UT status, connectivity remain major electoral planks in Ladakh

Unlike Kashmir, 370, 35A, Balakote not core issues
Leh, Kargil divide visible just like 2014
Sanjeev Pargal
JAMMU, Apr 29: Union Territory (UT) status for Ladakh, a demand which had gained momentum in mountain locked Leh district nearly three decades ago, increase in number of Lok Sabha and Assembly seats, air and road connectivity with rest of the State throughout the year and inter-division link up remained core issues in Ladakh Parliamentary constituency, which will go to polls in fifth phase on May 6. It has lowest number of four candidates in fray out of all six Lok Sabha seats in the State.
Significantly, unlike Kashmir, Articles 370 and 35A, Balakote airstrikes and other such issues which dominated three seats of Parliament in the Valley and two in Jammu region, are not major electoral planks in Ladakh though such issues are being discussed and debated in both Leh and Kargil districts, which formed part of Ladakh constituency.
Jamyang Tsering Namgayal (BJP), who is Chief Executive Councilor (CEC)-cum-Chairman of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) Leh, Rigzin Spalbar (Congress), Sajjad Kargili and Haji Asgar Ali Karbalaie (both Independents) are in the fray for Ladakh seat and all of them are making maiden attempt to enter Lok Sabha. Karbalaie had been a Member of the Legislative Assembly in the House, which was dissolved in November last year.
Though all four candidates talked of united Ladakh, split is clearly visible between Buddhist dominated Leh district and Muslims majority Kargil district with two Buddhist candidates in fray from Leh (BJP and Congress) and two Muslims in the contest from Kargil district (both Independents). In 2014 election also, two Buddhist candidates (BJP and Congress) were polled majority of their votes from Leh district while two Muslim candidates, Ghulam Raza and Syed Mohammad Qazim, both Independents and hailing from Kargil, had secured most of the votes from Kargil district.
The UT demand has become synonymous with elections in Leh. The demand was first openly raised by the BJP and of late Congress too had joined the chorus and isn’t averse to the demand though it maintains that the party will strive for UT.
Jamyang Tsering Namgayal has made grant of UT status to Ladakh, inclusion of Boti language in eighth schedule of the Indian Constitution, taking up developmental works on fast pace like Zojila tunnel, rail link to Leh via Bilaspur-Manali etc as main electoral planks besides harping on local issues of strengthening health, education and road infrastructure.
Namgayal’s campaign has been backed by majority of State BJP leaders, who were camping in Leh and Kargil after completion of electoral process in Jammu and Udhampur seats. Union Minister of State for Home and Buddhist leader, Kiren Rijiju, who had joined Namgayal in filing nomination papers in Leh, again reached Ladakh today on a two day visit to address four rallies. Union Minister of State in PMO, Dr Jitendra Singh too has addressed rallies for Namgayal while more Central leaders including Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi were expected to canvass in the constituency in the next few days.
Congress candidate Rigzin Spalbar charged the BJP with trying to divide Leh and Kargil for the sake of votes saying his party stands for brotherhood and no hatred between people of the two districts. He said he will remove “trust deficit” between Leh and Kargil for inclusive growth.
“The BJP had in 2014 election promised UT status but that turned out to be a false assurance. We stand for the UT and our effort will continue in this direction,” Spalbar said, adding Ladakh was spread over 79,000 square kilometers area and it would take 3-4 months to cover entire constituency. “Therefore, if elected I would strive for creation of two Parliamentary seats and eight Assembly constituencies in Ladakh as against present four after freeze on delimitation of seats is over in 2026”.
Construction of Zojila tunnel and Kargil Airport are also our top priority, Spalbar said.
Independent candidate Sajjad Kargili, whose candidature is backed by Islamiya School Kargil (ISK), National Conference, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and other social and religious organizations, stressed on development of Kargil especially road and air connectivity. Construction of Zojila tunnel and Kargil Airport has to be expedited to link Kargil with rest of the country throughout the year. Presently, Ladakh remains cut off with rest of the State for four to five winter months due to snowfall at Zojila.
Kargili said inter-division road connectivity in Ladakh will be given boost, if he is elected. Bringing Kargil on tourism map, full-fledged University, Government Medical College and Women College for Kargil were among the major issues being taken up by Kargili.
Describing UT status for Ladakh as “debatable issue”, Kargili said former BJP leader from Ladakh, Thupstan Chhewang, who had won the Lok Sabha seat in 2014 on the issue of UT status, had to resign last year, both from the party as well as Lok Sabha.
Though Congress leader and former MLA from Kargil, Haji Asgar Ali Karbalaie, who has revolted against the party for being denied mandate and is contesting as an Independent candidate, wasn’t available for comments, his close aides said he too was campaigning on the issue of development. Karbalaie enjoys the support of Imam Khoemini Memorial Trust (IKMT).
Political observers were of the view that candidates from Ladakh Parliamentary seat including two Independents from Kargil district, have made development of the constituency as their major issues, unlike Kashmir where majority of political parties harped on controversial political issues like Articles 370 and 35A, separate Prime Minister for Jammu and Kashmir and even used national issues to seek votes.
“This is the healthy trend the candidates and people of Ladakh have set. Be it the candidates from Leh or Kargil, all have made air and road connectivity throughout the year as major issues besides improvement in health, road and education infrastructure development,” the observers pointed out and said though all other issues are discussed and debated by the people, they are not the major electoral planks.
Barring BJP, whose national leaders have joined election campaign in Ladakh and more will be campaigning in the remaining days, three other contestants were canvassing on their own. No prominent Congress leader has toured Ladakh so far. Senior leaders of NC and PDP, which were supporting Sajjad Kargili, have also not addressed any really in Ladakh till now.
Ladakh seat will go to polls in fifth phase on May 6 while campaigning will end in the evening of May 4.
Thupstan Chhewang had won the seat for BJP in 2014 by 36 votes. However, he had quit the BJP as well as his Lok Sabha membership last year and hasn’t been active in politics since then.
In 2014 also, there were four candidates in fray for Ladakh seat, two each from Leh and Kargil districts.