Countdown Begins For Leh Polls; BJP, Cong Launch Aggressive Campaign

12 October 2015
The Daily Excelsior
Sanjeev Pargal

Jammu: As countdown began for prestigious elections to Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), Leh, top brass of BJP and Congress, the two main contenders for power, reached mountain locked district for intense campaigning while authorities have decided to deploy the para-military forces-ITBP and CRPF along with Armed and JKP in 274 polling stations for 26 segments of the Council, which will go to polls on October 17. The Election Authority had deployed Zonal and Sector wise Magistrates in addition to 26 each Returning Officers and Assistant Returning Officers for smooth conduct of the polling. Over 1200 polling personnel will be designated for the election duty but in view of no response from the Civil Aviation Department of the State Government, the district Leh administration will depute polling parties to seven remote and hilly areas by foot tomorrow so that they were in place at the polling stations well in time. Deputy Commissioner, Leh, Prasanna Ramaswamy, who has been designated as Election Authority for LAHDC Leh by the Ladakh Affairs Department, told the Excelsior that the administration has designated 26 Returning Officers and 26 Assistant Returning Officers i.e. one each RO and ARO for one segment, seven Zonal Magistrates and 48 Sector Magistrates, all of whom have taken charge of their duties to supervise any violation of Model Code of Conduct (MCC) and other irregularities by the candidates. He said air sorties for polling staff had been requisitioned for seven polling stations but there had been no response so far from the Civil Aviation Department. 'We will wait till tomorrow and if the sorties were not arranged, we will send polling parties to all seven stations by foot tomorrow morning to ensure that they take positions well in time,' he added. Seven polling stations, which required airlifting of polling staff, included Skumpata, Lingshet, Depling, Neraks, Youlchang, Merak and Fotoskar. SSP Leh Sunil Gupta told the Excelsior that police authorities have decided to deploy para-military ITBP in hyper sensitive polling stations identified by the police while CRPF, Jammu and Kashmir Police and Armed Police will be deployed in sensitive and normal polling stations. 'Categorization of the polling stations has already been done and the deployment will be in place two days before the elections to ensure that the polling stations were adequately sanitized,' Gupta said adding that Quick Reaction Teams (QRTs) comprising para-military forces and police have been stationed at sensitive places including Leh town. Gupta said security arrangements for the Council elections were more than the last year's Parliament and Assembly elections in view of number of candidates involved, local enthusiasm and various other factors. A total of 90 candidates were in fray for 26 seats of the Council. Official sources said the civilian population was far away from the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China in Leh sector excepting Dumchok polling station, which was located close to the LoC and has 70-odd votes. Authorities have made adequate security arrangements there though the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China has never tried to disrupt any elections in Ladakh. Not a single bullet has been exchanged between Sino-Indian troops in Leh for years together. All additional forces including paramilitary troops to Leh have been moved from Kashmir. All Government employees, who have been assigned election duty for the Council, cast their votes today at the Degree College, Leh. Votes were cast for all 26 segments. DC Leh Prasana Ramaswami and Additional DC Leh RK Badyal gave important instructions to the polling staff and asked them to ensure free and fair elections. Master Trainers-Tashi Tsetan and Thinles Dawa gave detailed theoretical as well as practical training to the polling parties. Meanwhile, the BJP and Congress, which have been going all out to gain control of the Council, have put their entire force in the polls. Deputy Chief Minister Dr Nirmal Singh and Minister of State for Education Priya Sethi along with party MLAs Devender Manyal and RS Pathania reached Leh this afternoon while BJP Incharge for Jammu and Kashmir Avinash Rai Khanna is reaching Leh tomorrow. Cooperatives Minister Chering Dorjey and BJP's Lok Sabha member from Ladakh Thupstan Chhewang were already engaged in aggressive campaigning in Leh in favour of the BJP candidates. All the top BJP leaders will campaign in Leh for three days. Campaigning will end at 5 pm on October 15 while polling will be held on October 17 and counting on October 23. Congress president Ghulam Ahmad Mir canvassed for the party extensively while MLA Leh and former Minister Nawang Rigzin Jora, sitting LAHDC CEC Rigzin Spalbar and Congress MLA from Nobra Deldan Namgial were holding campaigning for the Congress. The BJP and Congress are contesting 25 seats each. The PDP and NC, which were fighting election on eight seats, were engaged in low key campaigning, which was confined to candidate level. New Ladakh Party (NLP) has also fielded candidates on 17 seats. A total of 90 candidates were trying luck for 26 seats. The BJP, which was riding high on the wave of its first time victory in Ladakh Lok Sabha seat in May last year, was trying to wrest control of the LAHDC Leh from Congress, which had won the Council thrice out of total four elections. In one election, Leh Union Territory Front (LUTF) had got majority in the Council. Noting that there has been no major history of any kind of militancy or election related violence in Leh, sources said only minor complaints were received from the candidates or political parties, which were disposed off quickly. The elections are being held in free and fair atmosphere. This time, number of major political parties contesting elections for the Council has gone up to 5 including main contenders for power-BJP and Congress, PDP, National Conference and newly floated New Ladakh Movement (NLM). Earlier, there used to be direct contest between Congress and BJP. In the previous elections in 2010, Congress had won 22 and BJP just four seats. There will be direct contest on five seats and triangular fight in nine.