Drass, the world’s second-coldest inhabited place, is gripped by the election fever and preparations have been made for polling tomorrow. This is the first Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council elections in Kargil after Article 370 was scrapped and Ladakh was made a separate Union Territory (UT) in August 2019.
This election is a fight between the BJP and a combined Opposition of the National Conference and Congress. Wednesday’s vote is being looked at 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 a porter with the Army for 40 years, including during the Kargil War in 1999.” He said that the people are feeling politically disempowered 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. Yet this election is important for us,” Mohammad Iqbal said.
There are 85 candidates in the fray for the 26 seats in the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Kargil. The BJP is contesting on 17 and supporting some Independent candidates.
Kargil has been a traditional stronghold of the National Conference (NC) and the Congress was the 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, traditionally backing the National Conference, and the Imam Khumaini Memorial Trust backing the Congress – are driving the politics in Kargil. And religious clerics have also appealed to the people to vote against the BJP.
During campaigning, Jamyang Namgyal, the BJP MP from Ladakh, urged people to not vote for the NC-Congress alliance and called NC chief Farooq Abdullah a “Yazid” – a figure of hate for the Shia Muslims for his involvement in the killing of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Mohammad, in the battle of Karbala.
“Farooq Abdullah didn’t allow Muharram processions in Srinagar to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. It was the BJP which allowed the procession in Srinagar after 34 years,” Mr Namgyal said at an election meeting.
Earlier, the Ladakh administration had denied the “plough” symbol to National Conference candidates which led to a legal battle, with the Supreme Court setting aside the Ladakh hill council polls, earlier scheduled for September 10.
The top court dismissed Ladakh administration’s petition opposing the allotment of the “plough” symbol to the National Conference.
After the Supreme Court order, the Ladakh administration in a fresh notification announced that polling will take place on October 4 and results will be declared on October 8.
The hill council elections are important since they are held in the wake of a rare political alliance between the Buddhist and Muslim groups in the region.
Over the last 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.