Politics in Hills

With huge ‘unaccounted’ money at councilor’s disposal, Autonomous Hill Development Council elections in Ladakh region attract political heavy weights including religious heads. Amid social boycott of Muslims in Zanskar by majority Buddhists, Kargil went to elections recently. Shah Abbas talks to locals to understand the issues in Kashmir’s smallest hill district. 

KARGIL-ELECTION-(3)The Muslims of Zanskar, who are facing social boycott of a limited nature from more than a year decided against the poll boycott at the eleventh hour and the local mosque was used to announce that Muslims should vote for Congress.

Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Kargil, went for third election on August 22, 2013. Kargil lies near the Line of Control facing Pakistani-Administered Gilgit–Baltistan to the west, and Kashmir valley to the south.

Zanskar is part of Kargil district along with Suru, Wakha and Dras valleys. Zanskar witnessed the worst kind of communal conflict last year during which Muslims of the area alleged a social boycott from the majority Budhists which was very severe for some months together forcing some Muslims even to think about migration.

“Even on the day of voting the two communities clashed for a while in Gund Mangalpore  area some 23 KMs from Kargil,” Haji Gulzar Hussain, a resident of Kargil informed Kashmir Life. He added that Zoji La tunnel and Air service to Kargil were the issues, people voted for.

“The majority of Kargil is politically mature, they know which party can fulfill their demand of building Zoji La tunnel and arrange Air service to Kargil, so they decided to vote enmasse,” a political analyst said adding, “The people of Kargil have even left behind the valleyites, who are still stuck to Bilji, Pani Aur Sadak.”

But to Sheikh Mohammad Hussain, Chairman, Imam Khumaini Trust, Kargil, economic issue was common among the people of Kargil when they voted for the third time to elect the representatives of the new Hill Development Council for Kargil.

“We have been exploited, rather looted from the last five years on the economic front, so this time people had economic issues while going for voting,” Sheikh said.

Imam Khumaini Memmorial Trust and Islmia High School are the two powerful institutions of Kargil, which dominate the political arena of the least populous district of Jammu and Kashmir since decades.

Both these religious institutions are “exploiting” the common masses since decades and it is these two who set the political fate of the commoners.

Islamia High School has come very close to National Conference from some time while Imam Khumaini Memmorial Trust is almost “a branch” of Congress party.

“Not much time back, Imam Khumaini Memmorial Trust had issued a Fatwa against the Congress calling it the Hizb-e-Tagoot, (The believers of evil). Even the literature published in support of the fatwa is still available,” informed a local religious leader, who claims that he does not follow either of the two institutions.

Islamia High School, Youth wing president, Haji Anayat Ali too is of the opinion that air connectivity and Zoji La, Tunnel are the only concerns of the people and these two demands dominated the elections.

Foundation stone of Zoji La, tunnel was laid by Rahul Gandhi in the month of May this year but the work has not been started as yet.

“Deccan airways started its service but stopped after a short span of time for unknown reasons,” a local from Kargil, Haji Abbas said.

However, the politics of Kargil dominated by Islamia High School and Imam Khumaini Memmorial Trust, read (National Conference and Congress), is a politics of “division”. “They cheat people in the name of faith,” a local religious  scholar told Kashmir Life.

The local political issues also vary from one village to another and one locality to another given the fact that these villages and areas have a huge geographical distance in between. “The division is the result of deceitful politics of Islamia School and Imam Khumaini Memmorial Trust leaders,” he added.

Having a peep into Kargil politics, one gets a feeling that the opposition plays a very dubious role always once it loses the election. It is obvious by the fact that the Imam Khumaini Memmorail Trust-Congress never participated in any meetings of the LAHDC throughout its tenure of last five years.

Called as “a state within state” by many political analysts, unlike other districts of Jammu and Kashmir, the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) governs the district independently. The council was created under the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council Act 1995, following demands of the Ladakhi people to make Leh District a new Indian Union Territory because “of its differences with respect to the rest of Jammu and Kashmir.” In October 1993, the central and the State governments agreed to grant Ladakh the status of Autonomous Hill Council.

The council is composed of 30 Councilors of which 26 are directly elected and 4 are nominated members. The executive arm of the council consists of an executive committee composed of a Chief Executive Councilor and four other Executive Councilors. The Chief Executive Councilor also serves as the chairman of the council.

LAHDC is elected for a period of five years. The councilors of it were not of such importance when the first elections were held. But it was Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s regime which empowered the LAHDC, to the extent the religious people belonging to both the dominating institutions of Islamia High School and Imam Khumaini Memmorial Trust started jumping in the election process because Omar Abdullah’s regime later increased the monthly salary of a councilor from rupees 5 thousand to 30 thousand. Presently the four executive councilors of a LAHDC receives a monthly handsome salary of Rs 45 thousands and a status of MoS while as the Chief Executive Councilor enjoys the status of a cabinet minister.  He has the powers to spend rupees 7.5 crore without the government approval.

“Now it is a safe career,” An annoyed local told Kashmir Life adding “that is why every religious leader uses religious places to reach the council.”

Kargil-mapKargil district is nestled in the Himalayas, giving it a cool, temperate climate. Summers are warm with cool nights, while winters are long and cold with temperatures often dropping to −40 °C with recorded temperatures of −60 °C in the tiny town of Dras, situated some 56 km  from the Kargil town.

The Zanskar valley is even colder. The entire Kargil district is spread over 14,086 sqkm. The Suru River flows through the district.

The Highway, connecting Srinagar to Leh, cuts through Kargil. This highway is typically open for traffic only from June to mid-November due to heavy snowfall at the Zojila, but in recent years it has been opened before June.

People of the Kargil and Kashmir valley demand the opening of Skardu-Kargil historical road. But at the same time the inhabitants of Kargil have a countless complaints with Kashmiris. Especially, with the government saying that successive governments have failed to provide a suitable space to Kargil.

“We finally had a berth in the state cabinet with Qamar Ali Akhoon as the CAPD minister but he too was not tolerated for long and shown the exit door in a very tactical way,” said a senior political activist of Kargil on the condition of anonymity adding, “the government and the anti-Kargil elements in it perhaps think that such moves are not understood by us.”

The thinking on the either sides of the Zojila clearly shows the signs of polarization as inhabitants think and act altogether differently.

According to the 2011 census Kargil district has a population of 143,388, roughly equal to the nation of Saint Lucia. The district has a population density of 10 inhabitants per square kilometer.

Of total population, 80 percent are Muslim 95,963. Most of the district’s Muslims are found in the north of Kargil town, Drass, and the lower Suru valley.

Social ceremonies such as marriages still carry many customs and rituals which are common to both the Muslims and Buddhists. Among the two districts of Ladakh, Kargil has a more mixed ethnic population and thus there are more regional dialects spoken in Kargil as compared to Leh.

Kargil remained relatively obscure right until the Partition when the issue of Kashmir became the focal point and resulted in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947. There were pitched battles fought around Kargil which saw the entire area including Drass and Zojila Pass initially coming under Pakistan control before most of it being reclaimed by Indian troops by November 1948. In Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 the entire Kargil region including key posts were captured by Indian troops under the leadership of Col Chewang Rinchen.

After the Shimla Agreement, Kargil and other strategic areas nearby remained with India. Kargil became a separate district in the Ladakh region during the year 1979 when it was bifurcated from the Leh district.

The area shot into the spotlight in spring of 1999, when infiltrators from Pakistan occupied vacant high posts in the Kargil and Drass regions. The result was a limited scale conflict (Kargil War) between two nuclear equipped nations that ended with India regaining the Kargil region mostly through diplomatic pressure.

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