Srinagar: After terming the call to boycott the upcoming polls to the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council as “nonsense”, J&K BJP leader Ashok Koul Friday made a U-turn.
Speaking to the media in Leh, where Koul is currently on a visit along with BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav, he said he stood behind all the demands made by the people of Ladakh and claimed that ThePrint “twisted” his comments.
On Tuesday, Koul told ThePrint that the resolution passed by the Apex Body of People’s Movement for Sixth Schedule, calling for the boycott of the polls scheduled next month, was “bakwas” (nonsense) and that it meant nothing.
But, speaking to a news channel Friday, Koul said, “We are with all the demands of Ladakh. When ThePrint asked me that there is a boycott of elections in Ladakh and when they connected this to Kashmir, to that I said the boycott in Kashmir is bakwas. They twisted my statement in a wrong manner and published it … which people questioned here.
“I want to tell people of Ladakh and the leaders here that I have no such intentions. I have supported all the demands of Ladakh and will continue to stay with the demands of people of Ladakh. I will continue to tell the BJP about the demands of the people here. I am saddened that my statements have been twisted in a strange manner,” he added.
Koul, who is the general secretary of the party’s J&K unit, also said he had “no opposition to the demands of the people here” and that he will “continue to forward” their demands.
“All my senior leaders who I respect, who I work with, they also know that I respect everyone and that I am respected too. I have no such intentions. Even after that if some people feel this way, I want to express my regret,” he added.
In protest against Koul’s “nonsense” remark, the apex body had observed a shutdown in Leh Thursday. But with Koul’s U-turn, the group now hopes their demands will be met.
‘Seems BJP realised what the people of Ladakh want’
The newly formed apex body had passed a resolution Tuesday, stating that the local residents have demanded Ladakh be brought under the Sixth Schedule and given constitutional safeguards on the lines of the Bodoland Territorial Council. It said they would boycott the polls until the time their demands are met.
The Sixth Schedule makes separate arrangements for tribal-designated areas, restricting ownership of land and government jobs to local residents only.
The apex body comprises leaders of prominent local religious bodies and units of political parties, including the BJP, Congress and AAP.
Former BJP Lok Sabha MP Thupstan Chhewang, who was one of the signatories to the resolution, told ThePrint: “I believe that given the tensions in the border area (with China), the central government will also be concerned that the Ladakh region stays stable. We also want the same thing. From today’s statement of Mr Ashok Koul, it seems that the BJP has realised what the people of Ladakh want. It is likely that our demands will be met.”
He reiterated that land and job rights of local residents need to be protected at any cost.
“We did not oppose the revocation of Article 370 and we still do not oppose the government’s decision. However, we want protection of our land rights and government jobs. The land and jobs rights should be reserved for local people only,” added Chhewang, who quit the BJP in 2018.
The land and jobs rights of the local residents of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, which included Ladakh, were protected by the special status of J&K that was revoked last year in August.
While Leh did not protest the Modi government’s move then, the residents, over time, have increasingly become insecure about their land and job rights.
Kargil demands return of Article 370
The fulfilment of the Sixth Schedule demand could mean political uncertainty in Kargil, which had opposed Ladakh’s conversion into a Union Territory.
Kargil had observed shutdowns after Ladakh was converted into a UT last year and various political units in the district, such as the National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party, and other religious and social organisations demanded the return of the J&K’s special status.
“We have principally opposed the UT status given to Ladakh. We stand by our demand, which is the return of Article 370. Even if the Sixth Schedule is given to Ladakh, our demands will continue,” said prominent Kargil-based social activist Sajjad Kargili.
Chhewang, meanwhile, said that the apex body plans to visit Kargil to get residents on board with them.
“I don’t think people of Kargil should have a problem with the Sixth Schedule,” he said.