Drass, the second coldest inhabited place in the world, is gripped by election fever and preparations are underway for today’s elections. This is the first election for the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council in Kargil after Article 370 was scrapped and Ladakh was made a separate Union Territory (UT) in August 2019.
These elections are a fight between the BJP and a combined opposition of the National Conference and Congress. Wednesday’s vote will be seen as a referendum – if the people have accepted the Centre’s decision of August 5, 2019.
Mohammad Iqbal, a resident of Drass, said: “Wednesday’s vote is more about the identity of the people than development. The 73-year-old has worked as an army porter for 40 years, including during the Kargil war in 1999. ” He said people feel politically powerless after Ladakh became a Union Territory.
“There are no elected MLAs or ministers here. The Hill Council has lost its authority after Ladakh was turned into a Union Territory. Still, these elections are important for us,” Mohammad Iqbal said.
There are 85 candidates in the fray for the 26 seats in Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Kargil. The BJP has entered the fray on 17 and is backing some independent candidates.
Kargil was traditionally a National Conference (NC) stronghold and the Congress was its main rival. Now the opponents have entered into an alliance to fight the BJP.
Two powerful religious institutions – the Jamiat Ulema Kargil, known as the Islamia School, which traditionally supports the National Conference, and the Imam Khumaini Memorial Trust which supports the Congress – shape politics in Kargil. And religious clerics have also appealed to the people to vote against the BJP.
During his campaign, Jamyang Namgyal, the BJP MP from Ladakh, urged people not to vote for the NC-Congress alliance and called NC chief Farooq Abdullah a ‘Yazid’ – a figure of hatred for the Shia Muslims for his involvement in the murder of the imam. Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, in the battle of Karbala.
“Farooq Abdullah did not allow Muharram processions in Srinagar to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussein. It was the BJP that allowed the procession in Srinagar after 34 years,” Namgyal said at an election rally.
Earlier, the Ladakh government had denied the ‘squad’ symbol to National Conference candidates, leading to a legal battle, with the Supreme Court setting aside the Ladakh Hill Council polls earlier scheduled for September 10.
The top court has dismissed the Ladakh government’s petition opposing the grant of ‘squad’ symbol to the National Conference.
Following the Supreme Court order, the Ladakh government has announced in a fresh notification that the elections will be held on October 4 and the results will be declared on October 8.
The Hill Council elections are significant because they come in the wake of a rare political alliance between the region’s Buddhist and Muslim groups.
Over the past three years, political parties, social and religious groups in Ladakh have forged an alliance opposing Ladakh’s UT status and demanding full statehood and constitutional protection under the 6th Schedule.