When Ladakh was made a separate union territory without any assembly in 2019, it was widely being believed that the new union territory will be politically lesser active than the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, which will be having an assembly.
But for the time being the Kargil district in Ladakh is more in news politically than Jammu and Kashmir because of the ongoing process for Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) elections there. The polling is scheduled on September 10.
The local political leaders and activists are busy in the election related preparations. Senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addressed a public meeting there recently. Senior leaders from other parties are expected to engage with the people as the polling day nears.
Amid these preparations the National Conference (NC) continues to insist that its candidates be allotted the plough symbol. The party candidates have been declared as independents by the election authorities in Kargil and not allotted the plough symbol yet, the latest reports say. NC had approached the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh for the allotment of the plough symbol.
The single bench of the court had directed the Ladakh administration to allot the symbol to NC. The party again approached the double bench of the High Court alleging that the authorities were not allotting the symbol.
The double bench upheld the single bench verdict. National Conference leader Omar Abdullah recently alleged that the plough symbol was not being allotted for political reasons to them.
As per reports the Ladakh administration is of the view that the plough symbol cannot be allotted to NC since the symbol is allotted to the party in J&K Union territory and not in the newly created union territory of Ladakh.
But NC says that Ladakh UT was a part of the erstwhile J&K state, where the symbol was allotted to it and so the symbol be allotted to it in Ladakh as well. It is to be seen as to how the things will move on the legal front on the issue.
The list of contesting candidates issued by the election officials gives an interesting picture. National Conference and Congress which had announced a pre- poll alliance have left five to six seats for each other and in rest of the seats they have fielded their candidates against each other also.
LAHDC Kargil has 30 seats and elections are held for 26 seats and four members with voting rights are nominated by the Ladakh administration. A party has to get 16 seats for the majority. NC and Congress have already announced a post poll alliance as well.
Interestingly PDP is not contesting on any seat this time, contrary to the recent statement of the party president Mehbooba Mufti that she wants her party cadres to take part in every election. " I will not bother about the results but I want you to contest," she had stated in Jammu. In 2018 polls, PDP had won two seats but the elected members joined BJP after the abrogation of Article 370.
LAHDC Kargil was established in 2003 when Ladakh was the part of erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir with Mufti Mohammad Sayeed as the chief minister of PDP-Congres coalition government. While only PDP leaders can say why their party did not take part in the polls this time but with such a move it eclipsed its political visibility in the cold desert.
Whether the fear of not winning any seat in Kargil and then its likely fall out on the coming Panchayat and Urban local Bodies polls in Jammu and Kashmir or to avoid division of votes among non- BJP parties in Kargil are the reasons, but the complete absence from the electoral arena may not be a positive sign for the PDP politically. Non-availability of good candidates can be a reason also but then such a problem can arise in the panchayat and ULB polls in J&K too.
Senior leaders in National Conference believe that PDP has recovered some of its lost ground in Kashmir during last three years but shortage of known political leaders, having local influence, can be a problem in polls for it particularly in the assembly polls. That is a problem for which PDP will be trying to find out a solution.
Right now the contesting political parties are keen to perform in LAHDC Kargil polls. NC and Congress have avoided direct contest against each other on the seats, where BJP can emerge victorious due to division of votes among them.
In last polls BJP had won only one seat. Later the four nominated members too had joined it. It got further strengthened as two PDP members joined it.
It is to be seen now, how BJP will perform this time. The party leaders are hoping a good performance this time as they say that the political situation there has undergone for a positive change in favour of BJP. They have already described Zanskar as Congress free area.
Author is senior editor, Greater Kashmir.