The landslide victory of the National Conference and Congress alliance in the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Council (LADHC) elections in Kargil is viewed by many as a strong rebuke to the BJP’s policies in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. Political observers believe that the results will exert considerable pressure on the Narendra Modi government to reconsider its stance on Ladakh’s demand for Sixth Schedule Guarantees, which has become a focal point for the region’s political, religious, and social groups, all unified under an apex body.
In the elections held for the 26-member Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council-Kargil, the NC-Congress alliance secured a remarkable 22 seats, leaving the BJP with only two seats. Specifically, the National Conference won 12 seats, while the Congress secured 10 seats. In one seat where both parties fielded candidates against each other, the BJP emerged victorious, and two seats were won by independent candidates.
The National Conference has described the results as a clear message from the people “to all forces and parties that have undemocratically and unconstitutionally divided the State of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh without the consent of its people”.
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Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, during a crowded press conference at Srinagar’s Sarovar Portico hotel, raised concerns about the delay in holding elections in Jammu and Kashmir. He stated that the BJP appeared to be apprehensive about potential losses. He added, “There are indications that New Delhi is in no mood to hold elections in J&K... My grievance is not against the BJP, which is a political party and will naturally prioritise its own prospects. My grievance is with the Election Commission.”
Political commentator Siddiq Wahid told Frontline that the people of Kargil have unequivocally rejected the BJP’s divisive, fear-driven politics. While the BJP’s defeat was anticipated, the scale of it has surprised even the party’s critics. Wahid said that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s recent visit to the Union Territory, which garnered significant attention, played a pivotal role in galvanising public anger and driving them to vote en masse against the BJP. He also credited the National Conference’s tireless campaign in the region, and described the two parties’ coming together as signalling “a newfound proximity between Ladakh and Kashmir”.
Wahid said over the phone from Srinagar: “There is palpable anger among the people over the BJP’s absolute control of Ladakh following the Centre’s unilateral actions in August 2019. There was a preference for secular parties like the Congress and the National Conference. Rahul Gandhi’s visit played a major role in shifting the tide.”
Sajjad Kargili, a social activist advocating for Sixth Schedule guarantees, is optimistic that it will now be challenging for the BJP to overlook the genuine aspirations and protections of the people. He said, “The results convey a clear message that the BJP’s concentration of power in a few hands, which undermines democracy, is not acceptable.” According to Kargili, it is a “vote against their decision to revoke Article 370 and divide the undivided J&K State”. It also highlights that despite the LG regime’s claims of development, Ladakh is lagging behind in development indices, with unemployment on the rise, added Kargili.
The Hill Council election on October 4 saw a robust turnout of 77.61 per cent. The BJP had relied on its developmental achievements and increased funding for the Hill Councils in Kargil and Leh. However, its wavering stance on granting exclusive rights to locals in terms of employment and land ownership contributed to its sudden loss of popularity. Over the past four years, the Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) and the Ladakh Buddhist Association have united to form an apex body advocating for Sixth Schedule Guarantees. This coalition includes political parties from the Union Territories, civil society organisations, trade unions, and religious leaders, among others.
Frontline previously reported growing resentment among the populace towards what they perceive as a “monopolising bureaucratic regime” that lacks consultation and accountability. Additionally, there has been a gradual erosion of the authority of Hill Councillors.
Tsering Namgyal, a member of the Congress party and the Leader of the Opposition in the Leh Hill Council, where the BJP currently holds a majority, shed light on the systematic erosion of the councillors’ authority. Namgyal commented, “On matters of public interest, councillors are not included, even though key assets like State land rest with the council. The result is a bureaucracy-controlled power structure that lacks consultation and accountability.”
The apex body and the KDA’s demands encompass safeguards under the Sixth Schedule, statehood for Ladakh, an increase in the number of Lok Sabha seats from one to two, and representation in the Rajya Sabha. Currently, Ladakh, without an elected legislature, does not have any members in the Upper House of Parliament. These two organisations have spearheaded a series of protests and shutdowns in Leh and Kargil. The Sixth Schedule is a constitutional provision designed to protect tribal culture, which is particularly significant in Ladakh, where 90 per cent of the population is tribal. communities