Ladakh: An Insurgency in the Making
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 13 Apr , 2024


Ladakh is strategically located at the crossroads of Central, East and South Asia with a vast tourism potential. Fertile valleys and river basins offer huge opportunities for agricultural development including organic farming and horticulture. Similarly, abundant sunlight and water resources make it conducive for renewable energy projects like hydro-power and solar energy paving way for various industries, resultant employment opportunities, infrastructure development and subsequent revenue generation.

Ladakh’s strategic position at the crossroads of Central, East, and South Asia presents vast economic potential in tourism, agriculture, and renewable energy, driving demands for separate statehood and environmental protection amid ongoing protests.

Ladakh has witnessed a relentless protest since February 2024 for the demand of separate statehood and inclusion in the 6th Schedule. It is one end of the Five-Finger Policy of China’s expansionist plans with Arunachal Pradesh as the other end and hence has substantial influence on the complete extent of the Northern Borders of India. Every issue in any of the areas under China’s radar along the LC/LAC has innate stimulus in itself, to cause unrest in the rest of the country and hence cannot be ignored altogether. The four point agenda behind the current protest in Ladakh can be summarised as below:

    • Constitutional safeguards under the 6th Schedule of Constitution of India.
    • A separate Public Service Commission for Ladakh and an early recruitment process.
    • Prevention of entry to industry for protection of the glaciers & rivers and the fragile ecosystem.
    • Independent Lok Sabha seats for Leh and Kargil.

In this study we will focus on the morphed narrative being played by the protestors, analyse the Info-Warfare campaign behind the protest and understand its security implications for India.

The Game of Supremacy:

In the 5th Schedule of Constitution of India, the Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) and Autonomous Hill Councils (AHCs) are endowed with powers over a list of functions that are executive in nature with an economic thrust, that continues to expand with passage of time. However, the 6th schedule has legislative and judicial powers in addition to all other provisions of the 5th Schedule, making it more authoritative. Therefore, the demand for implementation of 6th Schedule appears to be a Power-Play under the pretext of climate change and subsequent deprival of ethnic integrity to the local population.

The Problem Areas:

Granting the status under 6th Schedule will require a Constitutional amendment since the 6th schedule is exclusively reserved for the NE region and provisions for covering tribal areas of the remaining nation have been laid out under 5th schedule. 

Adequate measures are already being undertaken for overall socio-economic development of the tribes e.g. direct recruitment reservation has been increased from 10% to 45% for the STs by the Government of India. Moreover, a number of UTs have been expanded into full states to include Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura, Sikkim, Goa, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram since the 1960’s, after them achieving self-reliance,thereby rebutting the requirement of the 6th schedule.

The lower sections of the society like Mons, Bedas and Garas are treated differently in Ladakh.

“Economy of Effort”ensures that national interests are always on a higher priority than vested interests. Therefore, intensive investment in infrastructure expansion likeagricultural development, renewable energy projects, communication network and industry are required in Ladakh for eventual social exhilaration. However, interference by the local Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council’s (LAHDC) at Leh and Kargil by imposing restrictions on land use and resource exploitation will cause prevention of investment opportunities in Ladakh under the garb of withholding cultural honour of ancestral lands.

Flawless Chain of Command is possible by effective joint coordination among the military, paramilitary and civil administration against Chinese incursions with direct orders by the Lieutenant Governor appointed by the Central Government. Decentralised command structure may cause expensive delays leading to loss of life and material. Moreover, complexity in the region’s governance structure may lead to administrative challenges and decision dilemmas for numerous nation-building efforts.

Involvement of Non-State Actors:

No demand for implementation of the 6th Schedule was ever witnessed in the former state of J&K. Similarly, the unity among the Shia Muslims of Kargil and the Buddhists of Leh that is being witnessed in the present context was absent during the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir. Moreover, the initial welcome of UT status in 2019 by the Buddhists was not met with similar glee and intensity by the Muslims. It indicates that the tribal population of Ladakh was living in despicable conditions in the erstwhile state of J&K and is already in a better position to voice its concerns publicly after being declared as a UT.

The lower sections of the society like Mons, Bedas and Garas are treated differently in Ladakh. Hence, the identity formulation among the people of Ladakh has been a gradual process affected largely by the shifting aspirations within the Ladakhi community itself. This ambiguity in identity is representative of the fact that people separated by specific social, economic and political processes while belonging to the same geographical space may appropriate separate unique identities. Bringing such societies together on a single issue is an indicator of trans-border stakeholders at play with possible funding and subversion involved at various levels, of which there has been a precedent in the CAA protest and Farmers protest.

Separatist Plan:

The concept of demanding a special status and a separate civil code for the tribes of Ladakh while the Government promotes the idea of a Uniform Civil Code is noticeable. A meagre population of less than 5 Lakh people (not even close to the population sample size of a large constituency) occupying almost 60,000 square km of territory may be adequately served by an administrator and may not justify the requirement of a separate legislative assembly. The agenda to be treated differently with special privileges than the rest of the nation and the acquiescence to such a petition is granting a legal authority to separatist motives that ultimately divide a nation.

Chronicles of the Dragon:

The black carbon responsible for the melting glaciers in Ladakh is highlighted by Mr. Sonam Wangchuk as the main effluent. He blames the infrastructure development efforts by the Central Government of India and the traditional use of firewood by the Kashmiri population during winters in the adjoining areas of Kashmir, for the release of black carbon into the atmosphere causing the localised rise in temperature.

Protest narratives in Ladakh are influenced by information warfare tactics, posing security challenges amidst tensions with China’s expansionist policies along the northern borders of India.

It is a very convenient misrepresentation of the facts wherein China has been involved in massive infrastructure development all around the previous state of J&K including Ladakh and Aksai Chin for more than a decade. The construction of CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor), Karakoram Highway, G-219 Highway, an extensive road network with innumerable laterals, various helipads and runways, stone crusher sites, installation of solar energy systems, various hydro-power projects, IDP (Improvement of Defensive Posture) activities by PLA like construction ofcommunication trenches, storage shelters and sheds and reinforced bunkers besides a number of “model village” settlements (Xiaokang border defence villages) with thousands of concrete buildings for additional billeting of troops during hostilities with India across the Northern borders is a non-refutable evidence of the same.

The Chinese activities alone can be attributed with the release of millions of tonnes of black carbon in the atmosphere. However, absolutely no mention of the Chinese infrastructure progress and its resultant effect on the “Ladakhi ecosystem” can be established. Hence, it is evident that the enduring narrative presented by the “peaceful protestors” of Ladakh is the evil Information Warfare strategy of our adversaries.

Political Dynamics:

Even if inclusion in the 6th Schedule is granted and an autonomous status is achieved, the development benefits are unlikely to reach the people of Ladakh causing isolation of the region from the mainland India for the following reasons:

The Ladakhi society is permeated by inter-religion hostilities that have led to the rupture of the social fibre due to ever-widening and recurring communal disturbances for more than two decades. Religious conversions, loudspeaker competitions between Buddhist Gompas and Muslim Mosques, marking of religious places with flags, love jihad incidents and boycott of each-other’s businesses are a few examples of the existing rift among the locals. Therefore, the past “Ladakhi” is now a Boto (close to Poth or Tibet), Balti (Shia Muslim from Baltistan) or Kache (Sunni Kashmiri Muslim) and these religions serve as the primary basis of identity amongst the locals.

Frequent conflicts between State Legislature and LAHDCs are anticipated due to placement of various tribal communities with different cultures and customs under one LAHDC. Moreover, the threat of demographic imbalances and increase in social tensions due to inflow of illegal migrants may also be exaggerated to promote resentful notions.

Exclusion of mainstream political parties with low political mobilisation in national interests and political focus on regionalism, localism and communalism as the political ideology is possible.Subsequent likely misappropriation of power by the tribal elite thereby giving rise to favouritism, competition among local officials, police and communities and disparity at various levels are likely to cause resentment & helplessness and low political participation by the population.

Exclusive dependence upon grants-in-aid from the Consolidated Fund of India to meet various expenses on healthcare, education, development schemes and regulatory powers will confine the ethical usage for public utilities and divert these funds for personal benefits.

Few Noteworthy National Projects of Ladakh:

Surface Communication Network.

Construction and upgrade of more than 750 km of roads, 29 new bridges and 30 helipads.

Under construction all-weather Zojila tunnel, Kargil-Zanskar Road and Nimmo-Padamm-Darch Road.

Survey for all-weather Bilaspur-Manali-Leh Railway line with 40 stations covering approximately 498 km has been completed.

Constitutional complexities and cultural considerations pose challenges to meeting protest demands, necessitating a delicate balance between development initiatives and local interests.

Green Energy

Seven hydro-electricity projects have been sanctioned with a combined capacity of 2070 MW of electricity.

A 13 GW solar power plant spread in about 80 square km at Pang has been sanctioned.

The natural hot geyser of Puga is expected to generate 100 MW of geothermal energy.

Opportunity for Technological Evolution

India imports 95% of its rare earth mineral requirements from other nations. Ladakh is rich in mineral resources and thus mining of high quality uranium from the Nubra valley deposits and rare-earth minerals vital for modern day technology is being considered. Moreover, with an abundance of land and water resources at disposal, Ladakh is being set up for an electronic manufacturing hub and data centre under the “Aatmanirbhar Bharat” mission.

The Epitome:

Ladakh is strategically located from the perspective of national security analogous to Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar Islands. It is culturally distinct from other states in India and incapable of an autonomous sustenance in the present situation thereby necessitating its UT status. Hence, strategic development supported by the local community is a must to enforce sovereignty and territorial integrity of the sensitive region of Ladakh bordering Pakistan & China in the event of a three-front war.

CAA and NRC is already underway to prevent illegal immigration into India. Therefore, the necessity of 6th schedule for achieving this immunity is no longer applicable to any state/UT in India after implementation. Thus,the demand is unlikely to succeed as the vagaries of politics and ethnic supremacy are apparently obvious in the protest.

Considering the huge scope of infrastructure avenues in Ladakh and estimating the rise in future power demand across the nation, Ladakh is set to become the next employment hub and land of revenue generation.  Likewise, the inability of the tribes to exploit or utilise the natural resources to their fullest potential is the outcome of their ignorance,the lack of capital resources and absence of a higher understanding of the national interests vis-à-vis their own or local tribal interests.Therefore, the Buddhists of Ladakh cannot be regarded as innocent victims of the exogenous communalist forces and do not merit any special rights.

As a recommendation, the possibility of resurrecting the Indian Frontier Administrative Service (IFAS) can be considered for review. It is a historically engaged and later abolished concept of a team of specially selected and trained officers with expert knowledge to interact with local tribes. These officers can be entrusted with the duty of EW (Early Warning) against Chinese incursions, using the tribes’ everyday survival and hunting tactics. Engagement of inventive techniques to address administrative problems on a realistic basis may assist in WHAM (Winning Hearts and Minds) of the frontier tribal population in Ladakh, while promptly reporting the recent developments to Delhi for decisions. IFAS cadre officers can also serve as a bridge between the military and the civilian population, thereby opening the doors to a strong & organised espionage circle along the LC/LAC, providing operational and tactical advantages to the defence forces.

Recommendations include proactive engagement with local communities and strengthening security measures to address external threats and maintain stability in the region.

The End Notes:     

Kashmir’s funding that was being utilised by the extremist and separatist masterminds earlier has now been reduced exponentially and most of these funds are being infused into Ladakh’s growth. It is one of the most effective measures undertaken by the Government to establish peace and harmony in the region and make headway with the under-developed tribal communities.

On the contrary, conceding to the demand for 6th Schedule may further widen the divide amid the select and the masses of Ladakh. The implementation of 6th schedule under the pretext of achieving limited concentration, decentralisation and divestment to protect customs, virtuous economic development and ethnic security is likely to be met with breakdown of law & order, insufficient participation in elections by the people, exclusion instead of empowerment in the absence of political will and inadequate resources at the mercy of Government funds.

The Pashmina march from Leh to Changthang was probably a precursor to dissuade the Government from regaining control over the failing protest. However, after the initiatives by the Centre the same was cancelled, albeit with another distorted narrative. Consequently, efforts to initiate sporadic incidents of state sponsored terrorist actions from Pakistani jihadi groups against civilian entrepreneurs and their teams visiting Ladakh may be anticipated in the coming future to discourage investment.

Moreover, the instrumental use of religion while addressing issues pertaining to local tribes can lead to politicisation of religion. Use of AI as a tool by China to support the gripe in Ladakh and instigate their Buddhist counterparts of Tibetan origin all along the Northern borders has high probability in the near future. A multitude of influences might affect the target population on a large scale against an elected Government and consequently result in violent protests, communal clashes, riots & extensive turmoil reinforced by trans-border funding & subversive propaganda. The issue has the potential to be subjugated, thereby possibly giving rise to another insurgency. 

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Dr. Shambhavi Mishra

is a Ph.D in Cosmology with more than 13 years of teaching experience as an Associate Professor.

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4 thoughts on “Ladakh: An Insurgency in the Making

  1. Since you not from Ladakh, you don’t know the real situation of Ladakh. You haven’t seen the glaciers that are now diminished, I have seen the effects of Climate change on water shortage since childhood. So don’t judge based on some data. There are many research papers available on google scholar on water shortage and climate change in Ladakh, plzzz go and review those articles before writing such articles. We don’t want development which will affect our sensitive environment. If can’t support plzz don’t spread little information which is dangerous 🙏🙏🙏

  2. You are trying to spread hatred among public using misinformations and trying to break the bond between the ladakhis
    And also you are trying to show the world that there is no problems in ladakh and we are just putting up a show to gain attention .
    Sir respectfully request you
    Stop this misinformation

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