Bharatiya Janata Party, who registered a landslide victory in the recently declared Lok Sabha elections, witnessed a neck-to-neck fight in Ladakh. The party won three seats in Jammu and Kashmir, two from Jammu and one from Ladakh. BJP candidate and Chief Executive Councilor (CEC) of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) Jamyang Tsering Namgyal won with a narrow margin of about 10,000 votes in a close contest with independent candidate, Sajjad Hussain Kargili, who was backed by National Conference (NC), People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the influential Islamia School, Kargil (ISK). Sajjad Hussain attributes BJP’s success to the failure of the Congress who fielded two candidates – Rigzin Saplbar and another former Congress MLA, Asgar Ali Karbalai, who was seen as the party’s proxy.
Speaking to NewsClick, Hussain said, “It’s a huge failure of Congress. I don’t see why they had to field two candidates? The candidates divided the votes and paved the way for BJP to win. Also, in Zanskar, Buddhist community was openly supporting BJP and they made sure that every vote goes to BJP.” Zanskar is an Assembly segment of Kargil district. Hussain, who is also a journalist, seemed dejected and perturbed about the future of Ladakh under BJP’s regime. “BJP is known for empty rhetoric. The way Jammu and Kashmir has been polarised and divided in the last five years is unprecedented. Its not about elections. It’s about a fight for the secular idea of India,” he added.
Kargil district of Ladakh had boycotted political parties, paving the way for independent candidates. A section of locals believe they have been betrayed by the political parties and therefore, wanted to only vote for a local face. A resident of Kargil, wishing anonymity, said, “There was a reason we boycotted the political parties as we never wanted BJP back. Now, in the next 5 years, you will witness how their attempts to divide Kargil and Leh. If Congress proxy Karbalai would have supported Sajjad, it would have been a clear victory for an independent face. We are looking for someone who will talk of reconciliation and not division. It should have been a collective fight against BJP, against an ideology which aims to divide and rule.”
A closer look at the voting percentage reveals a close contest between the four candidates.
While Saplbar and Namgyal were contesting from Leh, Hussain and Karbalai fought from Kargil. Even though in Kargil, the residents are not welcoming BJP’s victory, in Leh, the voters are quite enthused.
Also read: Ladakh Granted Divisional Status, Locals Call It Tactic to Attract Votes
Speaking to NewsClick, Morpa Stanzin from Leh said, “Its good that BJP is back to power. The party is in the centre as well so it is for the best. We are hopeful that they will work towards providing UT status to Leh and will also work on the construction of Zojilla pass.” Construction of the 14-km long Zojilla pass holds immense importance in the region as it would provide a year-long connectivity to the area, which remains cut-off from the rest of the world for over six months due to snow.
Another resident from Leh said, “The decision to grant divisional status to Ladakh had revived our trust in BJP and that’s why we voted for BJP.” The recent decision of J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik to grant divisional status to Ladakh with its official headquarters in Leh had disgruntled the residents of Kargil. Political analysts believe that although there was a close fight between the candidates, BJP’s timely attempt to attract votes worked. Before granting of divisional status, Ladakh was under Kashmir division.
The decision to establish the headquarters in Leh and nothing in Kargil had left the residents of Kargil in a quandary owing to the fact that Kargil too had been demanding for divisional status. With no headquarters in Kargil, it was evident that BJP was banking on Leh voters. This decision had also led to the rise of suspicion that the governor is controlled by the BJP. Political commentators believe that BJP took leverage of the animosity between Muslim-dominated Kargil and Buddhist-majority Leh.
Spread across Leh and Kargil, Ladakh Lok Sabha constituency had 559 polling stations – 294 for Leh and 265 for Kargil, respectively – set up for 1,71,819 voters.
Also read: Elections 2019: Disappointed with BJP, Will Ladakh Vote for A New Face?