UT Status Hogs Limelight In Ladakh Election

27 April 2014
The Daily Excelsior
Sanjeev Pargal

Jammu: As battle of ballots hot up in cold desert Ladakh region, the demand for Union Territory (UT) status has once again become a focal point with BJP openly supporting the demand while Congress linking it with solution of Kashmir problem. The yearlong connectivity of Leh and Kargil with rest of the country has dominated the poll plank of all four candidates in the fray for Ladakh seat, which would go to polls on May 7 in last and final phase of elections in Jammu and Kashmir. As usual, the polarization between two districts-Leh and Kargil-which formed part of Ladakh constituency has once again set in. Out of just four candidates in the fray for Ladakh seat, the lowest for any constituency in Jammu and Kashmir, there were two each from the twin districts. The Ladakh constituency has just 1.59 lakh electorates, again the lowest in the State. Even the votes were almost equally divided between the two districts with Leh having 79042 electorates and Kargil 80589. BJP has fielded 2004 MP from Ladakh-Thupstan Chhewang and Congress its district president Tsering Samphel (both from Ladakh). In Kargil district, two Independent candidates have joined the fray. They included Sayeed Mohammad Kazim Sabri, backed by powerful religious organisation Islamiya School Kargil (ISK) and Ghulam Raza, a Congress leader, who had revolted against the party decision to field candidate from Leh and joined the fray backed by another powerful organisation-Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust (IKMT). Mr Chhewang, who has been openly canvassing for UT status to Ladakh, told the Excelsior that he consistently stood for the UT status to mountain locked region notwithstanding his affiliation to whichever party or organisation. 'I have always stood for UT status to Ladakh and I'm committed to my demand,' he said, adding the people of Ladakh deserved the UT status. Worthwhile to mention here that Mr Chhewang had won Ladakh seat in 2004 as Congress candidate but later floated Leh Union Territory Front (LUTF) as Congress didn't endorse the demand for UT status to Ladakh. On polarization between Leh and Kargil, Thupstan said this time both the districts were supporting him as the BJP has promised massive development of the region after coming to power at the Centre. He added that senior BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi would campaign in Kargil and Zanskar on May 1 for the BJP. Inclusion of Boti language in 8th schedule of the Constitution of India, opening of Kailash Mansarovar route for pilgrimage, immediate construction of Zojila tunnel, expansion of airports at Leh and Kargil for landing of more and big aircrafts, round the year connectivity of the two districts with rest of the world, promotion of tourism, Central University and employment package for Ladakh, special recruitment for Ladakh people including women in Army and para-military forces, opening of Kargil-Askardu road and several other local issues were being prominently raised by Thupstan Chhewang. Though Congress candidate Tsering Samphel couldn't be approached on phone, senior party leader and CEC of LAHDC, Leh, Rigzin Spalbar charged the BJP candidates with exploiting UT sentiments for elections only. 'We don't exploit the people. The UT will come when solution to Jammu and Kashmir is worked out. Till then, we are striving and fighting the election for 'bijli, sadak and paani' and bringing in more funds for the LAHDC, Leh,' he said. The demand for including Boti language in eighth schedule of the Constitution and opening of Kailash-Mansarovar route and other places for tourism in Ladakh apart from Kargil-Askardu road also figured prominently in the election campaign of Congress, Mr Spalbar said. He didn't agree that Congress rebel Ghulam Raza, who had resigned as District Kargil president of the party to join the election fray with IKMT support, will damage the party prospectus in the election. 'We are confident of our win as we have base in both the districts,' he said. The Congress unit of Leh had issued a local manifesto calling for UT status to Ladakh. However, it had drawn sharp reaction from PCC (I) chief Prof Saif-ud-Din Soz, who had said the Congress didn't endorse the demand. Sayeed Mohammad Kazim Sabri, an Independent candidate from Kargil backed by the ISK, has made the local issues as his main electoral planks including Central University for Kargil, immediate construction of Zojila tunnel to link Ladakh with rest of the country throughout the year, extension of railway line to Ladakh, completion of Srinagar-Leh transmission line, upgradation of airports in Kargil and Leh, opening of Kargil-Askardu road apart from Turtuk-Khapula and Turtuk-Hannu roads, which would reduce the distance between Leh and Srinagar. On the demand for UT status to Ladakh, Sabri said: 'Chhewang had advocated the demand earlier but now he is in BJP. The Congress has been finished. The demand required high level dialogue,' he said. In 2009 election, it was ISK backed Ghulam Hassan Khan, who had won Ladakh seat as Independent candidate defeating Congress nominee P Namgayal with about 3700 votes. Khan had polled 32,694 votes as against Namgayal's 28,986. BJP backed Independent candidate Thinless Angmo had secured 22,716 votes while IKMT supported Independent Asgar Ali Karblaie, now a prominent Congress leader and CEC LAHDC, Kargil had secured 24,498 votes. PDP's Ghulam Murtaza got 642 votes. This time the PDP is not in the fray for Ladakh seat. A number of Karblaie's supporters including Councilors of the LAHDC Kargil are canvassing for Congress rebel Ghulam Raza. Mr Raza told the Excelsior that there was no polarization between Leh and Kargil and people of both the districts enjoy good harmony with each other. Raza has also been focusing on local issues like immediate construction of Zojila tunnel, expansion of airport at Kargil for air connectivity in all months, schemes for unemployed youths, more funding for LAHDC, Kargil etc. On UT demand, Raza said it was not their demand. Sources said several Congress leaders from Kargil had revolted against the party decision to ignore their demand for fielding a candidate from Kargil and were supporting Raza instead of Samphel.