New Delhi: Buddhist leaders in Ladakh, including members of the BJP, are unhappy with the Cabinet expansion effected earlier this week, saying their community and region were left out in the exercise.
Many have written letters of protest to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), describing the exercise as “disappointing”.
BJP Ladakh secretary Gulam Abbas Abidi, who wrote to both Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, said the region had always supported the party, adding that the non-inclusion of a representative from the union territory in the central government was highly “disappointing”. The last time Ladakh was represented at the national level was a decade ago, under the “Congress government”, added the letter, accessed by ThePrint.
Others who wrote to the PM include BJP leader Tashi Gyalson, chief executive councillor of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Leh, and Buddhist monk Kaushok Thiksay, who heads the Thiksay monastery.
PM Modi’s big-ticket Cabinet rejig Wednesday saw several major changes, with top portfolios going to new faces, and many younger ministers being included, representing a wide geographical cross section of the country.
The BJP has made light of the concerns raised by the Ladakh leaders, saying the Union Cabinet is not the only platform for representation, and the party does look out for the region.
‘BJP ignored Buddhists and Ladakh’
According to the 2011 census, Buddhists make up 0.7 per cent of the Indian population, of which neo-Buddhists (Ambedkarites who converted to Buddhism) account for 87 per cent, and traditional Buddhists, 13 per cent.
The largest concentration of neo-Buddhists is in Maharashtra, where 77 per cent of them live. West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh are the other states with a large Buddhist population.
The top five states/UTs in terms of the percentage of traditional Buddhists are Ladakh (39.7 per cent), Sikkim (27.4 per cent), Arunachal Pradesh (11.8 per cent), Himachal Pradesh (10 per cent), and West Bengal (3 per cent). In Ladakh, Buddhism is the most prominent religion.
In the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won the lone Ladakh seat.
In his letter to PM Modi, BJP leader Tashi Gyalson said: “As you are aware, after decades of neglect by successive governments, our party has conferred Ladakh with the union territory status in 2019 that had not only been rejoiced by the people of Ladakh, but also had a great political resonance nationwide.”
Now, “at a time when the union territory of Ladakh is still at its nascent stage, the region is subject to lots of political pulls and pressures, including the destructive elements from JK… there is also the national security imperative of keeping the emotion and moral of the people strong and united in the face of ‘Chinese assertion’ along our borders… The exclusion of Ladakh representation in the making of the new Cabinet has been a disappointment and has gone against the ‘regional aspiration’,” read the confidential letter, which was also addressed to the home minister. ThePrint has accessed this letter.
Kaushok Thiksay requested that the local MP be included in the Union Cabinet.
Meanwhile, Leh Mayor Ishey Namgyal put up strongly worded post about the “partisan attitude” towards Ladakh, on his Facebook page. “Modi government had neglected this sensitive border region in the previous MODI O1 government by neglecting our senior two times MP Sh. Thupstan Chhewang. Jamyang Tsering Namgyal was the deserving candidate in this Cabinet reshuffle being the lone Buddhist MP who also belongs to Schedule Tribe (sic).”
“When the Indian government abrogated the special status of Jammu & Kashmir, and divided it into two union territories, Ladakh, a Buddhist state, rejoiced that decision,” said a Ladakh BJP leader, adding, “Kashmir has got better due, which was our charge against dominance of Kashmir… Jitendra Singh is a minister from Kashmir, but we have no representative in the Union Cabinet… our neglect continues.”
Government sources claimed the Cabinet reshuffle ensured representation “from Kashmir to Manipur”, also noting that the council of ministers had two Buddhists — Kiren Rijiju of the BJP and Ramdas Athawale of the Republican Party of India (A).
Reached for comment, BJP spokesperson R.P. Singh told ThePrint the party kept the sentiments of Ladakh in mind when it granted the region UT status. “The Union Cabinet is not the only platform for representation, our MP is from there,” he added.
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)