Kargil witnessed a turnout of 77.61% in the election to the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) on Wednesday, indicating residents’ desire for democratic representation. It is the first election since the abrogation of Article 370 in the erstwhile state.
These polls are seen as a barometer of public sentiment regarding the BJP-led Centre’s decision to grant Union Territory (UT) status to Ladakh, which includes Leh and Kargil districts. Currently, Ladakh is a UT without an Assembly.
The voters were mostly concerned about preserving the unique identity of the region, the lack of employment avenues for youths and the reservation policy. “We should either have statehood with legislature or we should be allowed to join back Kashmir,” said Najaf Ali, a voter in Kaksar village of Kargil, around 15 km from the main town. “I voted in these elections to a party which is promising to keep my identity intact,” Ali said.
With a population of 1.08 lakh and around 65,878 eligible voters in Ladakh, this election transcends development concerns and delves into matters of identity and political representation. In the absence of elected legislators and ministers, the region’s residents are grappling with uncertainties regarding governance structures, medical facilities and essential services.
Sajad Kargili, a political activist, said, “We don’t see any people-oriented development taking place in Kargil. There is no medical college. The district hospital continues to be in a shambles and the education sector has not seen any investment.”
He said the road development in the region was taking place due to strategic reasons and the BJP shouldn’t take credit for such developments.
A university scholar, who traveled from Delhi for voting, said he hoped these young candidates, some even contesting against those who have been in politics for long, would bring a new dawn of development to the region.
The BJP is striving to capitalise on post-2019 development initiatives to secure victory in the Kargil council elections. While facing criticism in Buddhist-majority seats like Karsha and Padum for unfulfilled promises, the BJP is optimistic about increasing its seat tally from the single seat won in the 2018 polls. Anayat Ali, a BJP leader, emphasised the party’s focus on development work and support for independent candidates.
The alliance of the National Conference (NC) and the Congress is determined to regain the regional prominence through these elections.
Influential organisations, such as the Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA), have expressed discontent over the Centre’s failure to provide constitutional protection under the Sixth Schedule, potentially affecting the BJP’s vote share.
Two seminaries — the Anjuman Jamiatul Ulama Islamia School-Kargil and the Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust — play a significant role. Both are members of the KDA, an amalgam of 11 political parties and religious groups, advocating for statehood and constitutional protection for land and jobs.
The BJP, which had promised district status to Zanskar but failed to deliver, is also facing resentment in Buddhist majority seats, like Karsha and Padum. A total of 85 candidates are vying for the 26 seats in Kargil.
Issues like access to mobile phone networks, unemployment and shortage of drinking water in places like Hunderman, the last village along the Line of Control that divides Gilgit-Baltistan from Ladakh, are central to voters’ concerns.