Small power centres are good for governance

  • Chiranjib Haldar
  • |
  • Updated: Sep 11, 2013 03:43 IST

It is a question in the minds of many sceptics. Is Ladakh trying to break away from Kashmiri dominance? Economic deprivation, appropriate representation in political institutions and discrimination in development and employment are the irritants that have often compelled fringe areas to get rid of dominance from the mainstream.

The mindset in Kashmir may have turned hyperactive over the arid desolate hills of Ladakh getting greater share in governance and development. Or how do some hardliners view discussions over certain administrative issues between chief minister Omar Abdullah and representatives of the Autonomous Hill Development Councils of Leh and Kargil and foresee it as clamouring for a union territory status as Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani suggests?

Geelani has taken exception to Ladakh getting a separate police range with decentralisation of powers, delegation of authority in respect of transfers of the officials working in the districts of Leh and Kargil. Beyond routine administrative legerdemain, these steps have nothing to do with the division of the Jammu and Kashmir state as is being envisaged by many divisive forces in the Valley.

One must understand that granting more administrative powers to Ladakh does not mean economically subjugating Kashmir and vice versa. Many commentators point out that Abdullah may be thinking of  decentralising authority with regard to Ladakh, but will not go a step further by declaring the region as a separate division. And it should not be forgotten that if J&K has to grow as a single entity, there has to be a convergence in divergence.

Some say the charter of demands recently put forward by the Ladakh Hill Councils before the government might not be good for the political, strategic and administrative health of the state. In Ladakh, council constituencies are more popular than the assembly.

The autonomous hill council status was provided to these districts on account of being geographically isolated from the mainland for almost six months due to heavy snowfall at Zojila.

Clearly Ladakh is a region in flux where unbridled developments in the diverse spheres have led to changing patterns in the societal structure. In such societies there is a need felt by the locals to appropriate an identity from which they can gain a sense of belonging.

These trends seem to be a problem faced by multi-ethnic societies where cultural elements need to adjust to a changing world but are lost to the machinations of a certain section of society.

Opponents say geographically the Ladakh region has less than 5% population of J&K and hence there is no justification in granting divisional status considering its topography.

A section argues that the people of Ladakh enjoy special privileges in education and employment, with natives in the twin districts having been granted Scheduled Tribe category status for generations.

The absence of any insurgency threat and laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act  act as a deterrent to granting a separate police range as the special superintendents of police can themselves administer law and order in sparsely populated Leh and Kargil.

If the government agrees to hive off Ladakh from the Srinagar police range into a new zone, there may not be any repercussions. The fact that Abdullah has been reluctant to concede the demand for a separate division hints at his discomfiture over a sensitive subject.

Some critics say Leh and Kargil have joined hands for the first time to fight for the creation of a third division in the state virtually seeking relief from the stronghold of Srinagar. They point to the Leh and Kargil councils being empowered to transfer officers within the district though the indirect suggestion appears far-fetched.

Chiranjib Haldar is a commentator on South Asian affairs

The views expressed by the author are personal


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