Political Unity In Leh Under Strain Ahead Of Elections To Hill Development Council
5 August 2005
Leh: Three years of Buddhist unity in this cold desert is under strain as the Ladakh Union Territory Front (LUTF) and the Congress are heading for a showdown with the notification of elections to the Autonomous Hill Development Council. Unlike the rest of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the multi-party system here ceased to exist after all the political parties in the Buddhist majority district decided to dissolve their separate identities and contest the 2002 Assembly polls under the banner of LUTF. The aim of the front was to fight for Union Territory status for Leh. Some success came as the Gobas (Ladakhi village heads) who wield political clout asked the people of their villages to vote for the front's candidates. This led to the uncontested victory of LUTF candidates in two Assembly seats in Leh district. After the fractured verdict of the 2002 Assembly elections the LUTF decided to join the People's Democratic Party- Congress coalition Government. One of its legislators, Rigzin Jora, became Minister of State in the Mufti Government and was later elevated to the rank of Cabinet Minister. The front supported the coalition on the premise that they should be given the right to disagree in terms of political ideology as the Congress and the People's Democratic party opposed Union Territory status for Leh. Within a few months of taking over, the coalition Government gave more powers to the Leh Autonomous Hill Development Council. This move ended the hegemony of the Deputy Commissioner, the State Government's representative in the district and made the democratically elected council supreme in policy matters relating to the district. Differences surfaced within the front on the political future of the front. And now, with elections due to the council in September, the differences appear sharper. The Congress has the backing of Rigzin Jora, State Cabinet Minister; Rigzin Spalbar, LAHDC chairman; P. Namgyal, MLC and former Union Minister; and T. Samphel, who heads the party's district body. The LUTF, on the other hand, has Thupstan Chhewang, who represents Ladakh in the Lok Sabha, Chering Dorjay and Thiksay Rimpoche, a former Rajya Sabha member among its key backers. Dorjay, a former Congress legislator, heads the outfit. Both sides have stepped up their campaigns.