leh might result in neglect of Kargil and push it “further down the economics ladder”.
On Monday, February 11, government offices in Jammu and Kashmir shut down to protest against the division. All political and social groups in the region supported the shutdown and asked for rotational offices between the two districts. BJP officials in Kargil have also threatened to resign if the decision is not reviewed. NDTV reports that protesters in Jammu also marched with national flags.
Why it matters
The government’s decision to initiate a divisional status comes on the heels of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Leh on February 3. He said the Centre was working to establish programmes related to education and healthcare.
Sources say the BJP is trying to win back favour in Leh before the Lok Sabha elections and after the resignation of senior leaders and parliamentarians from Ladakh.
The government has not yet announced any changes to its decision on Ladakh.
Rhea Arora is a staff writer at Qrius.