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Ladakh revisited

Ladakh revisited

Author: Claude Arpi
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: November 12, 2003
URL: http://www.tibet.ca/wtnarchive/2003/11/15_5.html

Last week two news reports saddened me beyond words. Though different in nature, the source of both was Jammu & Kashmir. The first one is a comment attributed to All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leader Yaseen Malik. The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) had taken the long-awaited initiative for the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley. A committee visited the State last month and interacted with migrants, separatists and local leaders to "create a conducive atmosphere" for the Pandits' homecoming.

During his interaction with the committee, Mr Malik conveyed an "advice": If the Pandits wanted to return "they should remain neutral in the ongoing struggle, and lead a normal, peaceful life without involving themselves on either side." Kashmiri Pandit Conference (HPC) president HN Jattu immediately responded: "This advice amounts to asking us to live the life of second class citizens and do whatever they ask us to."

Coming from a group which pretends to speak of self-determination and freedom, this anti-democratic remark is astonishing to say the least. One can imagine what will happen if the State of Jammu and Kashmir was to come under the leadership of the Mr Maliks and his ilk.

The second news is related to the northern most region of Jammu & Kashmir. The Reverend Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, head Lama of Ladakh, passed away in Delhi at the age of 86. The gentle and humble monk possibly represents all the Indian qualities that the Hurriyat votaries will never embody.

During a visit to Ladakh in summer 1949, Nehru had requested the young Lama to join politics. He convinced him that it would be the best way to help his people. From that time till his last breath the Lama worked not only for welfare of the Ladakhis but also for the integration of the region with the rest of India, and this despite the most difficult political environment.

The monk, acknowledged by the Ladakhis as the reincarnation of Arhat Bakula, one of the 16 Great Ahrats, once admitted that "involvement in public affairs did affect my own spiritual practice and advancement. In fact, I feel happy that I could be of assistance to my people. I have no regrets about this."

Reverend Bakula always liked to quote the Buddhist sage, Shantidava: "For as long as peace endures and for as long as living beings remain, until then may I too abide to dispel the misery of the world."

Since Independence, the Jammu & Kashmir State has been governed by Muslim leaders from Srinagar who have scant respect for - and interest in - the people of Jammu and Ladakh.

During his 50 years of public life, whether as an MLA or a Minister in Srinagar, or later as a MP or the Chairman of the NMC, or even as the Indian Ambassador to Mongolia, Reverend Bakula strove to bring Ladakh closer to India.

Ladakh could have gone in a different direction. During then Prime Minister Nehru's visit to Leh in 1949, Cheewang Rigzin, the President of Buddhist Association of Ladakh, presented a memorandum to Nehru. He made four proposals on behalf of the people of Ladakh. One was, "we should be permitted to re-unite politically with Tibet of which land we form part and parcel for all purpose but political." The others were: Ladakh should govern itself through a separate "legislative and administrative machinery"; or have a "homeland amalgamated with the Hindu-majority parts of Jammu" or join with East Punjab.

Delhi and Srinagar never accepted any of these proposals but thanks to the diplomatic, administrative and human qualities of Reverend Kushok Bakula, Ladakh could progressively join the nation's mainstream without too much disturbance. Though till today the demand for a Union Territory status for Ladakh remains justly alive, Reverend Bakula felt that it was his swadharma to ensure that the transition between the old traditional Buddhist province and modern India took place smoothly. Despite all the obstacles and difficulties, he performed his task in his gentle and patient way.

It is worth mentioning the heavy price paid by the Ladakhis during four wars India has fought (three with Pakistan and in 1962 with China) and more recently during the Kargil conflict. How to forget that the Nubra Guards and later the Ladakh Scouts covered themselves with glory to protect India's borders and this with the Monk's blessings!

It was also Reverend Bakula who wrote to Nehru in April 1962 to inform him of the impending attack on Ladakh. Through traders and pilgrims, he had gathered accurate information on the massive build-up of the Chinese troops in Western Tibet. Though a Buddhist, Reverend Bakula always considered the defence of the nation's borders before his own faith.

These two stories highlight the real tragedy of "Kashmir". In fact, there is no such a thing as "Kashmir". There is a State of Jammu & Kashmir consisting of the Valley, the regions of Ladakh, Jammu, Baltistan, Gilgit and the so-called Azad Kashmir, but no "Kashmir" as such. Furthermore, the Valley only represents 6,000 sq miles out of the 84,000 sq miles of the State, so one should not equate the State with the Valley.

It is to the merit of Dr Karan Singh, the former Sardar-i-Riyasat, to have repeatedly pointed out: "A common mistake is to use the word 'Kashmir'; as a shorthand for the multi-regional Jammu & Kashmir State and then to proceed politically on that basis".

Even today, too much importance is given to a few in the Valley who are allowed to dictate the agenda for Jammu & Kashmir just because they are vociferous and threatening. It is distressing to see that those who have always defended India in her hour of need should be forced to remain second-class citizens and "neutral" when the Hurriyat leadership should be dictating the terms.

Recently, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld advised the Palestinians to follow Mahatma Gandhi's example. One can hope that in the forthcoming talks with the Hurriyat Conference, the Deputy Prime Minister will advise them to follow Reverend Bakula's path.

And let us pray that the reincarnation of the Rinpoche of Ladakh will see his dream of a genuine autonomy for his region and its greater integration in the Union of India, become a reality.
 


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