Somewhere in P.V. Narasirnha Rao’s office, under a pile of papers, is a bill, approved by the Governor of J&K, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Kashmir Affairs Desk in the PM’s Office. The bill, declaring Leh District’s Autonomous Hill Council, has—one imagines—a dotted line at the bottom. That dotted line awaits the signature of the Prime Minister. It has been lying on his desk for months, much to the disillusionment of the leadership in Leh.
In sharp contrast to the mood today, there was great optimism last October among Leh leaders that the Hill Council was at hand. Within a matter days, the bill would go from the Prime Minister to the President for final approval. The change in mood by January was dramatic among the key players, including the former MP and Union Minister P. Namgyal, Mohd. Akbar Ladakhi, and Rigzin Jora, General Secretary of the LBA. Below, are excerpts from a conversation with Rigzin Jora.
“We have been quite unfortunate. Every time we feel things are picking up, something happens that derails the process. The whole affair seems jinxed. Last September/ October we were quite optimistic. P. Namgyal told us that it was going to the Cabinet, so we were all excited. Then we realized that the entire department dealing with Kashmir was taken from Home Affairs to the PM’s office, so it had to go through the whole process again.
“The Home Minister and all the people who matter have given assurances before. This has not been going on just since last year, but for five years now. At one point, even the Government seemed to be in haste, when the issue was being raised in Parliament. But now, I think they are trying to push the election in J&K. We mentioned in the memo that the much-talked-about political process in J&K can be initiated from Ladakh. You grant the Hill Council and hold elections in it. And the misguided youth of Kashmir could also be encouraged to accept a system on the basis of the Hill Council. We wrote this in our memo, but no one bothers.
“This PM only does things at his own convenience, never mind what. He has his own speed. The PM seems to think only of the Kashmir issue taken as a whole. When we met the Minister, we made the point that in Kashmir the people who raise secessionist slogans are being attended to. And us Ladakhis—we got nothing! The problem is, when you go to the PM’s office, he hardly gives you two or three minutes. The Governor has been very keen on giving the Hill Council. There has been no let-up from his side. That is the problem. If we go to the ministers, the Governor, they will say that they have done their share, that it is up to the PM now.
“By March we should come up with some concrete action plan. It will take quite some time before we can prepare the people for another agitation. Unlike in the past, we can’t just snap our fingers. We may begin with a pen-down strike for a week or ten days, and then take another step.
“In India nothing seems to move. I guess we’ll have to get in touch with the ISI now. Go to Kathmandu to the Pakistan Embassy (laughs).”