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How NC-Congress’ Pre-Poll Alliance in LAHDC-Kargil Elections Kept the BJP at Bay

Both Leh-Kargil united in a massive protest against the BJP, as their demands, including the establishment of a UT.

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In January this year, the top leadership of Jammu Kashmir's National Conference (JKNC) and Indian National Congress (INC) in Kargil decided to go for a pre-poll alliance in Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), Kargil elections.

“The idea was to keep the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at bay,” said Haji Mohammad Hanifa Jan, District President of NC in Kargil. Jan was one of the important architects of the pre-poll alliance. Both parties had several rounds of meetings and informed their high command.

“Within no time, the party leadership gave the green signal to the alliance and we started a rigorous campaign,” Jan told The Quint.

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Behind LAHDC-Kargil Elections

On 4 October, thousands of people came out of their homes amid a chill and cast their vote. Men and women were seen standing in long queues outside the polling stations.

Kargil witnessed an impressive 77.61% voter turnout during the elections. A total of 77.61% of eligible voters cast their ballots through EVMs to determine the outcome for 85 candidates.

The results were declared on 8 October 2023.

In total, an electorate of 74,026, including 46,762 women, were entitled to participate in 278 polling stations distributed across 26 constituencies in Kargil, where they utilised EVMs to influence the fate of 85 candidates.

Ladakh, a Union Territory lacking a Legislative Assembly, comprises two autonomous hill councils: one for Leh and another for Kargil. The Chief Executive Councillor of each council is equivalent in status to a cabinet minister of a state, while the executive councillor holds a position akin to a Minister of State.

It's worth mentioning that the autonomous LAHDC lost its powers following the abrogation of Article 370 and the subsequent division of the erstwhile state into two separate Union Territories.
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Alliance on Limited Seats

The hill council elections would usually be fought on local civic issues, however, this year's primary concern seems to revolve around the nullification of Article 370 and parting away of the region from the J&K.

Earlier, the NC and Congress would fight the elections against each other but this time they planned to cut the votes of the BJP by deciding to fight on nine seats where the BJP had an edge.
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The Congress had 22 fielded candidates, NC 17, BJP 17, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) contested on four seats, and 25 Independent candidates were also part of the fray.

The alliance was confined to regions where they encountered strong competition from the BJP.

“We fought on 9 seats out of which we won 8 seats,” Jan said.

Notably, this was the first election in Kargil post abrogation of Article 370 when the erstwhile state was bifurcated into two UTs—Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh on 05 August 2019.

The results of the elections for the 30-member LAHDC, Kargil, delivered a significant blow to the BJP, as they were only able to secure just two seats despite an extensive and high-profile campaign.
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The alliance partners swept the elections to the hill council, winning 22 of the 26 seats. The National Conference won 12 seats, and the Congress 10 seats. Only 16 are needed to form a majority in the Hill Council.

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The Demands

While the predominantly Buddhist region of Leh in the cold desert celebrated the fulfillment of their long-standing demand for a separate Union Territory (UT), the Muslim-majority area of Kargil expressed opposition to this division.

The people of Leh had been persistently advocating for the creation of a separate UT, and upon the government's decision to grant this status, they welcomed it with joy. In contrast, the Kargil district exhibited strong resistance to parting ways from Jammu and Kashmir.

However, both regions eventually united in a massive protest against the BJP, as their demands, including the establishment of a UT with a legislature, remained unaddressed. Despite several rounds of meetings between Ladakh's leaders and the BJP, the tensions could not be eased.

Opposition parties contend that the outcome of the crucial Hill Council elections reflects the consequences of the BJP's divisive policies. They argue that it signifies a rejection of the changes implemented by New Delhi on 5 August 2019 in Jammu and Kashmir.

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An Already Existing Alliance

Post bifurcation of the former state, the leadership of both the districts (Leh and Kargil) came together and formed an alliance under the banner of Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) and Leh Apex Body (LAB).

The two groups were formed following the region’s resentment against the central government for failing to provide constitutional safeguards, protection of land, and job rights for the people after the creation of a separate UT.

Both the leaders from the Buddhist majority Leh and Muslim majority Kargil organised a number of protest rallies to press their demands.
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“Since we were already in touch due to an already existing alliance. We thought by joining hands together, we can keep the BJP away from the hill council elections,” Jan told The Quint.

Jan said that even if the BJP has fewer footprints in Kargil, they will meet the same fate in the upcoming hill council elections in Leh, next year and Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir.

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BJP Failed To Fulfill the Demands

Even though the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) constituted a high-powered committee on 3 January, headed by Minister of State – Nityanand Rai to “ensure protection of land and employment” for the people of Ladakh, it failed to pacify the tensions.

“This was the result of what BJP did on 5 August 2019,” said Sajjad Kargili, a member of KDA from Kargil.

Notably, in January of this year, the Leh region saw a significant protest when renowned Environmentalist Sonam Wangchuk initiated a five-day climate fast at the lofty elevation of 18,380 feet, specifically at the Khardung La pass.

His goal was to draw attention to the demands of the Ladakhi community and to urge the BJP-led Central government to address these concerns.

“We aren’t happy with the UT status that was forcibly provided to us without any consultations,” said Murtaza Ahmad, a resident of Kargil.

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Ahmad, who cast his vote for the NC in the Hill council elections, expressed disappointment, stating that the BJP's pledges to deliver on job opportunities, recruitment, land, and job security have not materialised as promised.

Mustafa Haji, another resident of Kargil told The Quint that the BJP wasn’t serious about the issues of Ladakh and kept people in the dark.

“It is time for BJP to introspect otherwise they will see more opposition,” Haji who cast his vote for the Congress party, said.

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Can’t Ignore Regional Parties

Political observers in Jammu and Kashmir argue that the Kargil verdict proves that the BJP can’t afford to ignore the regional political parties in Jammu Kashmir and Ladakh.

“Post abrogation of article 370, the BJP tried its best to discredit the regional political parties, however, the people aren’t ready to accept it as seen in the latest Kargil elections,” says Noor Mohammad Baba, a noted political scientist in the valley.

Baba argues that people in Ladakh and in the Hindu-dominated Jammu region, earlier ruled by the BJP, aren't ready to accept the "present arrangements” (rule through bureaucracy).

He further argued that keeping in view of the Kargil verdict, the newly created union territory may witness further delay in much-awaited Assembly Elections.
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“This adds to the BJP’s worries. The party needs to introspect. If the opposition parties in the UT will fight the elections like this, they might lose their bastions,” Baba added.

However, BJP’s Kargil District President, Haji Abdul Hussain claims that the party did well in the elections as compared to the previous elections held in 2018.

“We won two seats this election and the number of votes has gone up to 10,844 compared to 2,588 in 2018,” Hussain told The Quint.

He said the BJP is in progress in Kargil and has given tough competition to those parties who have been there since independence.

(Auqib Javeed is a Srinagar-based journalist. He tweets at @AuqibJaveed. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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