LADAKH: The entry of a journalist and a Congress rebel in the poll fray has made election to Ladakh parliamentary seat in Jammu and Kashmir interesting and multi-cornered.
The contest now is between two Buddhist candidates of the Congress and the BJP in Buddhist-dominated Leh and two Muslim candidates in Muslim-majority Kargil.
Only four candidates are in fray for the Ladakh seat that polls on May 6. The contestants include BJP’s Tsering Namgyal, Congress’s Rigzin Spalbar, journalist Sajjad Hussain and Congress rebel and ex-MLA Asgar Ali Karbalai.
In 2014, Buddhist spiritual leader and BJP’s Thupstan Chhewang had defeated independent candidate Ghulam Raza by just 36 votes. However, Chewang resigned his Lok Sabha seat and quit the BJP in November 2018 after differences with the party.
Ladakh has been a Congress stronghold as the party has won the seat five times since 1967, when the first parliamentary election for constituency was held. Independent candidates have won thrice, the National Conference twice, while the BJP won in 2014.
Unlike Kashmir, where Article 370 and 35A are the main issues, polling in Ladakh and Kargil is centered around developmental issues and better road and air connectivity.
Kargil does not have air connectivity as the only civil airport in Ladakh is in Leh. People of Kargil also want better road connectivity with Srinagar to remain connected with the summer capital.
Granting of Union Territory Status is one of the poll planks in Leh. People of both Leh and Kargil also demand upgradation of tourism infrastructure and setting up of a university in Ladakh so that students from the region do not have to travel to Srinagar or Jammu.
The contest for Ladakh was expected to be a direct one between Congress’s Rigzin Spalbar, two-time Chief Executive Councillor of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, and BJP’s Tsering Namgyal, the current chief. Both are Buddhists and from Leh.
However, the influential Islamic School Kargil, a religious and civil society body, decided to field journalist Sajjad Hussain to make the contest triangular. He enjoys support of the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party, too.
However, Congress leader and former MLA Asgar Ali Karbalaie has revolted against the party and filed nomination with the backing of Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust, an influential Shia religious and civil society body in Kargil.