NC rebel has edge in 3-way close contest in Ladakh

Demands for statehood and 6th Schedule dominate the narrative following a string of agitations in the cold desert, which will go to polls on May 20
NC rebel has edge in 3-way close contest in Ladakh

SRINAGAR: Amid the ongoing agitation over statehood and 6th Schedule status, there is a triangular contest between BJP, Congress and an independent candidate for the Lok Sabha seat in the cold desert of Ladakh that votes in the 5th phase on May 20.

Only three candidates — BJP’s Tashi Gyalson, Congress’ Tsering Namgyal and an independent candidate Haji Hanifa Jan, who belongs to the National Conference — are in the fray for the Ladakh seat, the largest in the country with a total area of 173.266 sq km.

A total of 1,82,571 voters, including 91,703 males and 90,867 females, are eligible to vote in the strategic Ladakh parliamentary seat, which has borders with China and Pakistan.

The Ladakh UT, which was carved out from erstwhile J&K state after the abrogation of Article 370 and its bifurcation on August 5, 2019, comprises two districts — the Muslim- dominated Kargil and Buddhist-dominated Leh.

Leh & Kargil unity

Of the three candidates in the fray, two of BJP and Congress are from Leh while the independent candidate Hanifa Jan is from Kargil. The Kargil district has 95,929 voters while Leh district has 88,879.

Hanifa Jan of NC is backed by Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA), an amalgam of various political parties except BJP, social, student and trade groups and religious organizations of Kargil district.

The KDA along with Leh Apex Body (LAB) of Leh is jointly spearheading agitation for the 6th Schedule status and separate statehood for Ladakh UT. The 6th Schedule of the Constitution provides for the administration of certain tribal areas as autonomous entities. The NC’s Kargil unit has rebelled against the party leadership and resigned en masse instead of backing Congress’ Tsering Namgyal.

The NC leadership had asked its Kargil unit to support Namgyal as according to the seat sharing agreement between INDIA bloc parties, the NC was supposed to support Congress for the seat.

The Kargil unit of Congress is also supporting Hanifa Jan in total contravention of the party leadership’s direction.

BJP in dilemma

The election in the cold desert is taking place in the backdrop of the ongoing agitation for the 6th Schedule and statehood. The agitation and public anger forced the BJP to drop its sitting MP Jamyang Tsering Namgyal and instead field Tashi Gyalson, a lawyer and a former PDP leader.

The BJP hopes to regain public support through Gyalson and his acceptance among the Leh residents. The party, however, is caught in a dilemma over the grant of the 6th Schedule and statehood to Ladakh.

The BJP’s Ladakh sitting MP had taken credit for creation of a separate Ladakh UT from erstwhile J&K state and even people in Leh district had celebrated creation of Ladakh UT. But this euphoria did not

last long. Parties in Leh have joined hands with parties of Kargil district to jointly agitate for the statehood and the 6th Schedule status to Ladakh to protect land and jobs of the local population.

Even the climate activist and innovator Sonam Wangchuk, who had celebrated creation of Ladakh UT, has now joined hands with LAB and KDA to demand statehood and 6th Schedule status to Ladakh.

Kargil holds key

Feeling the public pulse, Congress candidate Tsering and independent Hanifa Jan during poll campaigns are strongly pitching for the 6th Schedule and statehood for Ladakh.

According to political observers, Hanifa Jan has an edge over two other contestants as he enjoys the mass support in Kargil district. “The votes in Leh will be divided between BJP and Congress candidates while in Kargil the votes may go to Hanifa Jan with less chances of division of votes,” they said.

There were moves by some influential Buddhist leaders to prevent a division of votes in Leh by fielding a single candidate, but that did not happen.

In previous elections, there used to be a division of votes in Kargil due to multiple candidates and it used to prove beneficial for contestants

from Leh. With less chances of a division of votes in Kargil, it is advantage Hanifa Jan in the polls. It is for the first time since 2014 that the BJP is facing a serious challenge for the seat.

An intensified campaigning, which also saw several BJP leaders reaching out to the voters, Gyalson said his primary focus would be the resumption of dialogue between the Centre and the Ladakh leadership for the resolution of “pending issues” Congress candidate Tsering Namgyal said his party has taken a historic decision to include granting the sixth Schedule to Ladakh in its manifesto.

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