The Bharatiya Janata Party rode to an impressive victory in local polls held in Ladakh recently because of promising to bring Union Territory status to the high altitude region. It is easy to promise this but an uphill task to accomplish given the complex nature of Jammu and Kashmir and its politics, writes Junaid Kathju
Despite being in the news for often wrong or not so good reasons since its joining the coalition Government in Jammu and Kashmir, the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) poll plank to seek Union Territory (UT) status for Ladakh has struck the right chord as party managed to register a thumping victory in the recently held Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, (LAHDC) elections.
Ending 15-year-long Congress rule in the high altitude cold desert, BJP has, indeed, scripted a new chapter by wresting control of the LAHDC for the first time ever.
The saffron party had fielded candidates for 24 of the 26 seats, and it bagged 18 of them. Congress, which had a strong presence in the region over the years managed to retain only five seats, down from 22 members who got elected on the party ticket in the last council elections.
The formidable regional party National Conference won only two seats while an independent could romp home on one seat. BJP’s coalition partner Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) failed to open its account.
The demand for a UT status has been a long-pending issue with Ladakh which saw region's Buddhists coming together under the Ladakh Union Territory Front (LUTF) banner in 2002.
Though the Front which won uncontested on two seats in 2002 Assembly polls disintegrated later, the UT demand continued to dominate the politics of the region.
After the LAHDC election results both Congress and National Conference blamed the BJP of making the grant of Union Territory status to Ladakh a bargaining point to tilt the outcome in its favour.
The State Congress chief Ghulam Ahmad Mir while speaking to Policy Pulse said to win the elections BJP wooed the people of Leh by playing emotional card of granting the Union Territory status to them.
"BJP mainly concentrated on the UT issue which the Congress party could not have done because of its stated position of maintaining unity and integrity of the State," Mir said.
Mir also accused ruling PDP and BJP of using government machinery and money to win the elections.
“On developmental side the people of Leh were satisfied with the Congress. But the BJP with the help of their coalition partner used government machinery in the elections,” Mir said, adding that almost all the PDP-BJP ministers camped there and ensured victory of the BJP candidates.
Interestingly, the demand for a Union Territory status was a part of Congress manifesto for 2014 parliamentary polls for Ladakh so that party's position on the controversial issue would translate into votes for its candidate.
Granting UT status to Ladakh would require a Constitutional Amendment by the J&K State Legislature which enjoys special status under Article 370 of the Constitution of India.
Political experts sceptical about BJPs too many larger than life promises, say that it would be interesting to see how BJP gives Union Territory status to the Leh region.
“Granting UT Status will dilute special status that the State enjoys under Article 370 of the constitution. So, how BJP will do it remains to be seen,” Director of Kashmir University's Institute of Kashmir Studies, Professor Gul Wani said.
Wani remarked that BJPs tactics by promising UT Status has been main factor for the party’s victory in the LAHDC elections.
"People voted for BJP because they believe that the party can grant UT states to region, which has been there long pending demand. There is no Modi wave as is being projected,” he said.
Ahead of the elections, on October 2, BJP released its manifesto in Leh seeking Union Territory status for Ladakh region. While the document in the native language carried the slogan “new ideology and new hope”, the one in English highlighted “BJP: The right choice at the right time”.
A shot in the arm
The victory in the LAHDC elections came as a shot in the arm to the BJP which was cornered by opposition for its alleged attempts at promoting the “Hindutva agenda and politics of polarisation in the State”.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi even exploited the Ladakh results in Bihar elections. He glowingly referred to his party’s victory and Congress’s drubbing in his rallies to lure Bihari voters.
“Dekhiye, Himalaya mein barf varsha hoti hai, to Bihar mein thand aati hai ya nahi aati hai?” (If it snows in Himalaya, doesn’t Bihar feel the chill?) Modi said, adding “there was an election in Ladakh-Leh where BJP has won. The Congress that had 22 seats has come down to five.”
Since BJP and the PDP formed a coalition Government in Jammu and Kashmir, the coalition has been fraught from its very inception. Abrogation of Article 370, granting permanent citizenship to West Pakistan refugees, composite township for the displaced Kashmiri Pandits and to impose ban on the slaughtering of bovines have been some of the major controversies that BJP had to deal with in the State.
Even though the BJP has not been able to make its presence felt in the Kashmir Valley but the party is turning out to be a strong competitor for its rivals in Jammu and Ladakh.
The party made significant inroads in the Jammu region as it bagged 25 of the 37 seats in the province in the last Assembly elections. In Ladakh the party won the Lok Sabha seat last year, but lost both the Assembly seats in the region to the Congress.
Modi’s Vikas formula
Narendra Modi's promise of giant strides of development and prosperity has worked in favour of the BJP in theLeh Council polls, says BJP.
Speaking to Policy Pulse, J&K BJP spokesperson Arun Gupta said the reason people voted for BJP is to see development in Ladakh.
“The win was a clear indication that people want prosperity and development and BJP is the only party that can deliver it,” Gupta said.
The popularity of BJP can be gauged by the fact that the party’s graph at the civic body witnessed a significant surge from four seats in 2010 to 18 seats in 2015.
BJP president for the Ladakh region Dr Sonam Dawa said that Congress was wiped out because the party failed to deliver what it had promised to people in the last elections.
“There was a Modi wave all over the country. Congress is doomed be it in centre or in states,” Dawa said.
The LAHDC, Leh was constituted in accordance with the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council Act of 1995 during the late Narasimha Rao's Government. Its first election was held in 1995 for a five-year term. Later, during Mufti Mohammad Sayeed-led PDP rule in 2003, a similar council was established for Kargil district to assuage the feelings of this Muslim majority district of Ladakh.