'Ladakh overwhelmingly wishes to be a Union Territory'

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Nawang Rigzin Jora, the 57-year-old Congress leader, is a prominent Buddhist figure in the state and represents the Leh seat in the state assembly. Jora won the Leh seat in 2014 for the third time in a row despite a strong BJP wave. Jora is a founding member of the Ladakh Union Territory Front (LUTF), which was formed with the sole objective of fighting for the union territory status to Ladakh.
In an interaction with Firdous Hassan, the Kashmir Monitor reporter, Jora speaks on various issues related to the overall political process and development of Ladakh.
Q: How would you describe your evolution in politics so far?
Jora: I have a political career of 12+10 years, at state level it is 12 years but otherwise we were people who were flagbearers for the Hill Development Council agitation. Today it has become model for decentralization of power for the entire country. The draft of Hill council was actually written by me which was endorsed by Government of India, Ministry of Home.
Q: How important is Ladakh in the political and development process of J&K?
Jora: Ladakh is as important as any other part of the state. Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh are three geo-cultural entities. Taking about Ladakh, it has a syncretic culture where 50 percent population is Muslims and 50 percent Buddhist who share the same language, same history and to some extent we share the same outlook.
Q: Master Plan implementation has been a big challenge for every government: even you approved a plan of Greater Srinagar in a DDB meeting back in 2013. What are the challenges that administration faces while taking a concrete step?
Jora: You have to look at the kind of burden that the existing infrastructure is facing in view of the ever increasing migration from rural areas. Then plan for something that can cater for next 30 -40 years. We tried to incorporate all these things in terms of civic infrastructure. But I don’t know what is happening now because before we could notify it a new government has come in to place.
Q: Even though Ladakh gave the BJP the all-important MP seat, do you think that it has gained ground in Ladakh which once was considered your strong territory?
Jora: The BJP candidate wont by just 36 votes and after the MP election I won with record margin in general elections which is considered to be the highest figure in assembly elections after 1975 . In 1975 Kushok Bakula historical figure of Ladakh was the one who took that kind of lead. In 2014 election , I won with a huge margin of 7650 votes which proves that again people have reposed faith in me and the work I did for them so far. But in council election we suffered as we won 5 to 6 seats but then there is always anti-incumbency.
Q: How do you see the demand for a union territory status for Ladakh since you are also a founding member of Ladakh Union Territory Front (LUTF)
Jora: In Ladakh there has been overwhelming wishes of Union Territory. Although Council did well but people have burning desire to have UT status for their region. Let me tell you there are two type of UTs like in Chandigarh where there is no democratic participation but Pondicherry has a legislature and Chief Minister and we need one like Pondicherry . The BJP during election has demanded votes with a promise that it will give UT status to Ladakh and now it’s time for them to fulfill their promises.
Q: Since you were holding charges of various ministries in the government previously, why couldn’t you press the Central government to grant the UT status to Ladakh?
Jora: I have never demanded votes for UT. But I will always raise voice over it and I will continue to work for the people of my region.
Q: There have been reports of clashes between two groups in Ladakh region, what triggers the animosity, if there is any?
Jora: Nothing, during 12 years of my minstership not a single incident was reported. As a public representative of the area my job is to take care of every community. There have been incidents but it happens everywhere and it doesn’t mean that there is something wrong in Ladakh. All the communities are living peacefully there.
Q: The people of Kargil feel they are neglected when it comes to the development of the region. Do you find any merit in this argument?
Jora: People of Kargil compare themselves with Leh all the time. It is not that the Government of India or state government has done any positive discrimination to Leh. People of Leh have fought and offered sacrifices for it whether it be Hill council. When we got it obviously Kargil got it even though they earlier opposed it. Their problem is that without making efforts they must get everything.
Q: Your views about China – India relations vis-à-vis Ladakh?
Jora: China makes incursion into Ladakh territory every now and then. If Modiji thinks that China is trustworthy he is fooling himself. This misplaced sense of Bonhomie between India and China was short-lived.
Q: You have been talking about reservation in promotion. What is your stand regarding it?
Jora: Reservation in promotion was part of the reservation act 2004 which was the contribution of Mufti Sahab. I was part of council of ministers then and it had provision for reservation in promotion. The case was in high court and then in Supreme Court. Government has not been fair to us as they are giving promotion to the non-reserve category while the reserved categories have remained stagnant. My bill demanding reservation in promotion to reserved category was not threat to constitution or integrity of state. The speaker was manipulated and he was unfair to us.
Q: Ladakh gets electricity round the clock, what hinders Kashmir to achieve the same?
Jora: This is my contribution. Rather than getting down to harness the power we are evoking emotion by saying asking Government of India took projects. We need to take up some project in hand. In Prime Minister’s Rs.80, 000 package, there is meager amount of Rs.4500 crores for power generation. Ideally we should have done put 20-25000 crores in taking for of five projects of 1000MW each . We can’t get prime ministers package every year but there was an opportunity to utilize a part of it in improving the power scenario of the state.
Q: You have been a tourism minister for the state, what are essential reasons that Kashmir even though being a scenic location has failed to achieve the number it should have?
Jora: First priority should be to restore law and order. Then the promotion of Kashmir as a tourist destination through vigorous campaigning is also necessary to lure tourists worldwide to visit here. During my time tourist arrival was at peak which was 12 to 13 lakh arrival that time.
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