NC-Congress alliance sweeps Kargil election with 22 of 26 seats; BJP wins two

Pitching the poll as a referendum on the Centre’s August 2019 split of J&K, NC says the results are a “resounding rejection” of the BJP’s politics; NC-Congress lose a seat due to their “friendly contest”

Updated - October 09, 2023 03:23 am IST

Published - October 08, 2023 08:41 am IST - Kargil (Ladakh)

National Conference and Congress supporters wait outside a counting centre in Kargil on October 8, 2023.

National Conference and Congress supporters wait outside a counting centre in Kargil on October 8, 2023. | Photo Credit: ANI

The National Conference-Congress combine swept the election to the 26-member Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council-Kargil, bagging 22 seats, in the first ever polls held since Ladakh was carved out as a Union Territory (UT) in 2019, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) managed to win only two seats.

The NC, which is a part of the pan-India Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), won 12 seats, while the Congress bagged 10 seats. The INDIA partners lost to the BJP in one of the seats where they fielded candidates against each other. Independent candidates won two seats.

During the campaigning, the NC pitched the election as a referendum on the Centre’s actions on August 5, 2019, when Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional position was ended and the State split into two Union Territories.

BJP pitch

The BJP contested these polls on the development initiatives undertaken in the region after 2019.

“It’s a resounding rejection of the BJP’s politics that saw J&K divided and downgraded, with our constitutionally guaranteed status abolished. The people of Kargil have shown that they do not support or agree with what was done to them on 5th August 2019,” NC vice-president Omar Abdullah told The Hindu.

The October 4 election saw 77.61% of the 74,026 registered voters cast their ballot.

“These election results should serve as a wake-up call for the BJP. It is time to cease hiding behind the Raj Bhavan and unelected representatives and, instead, acknowledge the people’s rightful desire for a democratically elected government in J&K. Democracy demands the voices of the people be heard and respected,” he said. Mr. Abdullah expressed gratitude to the Congress leadership for its “unwavering support”.

The Congress threw its support behind the demands of the Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) — a local alliance fighting for Statehood and special constitutional guarantees on protecting Ladakh’s culture, land, jobs, and environment — when former party chief Rahul Gandhi toured the region.

Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh credited the party’s performance to Mr. Gandhi’s tour. “This [the results] is a direct impact of Rahul Gandhi continuing ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ in Ladakh last month,” Mr. Ramesh said.

Costly “friendly contest”

Though the NC-Congress had a “pre-poll alliance”, they also fielded candidates against each other in what they described as “friendly contests”. In fact, this was the first election faced by INDIA bloc partners, since the pan-India Opposition alliance was formed in July.

However, a “friendly contest” cost the alliance a seat in Kargil’s Zanskar region. The BJP managed a narrow win, with a 177-vote margin, in the Buddhist-majority Stakchay Khangral constituency, where a total of 2,565 votes were cast. The BJP’s winning candidate, Padma Dorjey, bagged 1,007 votes followed by Syed Hassan of the Congress with 830, and the NC’s Ghulam Hussain with 479. If they had fought together, the NC-Congress combine could have bagged a winning 1,309 votes.

The BJP also won the Cha seat, thus snagging two out of three Buddhist-majority constituencies. The third such seat, Padum, was won by the NC. The BJP improved on its 2018 tally, when it won only a single seat.

However, the BJP is unlikely to be too pleased with the results, given the fact that Ladakh has an MP from the BJP and the region has been directly ruled by the Centre since 2019. Two senior BJP leaders, Meenakshi Lekhi and Tarun Chugh, also camped in Kargil for campaigning.

“Heartfelt congratulations to all the dedicated BJP karyakartas and sincere gratitude to every voter,” BJP MP Jamyang Tsering Namgyal said after the Stakchay Khangral result. Mr. Namgyal’s image and popularity was also at stake in these elections.

Ladakh was carved out as a UT from the erstwhile State of J&K in 2019. Without an Assembly, the twin hill councils of Leh and Kargil, each of which has 30 members, are the main elected bodies in the region, and take care of governance issues at the local level. Four members are nominated to each council.

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