Nawang Rigzin Jora, prominent Congress leader from Ladakh and former Minister for Urban Development and Urban Local Bodies talks about Ladakh as a new division, the revival of Congress in J&K and chances of the state having a Ladakhi CM in an exclusive interview with Pallavi Sareen and Renu Kotwal on The Straight Line.
Pallavi Sareen: Congress had a great comeback in the recent elections in three states. What would you say about that?
Mr Nawang Rigzin Jora: It is good. The prospects for our party are looking up. As you said it, in Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh Congress did wonderfully. That is a good sign for us for the Lok Sabha elections.
Pallavi Sareen: In Ladakh, Congress had a great sweep both in Municipal and Panchayat elections. Do you think Congress can be revived in Jammu and Kashmir?
Mr Nawang Rigzin Jora: Yes. With the dissemination of PDP in the valley and the kind of resolution that exists against the BJP government, prospects are looking very good for us. We have our hopes high even for Jammu. In Ladakh, well, you see both the MLAs are from Congress party and also in recent Municipal and Panchayat elections we have swept. So things are looking good for Congress in Jammu and Kashmir.
Pallavi Sareen: Ladakh becoming a division is a recent development. Do you think it’s a good step towards progress? Why don’t you remain with the Kashmir division?
Mr Nawang Rigzin Jora: If Ladakh is given a genuine administrative division, then it’s a welcome measure. For us it’s difficult to go to Kashmir for everything and given the closure of roads in winter months, that makes it further more difficult. But if the division status just means posting of an IG (Inspector General) and Div. Com (Divisional Commissioner) without the paraphernalia, without the creation of directorate posts in various departments, then it is just fooling the people. If Ladakh becoming a division means creation of posts of directors in various departments and giving more opportunities, then it becomes meaningful. Then we would welcome it and we would think that the government is sincere, otherwise posting of D.com and IG doesn’t make any difference.
Pallavi Sareen: But people from Jammu and Kashmir don’t really like to be posted in Ladakh, because of the cold. So don’t you think Ladakh becoming a division will open up more opportunities?
Mr Nawang Rigzin Jora: No, no it’s not a question of Jammu’s people being posted here or not being posted here. You must know that Ladakh has to look after its own interests. Looking at the interests of Ladakh, you know if the governor has given us division status, then we welcome it. But again, here we address that it has to be meaningful administrative division accompanied by the creation of posts of directors of horticulture, agriculture, tourism whatever. It must not be confined to the creation of IG and Div Com posts because that doesn’t make sense. What is the IG there for? It is there to look after law and order. In Ladakh, the crime rate is very little. The Div Com job is mainly for revenues. Revenue rests with the Districts of Leh and Kargil, so you know, it is making fool of Ladakhi people.
Pallavi Sareen: If you wished for the creation of these posts and for it to be a meaningful development, why didn’t you try making Ladakh a division during your tenure?
Mr Nawang Rigzin Jora: Divisional status was never an issue in our time. It cropped up now in BJP because BJP in the last election promised us the position of a Union territory. Because they are not able to give UT, we know that it is difficult. Now, by way of distraction, they came up with this Division thing. If it is given, we are not against it. We welcome it provided, as I said, that it is a genuine step.
During my tenure, what we did was, we empowered the Hill council. The Hill Council needed some empowerment. For example, revenue was not with the council we gave them revenue. The Hill council’s financial powers were very little and we empowered it fully. Similarly, the chairman didn’t have any protocol at all, we gave them. So, whatever we could do, we did in our tenure.
Pallavi Sareen: You have been previously very vocal about making Ladakh a Union territory but now that doesn’t seem to be on the priority list. Is it that BJP just made false promises and now you’ve given up all the hopes?
Mr Nawang Rigzin Jora: Union territory was never ever a commitment given by any congress ‘government’. I am stating a difference: Congress government and Congressmen. Although it’s been a demand of all the Ladakhis irrespective of whether he is from BJP, from Congress or whichever party. Collectively all of us back to see Ladakh getting UT.
Pallavi Sareen: If you all are in favour of it then why congressmen have not talked about it?
Mr Nawang Rigzin Jora: This is collective demand of all Ladakhis just as Autonomy is collective demand of all the Kashmiris. You know somebody may call it with different names. Like example PDP calls it self-rule, NC calls it autonomy so it is a collective demand. Similarly UT is collective demand of all the Ladakhis, whether they are Buddhists or Muslims, especially from Leh district.
I am not talking about Kargil. In Leh district, it is a common demand of all the people whether they are from Congress or whoever. Congress UPA government never ever gave a commitment for grant of UT whereas Modi government, no sooner than they came in power, they made a commitment that we’ll grant you UT and we would also make Ladakh’s MP minister.
This was the commitment given by the NDA government. Now they are not able to fulfil their commitment by way of distraction, they came up with this division thing. If it is anything bad for Ladakh? No, it is not. Is it a good substitute for UT? I don’t think so.
Pallavi Sareen: It is just a consolation prize?
Mr Nawang Rigzin Jora: To distract the people’s attention from UT and to prevent them from pressing for UT, they have come up with this division thing. If this division thing is sincere and an honest effort, we would welcome it. How do you prove its sincere effort or not? As I said if it is accompanied with the creation of posts of at least 40 directorates, then it’s meaningful. If it is meaningful, it could be effective.
Pallavi Sareen: Ladakh has its own special identity and now with talks of a rail line and the Zoji-la tunnel, it’s an attempt to integrate it with the rest of the regions of Jammu and Kashmir. How do you see this?
Mr Nawang Rigzin Jora: These are the things that need to come in Ladakh. Why wouldn’t we like to see Ladakh connected with rail? Why wouldn’t we like to see it connected by road all 365 days? We would like to see this happening. Yes!
Pallavi Sareen: As you said, UT was a hoax and the Division looks like a consolation prize. Do these look like serious attempts?
Mr Nawang Rigzin Jora: Railway thing will take time. It would take probably 25-30 years before we are able to get in rail but yes, the final locational survey has been carried out. Now we hope in due course of time some work starts. It is easier said than done, though.
For Kashmir, it has taken so many years Ladakh is even more difficult. We have been realistic, we have been pragmatic. We let the work begin and then maybe in 25-30 years we’ll probably have a rail. As far as the Zoji-la tunnel is concerned, you know it has been kind of jinxed. Twice it has been re-advertised. Third time when it was given, it has gone kaput. It has gone bankrupt, we all know it. As a result of which Zoji-la thing came to a standstill but given the importance of connectivity to Ladakh region 365 days a year, I am sure something will work out. The government of India will try and see how it can be financed and you know work will be resumed on this.
Pallavi Sareen: Let’s talk about the youth of Ladakh. They usually have to go outside Ladakh for studies. Since there are no universities in Ladakh. They face kind of cultural shock and are excluded by people of Jammu and Kashmir or they go out to Chandigarh or Delhi. So are there any attempts being made to create a kind of educational institution in Ladakh which is par excellence?
Mr Nawang Rigzin Jora: As far as the government sector is concerned, during my tenure as minister, we took one campus of Kashmir university into Ladakh. Unfortunately, the location was not very convenient and another thing was the kind of streams that we introduced. They were not going popular. We introduced Geography, we introduced Information technology, we introduced tourism, we introduced English but somehow there were not many takers.
As a result of which, students still continued to go to Jammu, Delhi, Chandigarh to pursue their higher studies. Maybe we need to relook at the kind of streams that must be introduced there in the University campus. I think we should go for more traditional subjects like History, Political science, Education which gets jobs for people of the palace like Ladakh. Information technology, you know there is no scope of it in Ladakh. Environmental science, although it’s one of the upstream and one of the sunshine stream but there is no prospectus of jobs in Ladakh. So, we should be more practical more pragmatic. We should be going for traditional streams like Education, History, Political science, where you know the girls and boys can see themselves as Teachers, lecturers and professors.
Pallavi Sareen: Jammu and Kashmir is quite a sensitive state because it’s a border state and yet Kashmir is talked a lot about being on borders with Pakistan. Jammu is talked about a lot but Ladakh, which also shares its border with China is mainly ignored by the people (media). Don’t you think people in Ladakh feel kind of excluded as if they’ve been overlooked all the time?
Mr Nawang Rigzin Jora: You know media hammers Kashmir because you know Kashmir is always going through one person or the other. Jammu, you hear a lot about because of this cross-border firing. We don’t want to be talked about all the time. You know publicity for bad reasons is not a good thing. The other thing is that we would like to see the government of India to pay more attention to Ladakh, to the needs and scope for development.
Pallavi Sareen: Ladakhi representation in State Administration is quite low. So, how do you see this?
Mr Nawang Rigzin Jora: Now, you know in the Kashmir Administrative Services and Civil Service every year three to four boys and girls make it. So we are happy now. Slowly more boys and girls are getting into civil services and in due course of time, they are posted in secretariat so things are happening.
Pallavi Sareen: Whenever Chief Minister has to be made in Jammu and Kashmir probably it is from Jammu or mainly from Kashmir. Why is Ladakh overlooked there as well?
Mr Nawang Rigzin Jora: We don’t have the numbers. We have only four MLAs and not all four are from the Congress party or it could be from one party. It could be from different parties so it all depends you see. Jammu and Kashmir has a tradition of having the Chief Minister from Kashmir, it has the tradition of having a Muslim CM because it is a Muslim majority in the state.
But is it so that this cannot be changed in the future? It can. For example, if we recollect, Maharashtra had a Muslim Chief minister ages back. 30 years back. So you know, it is the kind of compassion that sometimes politics throw up. It all depends on that. But somehow, in Jammu and Kashmir, it has always been this way that the CM has always been from the majority community and mainly from Kashmir.