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J&K: NC-Cong Stand Against BJP as Critical Hill Council Polls in Kargil Near

Anees Zargar |
Kargil polls to be held on September 10; As many as 89 candidates are in the fray


Srinagar: The upcoming Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) - Kargil polls to be held on September 10 is seen as a critical contest where a resurgent alliance of the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (JKNC) and the Indian National Congress (INC) are up against the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). 

As many as 89 candidates are in the fray, with voting to be held in 26 constituencies across the Himalayan region, part of the Ladakh Union Territory. The authorities have set up as many as 278 polling booths throughout Kargil's dry and rugged terrain, with parties already campaigning for the polls being held for the first time since Ladakh was carved out as a separate union territory on August 5, 2019.

The National Conference has fielded 17 candidates, and the Congress party has fielded nine candidates to fight the 17 candidates fielded by the BJP in the polls. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has also entered the fray with the participation of four of its candidates, while as many as 42 candidates are fighting in the elections independently.

Many consider this year’s polls as more important to the region at a time when all major social, religious, political and other representative groups have united to form the Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) to advocate for special safeguards, including the reservation of rights on employment and land. People in both Kargil and Ladakh agitated in the aftermath of the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35 A as fears of loss of identity compounded. The vast swathes of Ladakh UT, nearly four times the size of Kashmir valley, have a minuscule population of less than 3 lakh. 

It is these demographic concerns, issues of unemployment and the risk to the ecology of Ladakh and Kargil that Sajjad Kargilli, a prominent socio-political activist, says makes the fight in the poll vital. 

“Ladakh is fighting for its existence, land, identity and representation. I see that the people are rallying to keep those powers responsible for creating these problems at bay. That makes it important,” Kargilli told NewsClick.

The BJP, which is up against a coalition of coalitions made of political parties social and religious groups, has been campaigning on its development promise with the construction of roads, tunnels and bridges as its main talking points.

Mudassir Hassan, NC’s communication in-charge in Kargil, told NewsClick that BJP’s claims of development are hollow and have put the people of the entire Ladakh at stake by limiting their opportunities in employment. 

“The people of Kargil have united to send a message to BJP that we are not with them. Kargil was happy to be a part of Jammu and Kashmir state, which is what mattered. They are a people with self-respect, so the BJP will have to retreat from here,” Hassan said. He added that people in Ladakh are no different than Muslims in the country facing persecution due to the BJP party. 

The NC leader slammed the BJP for “influencing” the LG administration in the wake of a row over the use of a plough by NC as a poll symbol. The Ladakh administration objected to Plough's use, arguing that the Election Symbol Order, 1968, was applicable to assembly and parliamentary polls and not local body elections. The case is being heard by a Supreme Court bench, which is expected to pronounce a verdict on September 6. 

The autonomous hill councils in both Kargil and Leh divisions are key to local governance and development. Still, since the change in the status of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, the locals have claimed that the council has lost most of its powers to the UT administration. The first hill council was formed in 1995 for the Leh division and later in Kargil in 2003, where the last council polls were held in 2018. The Councils are elected for a term of five years. 

The council has thirty members, of which 26 are directly elected. The four remaining seats are appointed to represent women and minority communities. A Chief Executive Councillor (CEC) leads the council with an executive committee of five members. 

On August 24,  Congress’ top leader, Rahul Gandhi, visited Kargil during his first visit to the Ladakh UT since August 2019 to meet with the locals and address his party supporters. 

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