Kargil sees first post-370 polls; big stakes for BJP, Congress, NC

Kargil sees first post-370 polls; big stakes for BJP, Congress, NC

A protester from Ladakh holds a placard demanding return of democracy for the region.

A protester from Ladakh holds a placard demanding return of democracy for the region.
| Photo Credit: The Hindu

The election for 26 seats of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council-Kargil (LAHDC-K) in high altitude Ladakh on October 4 has a lot at stake for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), National Conference (NC) and Congress.

The polls are all set to reflect the mood of people towards the BJP-led Centre’s move to grant Union Territory (UT) status to Ladakh, comprising Leh and Kargil districts, in 2019. Ladakh is at present a Union Territory without an assembly.

The BJP, which had promised a district status to Zanskar but failed to deliver on the promise, is facing resentment even in Buddhist majority seats like Karsha and Padum. However, the BJP is hopeful to increase its tally from one seat won during the 2018 hill council polls. “We have fielded candidates from 17 seats. We are also supporting six independent candidates. The development work done in Kargil by the Centre will help us win many seats this time. The councillors had money at their disposal,” BJP leader Anayat Ali told The Hindu. The BJP dismissed the NC-Congress combine’s accusations of the party failing to live up to peoples’ expectations as “disinformation”.

Two senior BJP leaders, Meenakshi Lekhi and Tarun Chugh, campaigned in Kargil for the party. Out of 26 seats, 23 are Muslim majority seats in Kargil and three are Buddhist dominated.

The growing differences between the BJP and the Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA), an influential Buddhist organisation, over the Centre’s failure to grant protection to Ladakh under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution is likely to impact the BJP’s vote share this time.

For the NC, the polls will determine their return as a regional party in Ladakh. “The NC will emerge as the single largest party. The alliance with the Congress is aimed at strengthening the hill council and empowering it further. The strong hill council will throw its support behind the demands of the Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA). The polls will also restore the ‘Plough’ symbol of the NC,” Muhammad Hanifa Jan, a NC candidate from Baroo, said.

It is also a poll test for the India Alliance as the Congress is contesting with ally NC, facing first joint elections since the country-wide alliance was formed. Senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s bike rally, as part of the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ campaign ahead of the polls in September, was also the party’s bid to reinvigorate the party cadre.

Kargil’s influential seminary, the Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust, is also rooting for the Congress. “We are backing Congress candidates. We were hurt by the decisions made by the Centre on August 5, 2019. Our activists took to the streets against the move,” an office bearer of the seminary said.

Kargil has a population of 1.08 lakh with around 65,878 eligible voters. Two seminaries, the Anjuman Jamiatul Ulama Islamia School-Kargil and the Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust, play a significant role. The Anjuman Jamiatul Ulama Islamia School- Kargil is rooting for the NC.

Both the seminaries are members of the KDA, an amalgam of 11 political parties and religious groups, fighting for statehood and constitutional protection for land and jobs.

“Ladakh has reached a stage where its requirement is beyond development issues. Our identity and dignity are at stake. Development takes places even under a dictatorship too but it’s allowing space for consultations and views that helps restore dignity. We used to have legislators and ministers from the region, which doesn’t exist anymore,” Sajjad Kargil, a politician who contested the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, said.

He said the Centre failed to define the business rules of the hill council after 2019. “Are government secretaries under the council or above it? There is no clarity. Climate change is impacting the region already. We don’t even have a single medical college. The basic facilities like MRI and CT scans are not available in hospitals,” he said.

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