Proposed ‘fast unto death’ protest to depend on outcome of talks with government: Ladakh’s Sonam Wangchuk

The Ladakh leadership temporarily dropped the "fast unto death" programme after a fresh round of talks with the Central Government, terming the development as significant

Published - February 20, 2024 11:27 am IST - Leh

Sonam Wangchuk, a key campaigner for constitutional safeguards for Ladakh, on Tuesday said the proposed "fast unto death" protest will be reviewed next week, depending on the outcome of talks with the Centre over their various demands, including statehood to the Union Territory.

"We will call a very big public gathering in Leh city on February 26 to either thank the government for accepting the demands of the people of Ladakh or go for a fast unto death in case the talks fail," Mr. Wangchuk, who was set to begin a hunger strike till death from Tuesday in support of the demands, told PTI.

The Ladakh leadership, which is presently camping in the national capital, temporarily dropped the "fast unto death" programme after a fresh round of talks with the Central Government on Monday, terming the development as significant.

It said the Centre had agreed to discuss threadbare the demands for Ladakh's statehood, inclusion of the Union Territory in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and the setting up of an exclusive public service commission for the high-altitude region.

The agreement was agreed during a meeting between the High Powered Committee (HPC) for Ladakh, headed by Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai, and a 14-member delegation of the Apex Body of Leh (ABL) and the Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA), representing various organisations of the Union Territory.

The meeting also resolved to constitute a joint sub-committee for carrying forward the exercise to look into the details of the demands.

"We will wait till the February 24 meeting of the sub-committee and the return of our leaders to Leh on February 25. We will call a very big public gathering the next day in Leh city to either thank the government for meeting our demands or start our fast unto death in case the talks fail," Mr. Wangchuk, a winner of the Ramon Magsaysay Award, said.

Among the demands of the delegation are two Lok Sabha seats — one for Kargil and one for Leh — and job opportunities for residents of the Union Territory. Ladakh currently has one Lok Sabha seat.

Ladakh, which no longer has any Assembly constituency, was earlier part of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir.

The provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution, which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir, were abrogated on August 5, 2019, and the erstwhile state was bifurcated into the Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

According to provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, Jammu and Kashmir has been made a Union Territory with a legislative assembly and Ladakh a Union Territory without an assembly.

There were four representatives from Ladakh in the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir Assembly.

The BJP-led Centre assured the delegation from Ladakh in December that it was committed to fast-tracking the development of the Union Territory and meeting the aspirations of the people in the region.

The assurance was given at a meeting held with the HPC for Ladakh.

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) formed the HPC for Ladakh under Mr. Rai's chairmanship with a mandate to discuss the measures needed to be taken to protect the region's unique culture and language, taking into consideration its geographical location and strategic importance.

The HPC has also been formed for the protection of land and employment, measures for inclusive development and employment generation in the region, steps related to the empowerment of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils (LAHDCs) of Leh and Kargil and the constitutional safeguards that could be provided to ensure the measures and protection as mentioned above.

Several organisations in Ladakh had demanded a separate Union Territory for the region for decades and the demand was fulfilled on August 5, 2019. The KDA and the ABL, however, in the recent past protested at different locations, including New Delhi, Jammu and Ladakh, highlighting their key demands.

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