Ladakh Polls: How the INDIA Bloc Sparring Creates Fissures for Kargil-Leh Unity

Fractures have emerged between the twin regions over the nomination of candidates for the Lok Sabha polls.

4 min read

Four years after the people of Kargil and Leh district of Ladakh decided to keep their differences aside and work jointly for constitutional safeguards, fractures have emerged between the twin regions over the nomination of candidates for the Lok Sabha polls.

The cold desert will go to polls in the fifth phase of elections on 20 May. Both the National Conference (NC) and Indian National Congress (INC) are fighting the elections jointly against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Ladakh under the INDIA alliance.

On 1 May, the Congress and the NC in Kargil jointly nominated Haji Muhammad Hanifa Jan as their candidate for the Ladakh Lok Sabha seat. Jan, who belongs to the Muslim majority Kargil, is the district president of NC. However, the Congress high command in New Delhi nominated Tsering Namgyal from Leh as the INDIA alliance candidate.

The announcement by the Congress high command developed fractures in Ladakh with Kargil opting to support Jan in the election. On 3 May, Jan filed a nomination as an independent candidate from the Ladakh parliamentary constituency, leaving the Congress official candidate high and dry.

How Will Kargil Benefit From Twin Candidates From Leh?

The decision of the Kargil leaders has put the people of Leh in a tight spot who have two candidates in the election fray from the seat – BJP's Tashi Gyalson and Congress’ Tsering Namgyal.

"The votes in Leh will get divided between the BJP and the Congress which will benefit Haji Hanifa Jan,” said veteran Congress leader Rigzin Spalbar.

Spalbar, who has resigned from politics asserted that the Lok Sabha elections have become polarised in Ladakh.

"The candidate from Kargil is certain to win since he is the sole contender," he added.

Ladakh is a high-altitude desert with a mixed population of Buddhists and Muslims. The Leh district bordering China is dominated by the Buddhists while the Kargil district border with Pakistan is inhabited by Shia Muslims.

The region has a voting population of 182,571, comprising 91,703 males and 90,867 females. Among them, Kargil holds 95,929 votes whereas Leh accounts for 88,870 votes out of the total electorate. Kargil holds a slight advantage in terms of voter numbers. The Zanskar belt of the region which has a good population of Muslims is also expected to vote for Jan.

Notably, Sajjad Hussain Kargili, a social activist from Kargil also announced that he will not contest the upcoming Parliament elections and support the joint candidate Haji Hanifa Jan.


Rift Within the National Conference

On 6 May, National Conference president Dr Farooq Abdullah warned his party colleagues in Kargil to support the INDIA bloc candidate T Namgyal in the Lok Sabha election for the Ladakh seat.

The NC said in a post on its X, “NC President Dr Farooq Abdullah has directed the Kargil unit of the party to support the INDIA bloc candidate Tsering Namgyal in the Lok Sabha election for the Ladakh seat. He has told his colleagues that failure to follow this directive will be seen as a serious breach of party discipline.”

The NC and INC are fighting elections in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. While the Congress supported the NC in the Kashmir division, the NC was supposed to support the Congress in Jammu and Ladakh.

However, not following the directions, the entire Kargil unit on the same day announced en mass resignation over the choice of candidate for the Lok Sabha elections.

While addressing a press conference in Kargil, Additional General Secretary Ladakh Qamar Ali Akhoon stated that the party high command was pressurising them to extend support to the official Congress candidate from Ladakh, which was deemed unacceptable by the Kargil leadership.

"The Ladakh Democratic Alliance has unitedly decided to project a Joint candidate named Mohammad Hanifa Jan as an independent candidate for the forthcoming Lok Sabha Election from 1- Ladakh Parliamentary Constituency supported by all the Political and Religious Institutions unanimously coming across the party/religious affiliations,” reads the letter.


Kargil’s Non-Representation in Parliament

People of the Kargil argue that the division has less representation in the Parliament and for that, they have suffered in the absence of their candidate.

Historically, most of the time, the candidate from Leh has won the Lok Sabha elections. No candidate from Kargil has won the elections since 2009.

“The candidate of the INDIA alliance is not acceptable to us. We want a candidate from Kargil and both the Congress and the NC have decided to back Jan in the elections,” said Nasir Munshi, the District Congress president of Kargil.

He said that with the absence of a candidate in Parliament, they have suffered.

Notably, the people of Ladakh have been demanding two separate seats in Parliament for Leh and Kargil and this is part of the four-point agenda put forth by representatives from the region to New Delhi.

“The Kargil got united this time. All the religious and political parties have decided to support Jan in elections and ensure he wins,” Mushi added.

Sajjad Kargil, a key figure in the Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) said that he decided to withdraw the nomination from Kargil because the votes could have been divided.

“I did this in the interest of Kargil because we want our candidate in Parliament this time,” he said.


'Will Not Impact Unity'

On 8 May, some Buddhist leaders expressed their concern over having only one Muslim candidate from Kargil and two Buddhist candidates from Leh.

However, both leaders from the twin districts – Sajjad Kargili and Dorejay – argue that the current dispute over the nomination of candidates will not undermine the hard-earned harmony between the two communities.

Chering Dorjey Lakrook, President of LBA, maintained that even though there are differences over the nomination of the candidate, it will not impact the alliance of LBA and Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) who are fighting to get Ladakh under the sixth schedule of Indian constitution.

Jigmat Paljor, a student-activist in Leh echoes similar views, suggesting that certain individuals are polarising the elections and attempting to create a divide between Kargil and Leh.

“This is not the case. Whoever wins will represent the aspiration of the people of Ladakh,” Paljor said.

(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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