LADAKH: Normally, the election to the 26-member Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council-Kargil, would have been considered a miniscule event in the ocean of democracy that India with bigger elections taking place frequently. But not when the political atmosphere is surcharged, with yet another elections season including Lok Sabha polls, knocking at the doors.
The outcome of this civic sort of election in the remote hilly desert has, in fact, taken the center-stage. Both for the opposition niggling to come united and BJP hell-bent to force its own agenda without caring for the public sentiment but more in search of a fresh narrative to grab headlines.
The outcome of the Kargil election where a limited form of opposition I.N.D.I.A combine has convincingly won defeating the BJP in a region with mixed Shia Muslim-Buddhist population has lessons to offer. Not that the CongressNational Conference alliance has won only in the Shia, Kargil is a Shia dominated segment of Ladakh with a sprinkle of Buddhists, dominated seats but also in areas such as Padam and Zanskar with Buddhists majority.
The trick of delimitation played by the powers that be to create “safe seats” for the BJP by adding such areas to Kargil zone, has miserably failed. The same model has been replicated by the ruling dispensation by taking away some areas, Poonch and Rajouri border districts, of Jammu Lok Sabha constituency and adding it to Kashmir Valley’s Anantnag seat. The reason is also the same to try and win at least one seat in Kashmir region for the BJP in pursuit to justify Article 370-centric narrative for posterity.
The Congress-National Conference (both partners in I.N.D.I.A) have made a clean sweep of it winning 22 seats in the 26-member house- National Conference 12 and Congress 10. The BJP despite Herculean efforts including unstinted administrative support could win only two and rest two seats went to independents.
A sample of one of the seats won by the BJP which has a lesson for the opposition partners who have often been heard talking of “friendly contest” in some seats to satisfy their egos. A rethink is must after analysing this small but significant model.
- Constituency: Stakchey Khangral
Final result: Mr Padma Dorjey BJP= 1007 votes (won)
Syed Hussain Indian National Congress: 830 votes
Mr Ghulam Hussain, National Conference: 479
Mr Ashraf Hussain (Independent): 242 votes
Mr Ghulam Nabi (Independent): 92 votes
This was a case of “friendly contest”.
The total votes secured by National Conference and Congress candidates are 1309 as against the winning BJP nominee’s 1007. Similar is the case with second seat won by the BJP. A united face devoid of a “friendly contest” and the BJP would have drawn a blank.
A key factor in this opposition victory particularly in the Congress’s context has been second tier of Bharat Jodo Yatra taken out by the party leader Mr Rahul Gandhi. He rode on a motorbike traversing the rough and tumble of the top hilly terrain to establish contact with people. It had an electrifying effect and bore fruit as visible in the poll results.
The elation and joy apart, the Kargil result must alarm and alert the opposition parties. They must act realistically while working out seat-sharing mechanism and realise each other’s strength on ground rather than harp on massaging their respective egos. This is a big takeaway for the opposition. The regional satraps must unequivocally recognize the Congress’s strength and vice-versa and avoid cutting corners.
The regional parties which are strong in their respective areas can ignore
Congress only at their peril. The National Conference Patriarch Dr Farooq Abdullah, perhaps, is more pragmatic and realized that despite his party having a strong base in Kargil cannot achieve success without Congress’s help. And his pragmatism has paid dividends despite the phenomena of “friendly contests” creeping in.
People of Union Territory of Ladakh have delivered a positive message a second time around.
Firstly, the two regions forgot their differences to unitedly fight to protect the region’s identity and basic rights. Secondly, unstinted effort of Congress leaders of Leh and Kargil zones to close their ranks and age-old animosity based on caste, religion and other factors. The demand for protecting Ladakh’s ethnic and bread and butter rights united them.
Coupled with opposition unity, it brought electrifying results in the Hill Development Council election.
This has sounded alarm bells for the BJP which had won Ladakh Lok Sabha election in 2014 and 2019 riding the Modi-wave.
The ignominy of losing the seat in 2024 runs large provided the opposition puts a united show.
Both Shias and Buddhists had voted for the BJP in the last two Lok Sabha elections but the political environment, as reflected by the Kargil polls, has undergone drastic change.
This is primarily due to the BJP leadership prevaricating on fulfilling promises relating to bread and butter and political empowerment, made during elections. Similar situation prevails in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir where the saffron party has developed coldfeet to even hold panchayat and civic elections leave aside assembly polls.
The BJP’s Kargil defeat cannot escape scrutiny under the light of August 5, 2019 developments that changed the Constitutional position of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. More importantly taking away its special status enshrined in the same very Constitution.
It raises question mark on the correctness of this move.
In fact, it will not be out of place to describe the National Conference-Congress alliance victory as a rejection of the ruling dispensation’s policies with regard to the two Union Territories. This is not to speak of issues related to security and fighting terrorism.
If the policies have brought Leh and Kargil together, it has also, in some measures, brought Jammu and Kashmir closer, the two regions perpetually complaining and diametrically opposed to each other in the past. The meeting ground is the BJP’s policies which are focused more on arbitrarily implementing its agenda than caring for peoples’ aspirations and making poll promises a reality.
Whether the Kargil syndrome forces the BJP’s top brass to have a rethink on its Jammu and Kashmir policy (Ladakh included), is a billion-dollar question. Given their arbitrary model of working the chances are few but certainly it will force them to sit up and think at least with an eye on Lok Sabha elections. At stake are six seats- five Jammu and Kashmir and one Ladakh of which BJP currently has three.
The pressure of the Kargil defeat which has bigger connotations, will certainly force a rethink in some measure. It is even more than the poll prospects for the BJP as at stake is the entire gamut of its Jammu-Kashmir-Ladakh policy which was designed to set a new paradigm and aimed at giving the party wider electoral benefits at the national level.
The Kargil defeat has certainly hindered the BJP’s bigger political gameplan. The fact that the eastern Ladakh is embroiled in conflict following Chinese incursions, lends this victory a strategic touch by way of giving people an outlet to vent out their feelings.
Yet, another test case for the opposition (read Congress and National Conference) in the context of opposition unity at the national levels, will be on how the two partners draft a power sharing model in electorally small but strategically very important area. If crafted carefully without any rancour, it can be, in some ways, emulated at the national level though the two cases are contextually different with a common motive.
The Kargil, in this current electoral, form was a must. The people of the area have done their national duty though differently to add positivity to the political thinking of the political warriors on either side. They must sit up and think or get perished.