Hot politics in cold desert

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As demand for Union Territory status continues to emerge from Buddhist dominated Leh district of Ladakh region, almost all political parties are using it as a poll plank with BJP making inroads in the cold desert. Khursheed Wani reports.

An innocuous reference of ongoing Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council elections in Leh district by a BJP leader sent shock waves through National Conference leadership forcing them to swing into action. As a consequence, on October 6, during weekly cabinet meeting in Srinagar, Deputy Commissioner Leh Tsering Angchuk was asked to proceed on leave immediately until the elections were over. A General Administration Department order directed deputy commissioner Kathua Sanjeev Sharma to report at Leh with immediate effect.

BJP legislature party leader Prof Chaman Lal Gupta quipped in the House that their strength has increased by one member. He was actually referring to the recent merger of Ladakh Union Territory Front (LUTF) into BJP. The LUTF’s Tsatan Namgyal holds Nubra assembly seat, as independent member, and was not present in the House due to his preoccupations in the election campaign.

Prof Gupta alleged that the state government has imposed elections in Leh at a time when the people were caught in the aftermath of cloudburst catastrophe that killed around 200 persons. The elections, he said, were announced at the behest of Congress, to dislodge the LUTF administration.

Prof Gupta blamed that Tourism Minister Nawang Rigzin Jora, who remained conspicuous by his absence during the assembly session, was misusing official position and the deputy commissioner was acting like a Congress worker.

Authoritative sources said that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was miffed by BJP’s claim that Tsatan Namgyal was part of their group. He immediately contacted the NC leadership in Ladakh to settle the issue with erstwhile LUTF. In fact, Omar Abdullah wanted Namgyal to report back in Srinagar but he was busy campaigning in his area. Namgyal is important in Omar’s number game and the NC leadership can ill-afford his switch-over to BJP. The erstwhile LUTF has offered support to the NC not only during the government formation but also during the parliamentary elections. “It was largely due to LUTF’s covert support to Hassan Khan that he cruised through in the parliamentary election,” Bashir Ahmad, a Ladakh affairs expert said.

Sources said that the DC’s transfer has come as a cloudburst to Congress leadership. Rigzin Jora, who is camping in Leh since August beginning, was not in the cabinet meeting to defend the DC, who as Chief Executive Officer of the LAHDC and Chief Election Officer holds very important position in the hilly district.

The erstwhile LUTF administration headed by Chief Executive Councilor Chering Dorje was sore with functioning of T Angchuk, ever since the relief work began in Leh. The LUTF (now BJP) leaders accused him of working at the behest of Rigzin Jora. They said that Angchuk delayed allotment of land to cloudburst victims until the notification of Hill council was issued. This was done to prevent LUTF from taking political benefit out of the allotment.
The Hill Council elections are slated for October 16.

As many as 68 candidates are in fray for 24 seats of the council. Interestingly, two Congress candidates including District Congress Committee President Rigzin Spalbar have been declared elected unopposed from Sku-Markha and Temisgam constituencies. The BJP has blamed Congress of foul play to sabotage the contest at these segments. They said that Returning Officer raised undue objections on BJP nominee’s candidature to ensure Spalbar’s victory. The allegations have been dismissed by Congress party as “mere frustration”.

In the emerging scenario, direct contest between the main rivals, INC and the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) will take place in 12 constituencies of LAHDC, Leh including Turtuk, Hunder, Deskit, Tiger, Panamik, Kyungyam, Martselang, Phyang, Bazgo, Saspol, Lamayouru and Lingshed.

In constituencies like Tangtse, Chushul, Nyoma, Igoo, Upper Leh and Khaltsi, triangular contest will be observed between the two rival parties with either PDP or independents.

In Sakti, Thiksay, Skurbuchan, Korzok and Lower Leh constituencies, four candidates each from different political parties and Independents are in the fray.

Sources said that veteran LUTF leader and former MP Thupstan Chewang played a crucial role in merging his party with the BJP. Chewang, a known separatist, who spearheaded anti-Kashmir agitation in 1989 was the patron-president of the organization till its merger. In August-end, former BJP President Rajnath Singh arrived in Leh to announce merger of LUTF into BJP.

Sources said that merger with BJP was the lone option available with the LUTF leadership to survive the onslaught of the Congress. “The merger with BJP has not only offered strength at the national level, but also opened avenues to fight the mighty Congress that enjoys power both in the state and the Center,” observers said.

Interestingly, the LUTF has had wavering relationship with the BJP in the past. During the NDA regime, the LUTF became part of the LK Advani’s Sindhu Darshan (a festival organized at the banks of Indus river) celebrations. However, when the NDA was out of power, the LUTF renamed the festival as Singhe Khababs.

But, observers believe the merger with BJP has favoured the Congress and brightened latter’s chances to form the next administration in Leh. “The BJP has not gained currency in Leh for its strong religious agenda. It is likely to polarize the voters. The Congress would emerge as a natural beneficiary,” said a senior political worker from Leh.

The Leh politics revolves on the plank of separation from Jammu and Kashmir and grant of Union Territory status to the region. The political leadership joined hands in Leh in 2002 elections on this demand resulting to unopposed election of two legislators. However, the chinks emerged in the coalition when MLAs Rigzin Jora and Pinto Narboo associated with the Congress. Interestingly, Congress is also thriving on the UT demand.

However, the UT slogan is not gaining currency in Kargil. In September, a delegation of Kargil leaders led by Qamar Ali Akhoon met the visiting all-party delegation in Srinagar to stress for the unity of J&K state. This was a calculated step to offset separatist voices emerging from Leh.

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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