[EPW] Ladakhi Politics since the Formation of Union Territory


Central Idea

  • Ladakh’s political class has transformed its identity politics in just three and a half years.
  • The region has shifted from being fragmented along subregional and sectarian lines to a more inclusive approach representing the entire Ladakh.
  • The demands made by Ladakh-based bodies include full statehood, constitutional safeguards under the Sixth Schedule and increased representation in Parliament.

About Ladakh

  • Ladakh is a region in the northernmost part of India, bordering China and Pakistan.
  • The region is home to several ethnic groups, including the Ladakhi people, who are predominantly Buddhist.

Current administration in Ladakh

  • Ladakh was granted Union Territory status in 2019, following the bifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two separate Union Territories.
  • The administration of Ladakh is currently governed by the Lieutenant Governor of Ladakh and an elected Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC).

Why are such demands rising in Ladakh?

  • Changes in Ladakhi Identity Politics: Ladakh’s identity politics was divided along religious and subregional lines, with Leh and Kargil representing Buddhist and Muslim identities respectively, causing sectarian tensions. Now, Ladakhi identity politics has become inclusive, representing the entire region with a consensus on shared aspirations and demands.
  • Ladakhi Sense of Marginalization and Empowerment: Ladakh’s politics has transitioned to prioritize empowerment within a federal framework. Unlike the previous focus on separating from Kashmir, Ladakh’s politics now addresses specific issues like ecology, heritage, culture, and local needs, demonstrating a more comprehensive approach.
  • Broader considerations about Climate Vulnerability: Ladakh’s politics now emphasizes its fragile ecology. The pristine environment, including the high-altitude desert, Himalayan landscapes, and diverse flora and fauna, is highly valued. Ladakh’s political discourse centers on environmental sustainability, conservation, and preserving natural resources.

Ladakhi Identity Politics Before 2019

(1) Political Fragmentation

  • Based on religion: Ladakh’s identity politics was internally fragmented along religious and subregional lines.
  • Isolation from larger Kashmir: The demand for union territory status was rooted in the desire for separation from Kashmir, rather than empowerment.
  • Few voices for autonomy: Leh-based political parties strongly advocated for regional autonomy and union territory status.

(2) Response to UT Declaration and After

  • Mixed response: The response to the formation of the union territory was divergent between Leh and Kargil.
  • Initial disperse: Leh’s political class welcomed the development, while Kargil (mostly non-buddhists) expressed despondency and opposed the decision.
  • Unified movement: Kargil’s leadership initially identified with Kashmir-based leadership but later focused on its future equation with Leh and Kargil’s empowerment.

Ladakhi Concerns after the Formation of UT

  • Insecurity on lines with Kashmiri populations: After becoming a union territory, Ladakh faced concerns related to the protection of rights enjoyed as part of Jammu and Kashmir State.
  • New residential criteria: Insecurity arose regarding jobs and land rights due to the obsolescence of the Permanent Residence Certificate (PRC).
  • No representation at local level: Concerns about lack of political representation and the centralization of power in the new administrative system also emerged.

Benefits of Sixth Schedule in Ladakh

  • Meeting tribal aspiration: The Parliamentary standing committee recommended including of Ladakh in the Sixth Schedule because its tribal communities account for 79.61% of its total population.
  • Autonomy and self-governance: The extension of the Sixth Schedule to Ladakh could provide greater autonomy and self-governance to the local tribal communities.
  • Cultural preservation: It could also help to protect the unique cultural identity of the local communities and preserve their traditional practices and customs.

Reasons for such demands

There are several reasons why Ladakh seeks inclusion in the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution:

  • Protection of Identity and Culture: It would enable the preservation of local customs, languages, and traditional practices that are integral to the region’s socio-cultural fabric.
  • Autonomy and Self-Governance: It would empower the local communities to make decisions regarding their socio-economic development, land use, resource management, and governance, thus ensuring greater control over their own affairs.
  • Preservation of Land and Resources: It would enable Ladakh to have a say in the management and utilization of its natural resources, protecting them from unsustainable practices and ensuring their sustainable use for the benefit of present and future generations.
  • Empowerment of Indigenous Communities: Inclusion would provide a framework for the empowerment of Ladakhi indigenous communities, allowing them to participate in decision-making processes and shape policies that affect their lives, culture, and well-being.
  • Strengthening Local Governance: It would promote grassroots democracy, enhance community participation, and strengthen institutions responsible for local administration and development.
  • Balancing Development with Cultural Preservation: Inclusion in the Sixth Schedule would facilitate a balanced approach to development that respects Ladakh’s unique cultural and ecological characteristics.


  • No further fragmentation: The demand to extend the Sixth Schedule to Ladakh has faced some opposition from certain quarters, who argue that it could lead to further fragmentation of the region and create new administrative challenges.
  • Losing political capital: There are also concerns over the potential impact of the demand on the political and administrative structure of the region.

Why Ladakh deserves its said autonomy?

  • Talks for inclusiveness: Ladakh’s identity politics has transformed from being exclusive and divisive to more inclusive and focused on common Ladakhi issues.
  • Imbibes plurality: The strategy now emphasizes overcoming traditional differences and accommodating each other’s viewpoints.

Way forward

  • Strengthening Political Collaboration: Foster a spirit of inclusivity and shared purpose among Ladakh’s political class, transcending historical divisions and working towards a common agenda.
  • Addressing Regional Disparities: Implement targeted programs and projects aimed at reducing inequalities, particularly in remote and marginalized areas of the region.
  • Constructive Dialogue with Central Government: Forge strong partnerships and channels of communication to effectively convey Ladakh’s concerns, aspirations, and development priorities to the central authorities.
  • Promoting Cultural Exchange and Tourism: Encourage cultural exchange programs and initiatives to foster understanding, appreciation, and respect for Ladakh’s diverse heritage among residents and visitors alike.
  • Harnessing Renewable Energy Sources: Capitalize on Ladakh’s abundant solar and wind resources to promote renewable energy generation and reduce dependency on fossil fuels.
  • Strengthening Local Governance Structures: Empower local governance bodies, such as the Autonomous Hill Development Councils, by enhancing their decision-making authority, financial resources, and administrative capabilities.
  • Preserving Traditional Knowledge and Practices: Recognize and preserve Ladakh’s traditional knowledge systems, indigenous practices, and local wisdom, integrating them into contemporary policies and strategies.
  • Strengthening Connectivity and Infrastructure: Invest in infrastructure projects that support economic growth, enhance access to essential services, and facilitate the movement of goods and people, while ensuring minimal ecological disruption.

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