Will support Kashmir in defending Article 370: Sajjad Kargili, Lok Sabha candidate from Ladakh

The Ladakh region of the Jammu and Kashmir will go to polls on May 6. The region comprising the two districts of Leh and Kargil has a total population of 2, 95,745 with an electorate strength of 1, 62,354. The entire region is spread over four assembly constituencies; two each in Kargil and Leh.

The region remains cut off from the rest of the world during winters due to snow. With no air and road connectivity during these six months, the people of the region have to go through many hardships. In an attempt to give the community a strong voice, young Journalist and Social activist Sajjad Kargili has decided to contest the local elections. Sajjad is known for his social activism and has raised issues of the public time and again whether it is in Kargil and Ladakh or in Delhi. He has been arrested several times for raising social issues and supporting the peasant and underprivileged section of the society. To raise the issues of the families divided across the LOC, he co-founded an organisation named People’s Forum for Peace Across LOC and has organized several seminars and conferences in Kargil. Now he is contesting as an independent candidate for MP from Kargil Ladakh.

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In an exclusive interview with TwoCircle.net’s Kashmir Corresponded Auqib Javeed, Sajjad spoke his plans to represent Ladakh in New Delhi, and how he will act as a bridge between the different communities in Ladakh.

Here are the excerpts:

What prompted you to join politics?

Politics has been a part of me since my student days when I was a member of the All India Students Association (AISA). I have been into social and political movements for years now. Due to this, the people of Kargil decided to choose me as the candidate for Lok Sabha elections.
Do you believe that voting will change things, especially since many people in the Valley seem to be not participating in the process?
If people have chosen you, it means they believe in the electoral process. Of course, things can change with your vote. The changes begin with voting…you choose the right candidate, you put your trust in him and things will change.

Why did you choose Lok Sabha over state elections?

Honestly speaking, I had no intention of contesting the elections but people of Kargil including religious leaders nominated me to represent them in the Parliamentary elections. After the division status and when a University which was promised to us was denied to Kargil, people were upset and different communities united for these demands. When the dates were announced for the Lok Sabha elections in the state, people felt that they had many issues and need a strong voice in the parliament so that their voices may be also heart in the centre. So it was decided that a new face should be nominated for that and they choose me to represent them.

How have the people of Kargil been neglected by the government?

During the winter season, this region faces a lot of difficulties. We have neither road connectivity nor air connectivity. The medical patients especially face a lot of difficulties. If elected, my first priority would be to make Kargil a hub of trade activities. We have many issues, like Zojila Tunnel which will connect Kargil with Kashmir, the construction of an airport, building a women’s college and a University. And for divided families on LoC, I will press Government of India to open the Kargil-Skardu road so that the families who got divided during the partition of 1947 would be united. And with the opening of the route, we can have trade ties with Central Asia via Pakistan.

Why are you demanding the opening of Kargil-Skardu Road? If the Government can open Wagha, Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalkote roads, why can’t they open Kargil-Skardu?

We too are humans and have every right to live with honour and dignity. We want our border with Pakistan to be recognised as the border of peace, not as the border of violence. We can’t change the borders but we can normalise the situation through trade. Before partition, we were directly connected with Silk round and central Asia. I want to restore that position.

How will you solve the issue of Zanskar Muslims who are facing a social boycott from the majority community?

I will act as a bridge between various communities. In Zanskar, the situation is quite normal now especially after His Holiness The Dalai Lama visited last year and appealed to both the communities to remain united. I will also try to resolve the issues between the two communities if I won.

How will you bridge the gap between the different communities in Leh and Kargil?
We are peace-loving people and have our unique culture which has made these two places a no-crime zone. Of course, there are some issues within the different communities but we have to work on it and try to resolve it. We need to strengthen our relations.

Why did Shia leaders reject the idea of creating a Union Territory (UT) for the Ladakh region?

Not only Shia leaders, all the community heads except few from the right-wing party were against the creation of Union Territory (UT). We want to remain a part of Jammu and Kashmir. And the biggest threat of creating a UT was that it will hit the Article 370 of India constitution. It is true with industrialization, unemployment will be less in the region but not at the cost of the Special status of the state. We are with our Kashmiri brothers and we will fight to safeguard of Article 370 and Article 35-A.

How do you see at Kashmir politics and separatism?

I think reconciliation is the only solution; it is true that everyone has its own view but it’s also important to we should avoid hate politics and violence. We should solve our issue with the dialogue process.

What do the people of Kargil think about Kashmir?

Entire Kargil wants that the bloodshed in the Valley should stop. Their grievances are ours and their concerns are ours. If Kashmir remains peaceful it will have a good impact on Kargil and Ladakh.

If so, then why don’t we see any protest there against the killing of Kashmiris?

We do protest and issue statements against the innocent killings in Kashmir. The people of Kargil also appealed to the Home Minister Rajnath Singh during his visit to Kargil, asking him to address the Kashmir issue and stop civilian killings immediately.