Independent Candidate Enters Ladakh Polls, Makes It 3-Corner Fight

 

What should have been a direct contest between the BJP and the Congress in the Ladakh Lok Sabha constituency is now a three-corner fight with an alliance of local groups fielding an Independent to challenge the national parties.

The seat, the largest in the country in terms of area (173.266 square kilometers), goes to polls on May 20 — the first major electoral battle in the region after it was carved out of Jammu and Kashmir and granted Union Territory status in 2019. While the BJP has fielded Tashi Gyalson, chief executive councilor-cum-chairman of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (Leh), from the seat after dropping sitting MP Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, the Congress has nominated Tsering Namgyal as its candidate. Springing a surprise, the Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) fielded Haji Haneefa Jan, the Kargil district president of the National Conference (NC), which like the Congress is a constituent of the INDIA bloc.

The Congress has won the seat for the highest number of times — six — and had fielded Tsering Namgyal, the leader of opposition in the LAHDC, according to an agreement with the NC, as they were members of the INDIA bloc and the Leh Apex Body (LAB).

It was the LAB and the KDA that were spearheading the agitation in support of various demands of the Ladhaki people, including statehood and sixth schedule of the Constitution, for the past four years. But it hit a block in March after the BJP-led Centre did not agree with the demands.

However, now with the KDA fielding Jan, the challenges for the Congress as well as the BJP has increased in this seat that has more than 1.84 lakh voters — a majority (95,926) in Muslim-dominated Kargil district and 88,877 in Leh district. The resentment against the BJP over its government at the Centre not fulfilling the demands is palpable and the party, which is eyeing a third consecutive term from Ladakh, has rushed Union Minister Kiren Rijiju to handle the situation. He arrived in the Union Territory (UT) on Saturday.

The agitation had intensified on March 6 with Leh observing a complete shutdown followed by a 66-day hunger strike which was suspended three days ago in view of the Lok Sabha elections. Renowned educationist and social reformer Sonam Wangchuk, who was also part of it, ended his 21-day hunger strike on March 26.

Talking to reporters after arriving here on Saturday, Kiren Rijiju said, “…all the big demands of the people can only be fulfilled by the central government. I have come here to convey the message that any pending issue will be resolved by the (Narendra) Modi government alone.” Seeking cooperation and support of the people of Ladakh, Kiren Rijiju said it is imperative for the BJP to win the seat because “if we lose the elections, we will be sad after doing so much for the region over the years, including fulfilling the dream of UT status”. He said it is the right of the people to raise their issues and “it is our responsibility to safeguard the future of Ladakh which is a very sensitive and fragile region having distinct culture, traditional practices, customs and language…”.

Thupstan Chhewang won the seat for the BJP for the first time in 2014. However, he resigned from the party’s basic membership in 2018 and is currently heading the LAB.

The BJP managed to retain the seat in 2019 with Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, who was denied the ticket by the party this time and who openly revolted against the decision. However, he joined the campaigning for Gyalson after being persuaded by the BJP leadership.

Trouble for the Congress candidate started when the KDA unanimously decided to field Jan as an Independent and also persuaded two others, who were contesting as Independents, to withdraw their candidature in his support.

The entire NC unit of Kargil resigned from the party on May 6 to revolt against the its leadership for “putting pressure” on them to support INDIA bloc candidate Tsering Namgyal instead of Jan. The NC has won the seat twice in the past, while independents have won it thrice.

After attaining UT status, Ladakh witnessed elections to both Leh and Kargil chapters of the LAHDC in October 2020 and 2023, respectively.

While the BJP retained power in the Leh hill council elections by winning 15 seats — five short of its 2015 election tally, the Congress increased its tally from six to nine seats while two seats went to Independents.

In the Kargil hill council elections, the NC-Congress combine won 22 seats against two by the BJP and two by Independents. The NC on its own got 12 seats and the Congress 10.

Amid intensified Lok Sabha poll campaigning, which also saw several BJP leaders, including national general secretary Tarun Chugh, reaching out to the voters, Gyalson had said his primary focus will be resumption of dialogue between the Centre and the Ladakh leadership for resolution of “pending issues”.

“My primary focus will be resumption of stalled dialogue (between the Ladakh leadership and central government). I don’t believe that the dialogue is derailed but because of the Model Code of Conduct, no headway has taken place. Once the new government is in place, I am sure about the resumption of the dialogue,” he had said.

Congress candidate Tsering Namgyal said his party has taken a historic decision to include granting sixth schedule to Ladakh in its manifesto.

“We support the four-point demand of the LAB and the KDA and we will forcefully raise the demands within and outside Parliament to fulfill the aspirations of the people,” he said. 

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

NDTV News-India-news 

 

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