In Ladakh, which votes on May 7, the presence of two independent candidates has introduced an element of unpredictability in what should have been a fight between the Congress and the BJP. The Congress, which represents the Hill Development Councils in Kargil and Leh districts, had earlier looked in a comfortable position. The battle seems no longer so simple.
The Congress has fielded Tsering Samphel, president of the Ladakh unit of the party, though Congress leaders from Muslim-dominated Kargil were in favour of a Muslim candidate.
BJP candidate Thupsang Chewang is a former MP who was the first chief executive of the Ladakh Hill Development Council. Chewang joining the BJP has given it a good foothold in the region.
Independent candidate Ghulam Reza, considered a proxy candidate of chief executive councillor, Kargil Hill Development Council, Asghar Karblai, has the support of Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust, a powerful Shia organisation. This has given Congress leaders a cause for worry.
The other independent candidate Agha Syed Kazim Sabri, a councillor, has the support of a section of NC workers and the Islamia School, a powerful religious group. He is likely to cut into Congress votes.
“In Kargil, it is a fight between candidates of two religious groups having political backing. A single candidate from Kargil could have tilted the balance. But this time anything can happen,’’ said Shabir Ahmad, a resident of Kargil.
The BJP, banking on Buddhist-dominated Leh, is eyeing some Muslim support in Kargil and hoping to benefit from the strife within the Congress. The BJP also hopes to benefit from non-cooperation of a section of the National Conference, the Congress ally.
To woo voters in Leh, the BJP is promising union territory status to Ladakh. The Congress leadership in Leh too has promised UT status , but the Congress state leadership and the NC are opposed to the idea. The BJP has roped in some central Muslim leaders to campaign in Kargil.
“If the BJP manages to get 3,000 to 5,000 votes in Kargil region, then they have a very good chance here,’’ said Khurshid Ahmad, a political columnist who writes about the political affairs of the Ladakh region.
J&KPCC president Saifuddin Soz said the Congress and coalition partner NC are doing everything to fix problems in Kargil. “We know our shortcomings as well as strengths. We have done lot of development and people will support us,’’ he said.
Despite a 90 per cent Muslim population in Kargil, separatists hold no sway in this region.
In Ladakh, Muslim and Buddhist vote share is almost equal. In 2009 when NC-Congress had put up a joint candidate, Independent candidate Ghulam Hassan Khan won. Khan had joined NC soon after winning.