Residents of Leh have reacted sharply over chief minister Omar Abdullah opposing Union Territory (UT) status to the Ladakh region, stating the demand for creation of Ladakh as a separate territorial identity goes back to pre-Independence era and much older than the demand for a separate Telangana state.
In a recent interview to a national newspaper, Omar, while opposing the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) support to the UT status to Leh, had said: "Dismembering J&K will have awful consequences, both for communal peace in the state and for its wider relations with the India."
His statement, in turn, is being viewed by people of Leh as a reflection of "Kashmir-centric"government which wants to keep Leh under its control.
"It's not a communal demand. We are demanding UT status for the entire Ladakh region, including Leh and Kargil districts. People are demanding separation from J&K even before 1947, but "the Kashmir-centric government"wants to keep us under its control. It's Kashmir-based parties and more so the National Conference which plays communal card whenever it suits them,"said Thupstan Chewang, former MP and BJP candidate from the Ladakh parliamentary constituency.
"The then chief minister and grandfather of Omar Abdullah, late Sheikh Abdullah had created the Kargil district in 1979 by bifurcating the Ladakh region. Some politicians had even then warned that it would disturb the secular and cohesiveness character of the Ladakh region,"said Chewang.
Even before the Partition, people of Leh had told the then ruler late Maharaja Hari Singh that Ladakh to be separated from the state and to be taken away from its suzerainty.
The demand - marked by series of protest demonstrations - continued till 1989 until the state government agreed to constitute an autonomous council for Ladakh, which was executed on the ground only in 1995.
"We are not just talking about Leh, but the entire Ladakh region. The region has no cultural or historical similarity with the state, especially with the Kashmir region. The creation of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) was just a stopgap arrangement, as it doesn't have total administrative power. It's our long-pending and genuine demand, and terming it communal would be an insult to the people of the region,"said PT Kunzon, former general secretary of Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA), which has been fighting for the cause.
The residents, meanwhile, say UT status is also necessary because the Ladakh region has got only four MLAs - two each in Leh and Kargil - and their numerical strength is not enough to pressurise the government to accept their legitimate demands.
In Kargil district, however, there are voices of dissent, as there has been communal tension between the two districts. In 1989, thrashing of a Muslim in Leh over some minor incident resulted in communal clashes, which claimed some protesters' lives. The division has sharpened since then.
"Even if UT status is granted, the administrative headquarters will be located in Leh. The people of Leh will continue to dominate us, as they had done in the past. Every major facility is given to Leh. After creation of a separate district, we have got some voices. The UT status may be good for Leh, but not for us,"said a political activist, who doesn't want to be named.