Before any election process takes place in Jammu and Kashmir, the political parties will have to contest in the cold desert of Ladakh, now a separate union territory, for the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC)- Kargil general polls. Notification for the elections was issued on August 5 and the polling will be held on September 10.
Last time, the elections were held in 2018 when Ladakh was part of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state and Article 370 was not abrogated.
The election results will give an idea as to what impact has been created politically in Kargil district after the August 5, 2019 development. BJP has been saying that the people in Ladakh including Kargil district are very much happy as their region was separated from J&K and made a separate union territory. "This was the long pending demand of the people there, which has been met by the central government," say the BJP leaders. On the other hand parties like National Conference, Congress and PDP have an entirely opposite view on the issue.
LAHDC- Kargil has 30 members. Among them 26 are elected directly and four other members, who have voting rights also, are nominated by the Ladakh administration.
In 2018 polls, NC had won 10 seats, Congress eight, independents five, PDP two and BJP only one. The four nominated members joined the BJP. NC needed six more seats for securing majority and got the support of Congress, which formed an alliance with it. Subsequently, the NC leader Feroz Ahmed Khan, took over as the chief executive councillor of the council. But after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Congress discontinued its support to NC due to some differences. The two PDP councillors joined BJP, which extended support to NC. In March, 2022 BJP withdrew support to NC and demanded dissolution of the council. BJP councillors wrote a letter to Deputy Commissioner Kargil, who is also the chief executive officer, LAHDC-Kargil, informing him about their withdrawal of support to NC. Both NC and BJP had come under criticism locally for having quite the opposite stances in Jammu and Kashmir union territory more particularly after the abrogation of Article 370 but sharing power in the Kargil council for their political convenience. Feroz Ahmed Khan claimed that officially NC and BJP had no alliance and that NC was having an alliance with two PDP councillors. After the BJP's pull out, NC managed to get the support of a BJP councillor, who was earlier associated with PDP, and five other councillors for maintaining the majority in the council and continuing heading the LAHDC-Kargil. Feroz Ahmad Khan will complete his five year term as chief executive councillor on October 1.
The scenario in coming polls will be interesting to watch. National Conference and Congress have already announced a pre-poll alliance, "which will be later converted into post poll alliance." But, can NC and Congress continue their domination or will BJP emerge stronger this time. What will be the fate of PDP? And what about the newly floated parties like Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP) and Apni Party? Being the premier party in the past and having ruled the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state for a long time, NC had a strong base in Kargil district. Congress too had strong support. But right now there is a dilemma whether their strong base is still intact or eroded after the August 5, 2019 decisions. NC and Congress are trying to make themselves relevant again in the changed political environment by supporting the demands of some sections of people there. The local groups are demanding statehood for Ladakh, separate Lok Sabha seats for Kargil and Leh districts, constitutional safeguards for land, jobs and resources in the region and bringing Ladakh under the sixth schedule, which provides protection to tribal areas. They had formed Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDC) and joined hands with Leh Apex Body (LAB) for getting their demands accepted by the government. The leaders of KDC and LAB jointly met the union minister of state for home Nityanand Rai in New Delhi in June and discussed the demands with him. The minister assured them that the dialogue will continue. Earlier, in January this year, the union home ministry had constituted a high-powered committee to “ensure protection of land and employment” for the people of Ladakh. Whatever be the ultimate fate of such demands, the non-BJP political parties for electoral gains will try to take political mileage.
BJP has stated that it will contest the polls on its own and will not be having any kind of arrangement with any other party. With NC and Congress having already announced their pre-poll alliance, PDP may contest the elections on its own. The leaders of Congress, NC and PDP while attending the national level meetings advocate unity among opposition parties in elections. But in Jammu and Kashmir things have started moving in opposite direction. Recently on the foundation day of PDP on July 31, its youth leader levelled serious allegations against NC and alleged that the premier party was only seeking polls and alliances. The youth leaders from NC also hit back and asked PDP to leave if it feels suffocated from the unity platform, formed after the abrogation of article 370. This indicated that the two parties may contest the coming urban local bodies and panchayat polls in Jammu and Kashmir separately. And may be they will go same way for the Lok Sabha polls next year and assembly elections, whenever held. After the allegations and counter allegations on that day, there is calm from the NC and PDP sides presently. But anything bitter said or done anytime can trigger more bitterness.
Political circles are surprised about the sudden escalation in the tension between the two rival parties after a long "truce." National Conference youth leaders said PDP wants to exit from the unity and is in search of an escape route and excuse. PDP President Mehbooba Mufti while addressing a party rally in Srinagar on party foundation day asked her party cadres to contest the coming panchayat and urban local bodies polls in Jammu and Kashmir. She reiterated this during her address to party workers in Jammu on August 7. Going by her statements, it is clear that she will tell her party leaders and workers in Kargil to contest LAHDC polls there also without forming an alliance with any other party.
If the local groups in Kargil decide to contest on their own and form an alliance it can be a problem for both NC and Congress. BJP too will not like to give a walk over to NC-Congress combine in the polls. The party will definitely like to launch counter moves to defeat them. So, in the coming weeks it will be interesting to watch how the political moves get unfolded in the electoral arena of Kargil and who can have the last laugh.
Author is senior Editor, Greater Kashmir