With the dictate of LBA not yielding results, the resurgence of Kargilite as the future MP of Ladakh should be acquiesced by people interested in unity

Latief U Zaman Deva
Since the creation of the Ladakh Lok Sabha constituency in 1967, the Indian National Congress (INC) has won it in six elections, the National Conference (NC) twice, and the BJP once. Independent candidates have been elected on four occasions, twice supported by the NC either as authorised rebels or otherwise, and veteran Leh leader Thupstan Chhewang twice.
Buddhist candidates from Leh have held nine terms, including the truncated 1977 and 1996 Lok Sabha, while Muslims from Kargil have held four terms, including the truncated 1989 and 1998 Lok Sabha.
The yearning of Kargilites for representation in the Lok Sabha, at least on a rotational basis between the two districts, was fulfilled during the 1980 elections when a candidate from Kargil was fielded by the NC. However, he lost due to the Machiavellian politics practised by the Congress, who persuaded one of their senior leaders from Kargil to enter the electoral fray as an independent candidate to divide the votes. This practice continued during the 2004,2014 and 2019 parliamentary elections.
 Bitterness- past & present
The “love and indifference syndrome” in Ladakh has its origins in medieval times when large indigenous populations adopted Islam in Greater Gilgit, Skardu, Kargil, and certain areas of Leh district. Before occupation by the Sikhs through their vassal, Gulab Singh, Raja of Jammu, these two frontier districts had never been ruled by either of the two beyond their respective territories but had been feudatories of China (Tibet), East Turkestan, or paying tributes to Kashmiri kings.
Between 1835 and 1870, some of these regions initially came under Sikh control, followed by full occupation by the Dogra ruling dynasty, who reorganised the areas into the two frontier districts of Ladakh and Gilgit, apart from a few surrounding territories allowed to be retained by local chieftains under the suzerainty of the Maharajas.
The extension of the name of Ladakh over Gilgit and other territories is, in this background, an affront to the region’s identity and against historical facts. The sooner this is rectified, the better.
Identity crises crept in during Dogra rule, who, allured by local monasteries, started introducing Ladakh as a “Buddhist Land” after destroying archaeological facets and other heritages of Skardu and Kargil during their campaign to occupy the regions under the legendary commander Zorawar Singh.
In the 1941 census, the Buddhist population of Ladakh district was 40,164 against a Muslim population of 154,431. In the perceptions of the common masses resisting occupation, Bhotia Ladakhi were deemed allies of the ruling class, which enhanced the level of distrust between the two communities and allowed it to perpetuate even after 1947.
Kushak Bakula, a highly revered Buddhist monk and member of the State Constituent Assembly and later Member of Parliament from Ladakh, would spew venom against Kashmir’s towering leader Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah on imaginary grounds of discrimination. However, after 1953, he became a staunch supporter of the state rulers, perceived in popular parlance as stooges of the Central government.
With the creation of Kargil as a district in 1979, the Buddhist-majority Leh district began to suspect the designs of Kargilites under the patronage of the state government and the ruling party. Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah foresaw the effects of these unpleasant developments and, to promote harmony and institutionalise the balanced development of the two districts, proposed granting divisional status to Ladakh.
However, a few non-visionary characters began demanding the divisional setup to be at Kargil, the central place between Srinagar and Leh, forestalling the implementation of this major intervention. This proposal, if executed, would have provided ample scope for inter-district mobility and would have transformed Leh into a multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic abode, fostering the diversity of the Indus Valley.
The peaceful, spontaneous, and long-spell protest spree in Kargil against the revocation of the special constitutional status of J&K and its split into two union territories pointed towards the real aspirations of its inhabitants, contrary to the celebrations witnessed in Leh.
The only occasion in the chequered history of Ladakh when the inhabitants of Leh and Kargil are on the same page is the six-point agenda, particularly the demand for statehood and the application of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India, which is genuine when compared with the state of Sikkim.
Population Conundrum and De Facto Arbitrators
The population of Ladakh was 274,289 according to the 2011 census. By excluding non-Ladakhis, totalling 35,480 persons who are neither tribals nor speak Bhotia, Purkhi, Balti, Shena, etc., as their mother tongues or were not permanent residents before the bifurcation of the erstwhile state of J&K into two Union territories on August 5, 2019, the population of Ladakh boils down to 238,803.

These non-Ladakhis are Central government employees, both civil and uniformed and other civilians eligible for enumeration during the census based on a stay of six months or more. None of them seem to have registered as voters in the union territory, which is improbable given the existing provisions of the relevant laws. These non-Ladakhis are Hindus and Sikhs, except two Hindu and three Sikh families residing in Kargil as permanent residents of the state of J&K prior to the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. A few families live in Leh district under similar conditions.
 Religion & politics
Non-political religious organisations like the Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA), Imam Khomeini Trust, and Islamia School are de facto arbitrators of the political course chartered by political parties, wielding authority and calling the shots.
The often mutually opposing preferences of Kargil-based religious parties have prevented promising upcoming candidates from wresting the parliamentary seat. In contrast, the Buddhist leadership in Leh did not rise to the occasion by respecting the aspirations of Kargilites, fuelling unrest and political uncertainties where antagonistic narratives have attained sanctity.
The bonhomie subsisting between the two for the last two years is exceptional and a rare development in the region’s history. The unity and persuasion used for restricting contestants from Kargil to one only were bound to be rebounded in Leh, prompting the LBA to suggest that candidates from the two national parties settle for a straight contest by one of the two withdrawing from the contest.
Buddhist candidates have held the Lok Sabha seat for over 40 years as against seven years by Kargilites, which should have served the LBA well in avoiding public posturing to sustain the momentum of amity prevailing all over Ladakh.
Since one of the six demands relates to carving out Kargil as a second parliamentary constituency in the UT, a mature response from the LBA would have further augmented inter-regional détente. The rollback is hardly an option for the BJP and Congress, and the LBA, in the supreme interests of regional unity, ought to leave the decision to the ballots. Otherwise, fresh fissures reminiscent of the early nineties will inevitably benefit the recalcitrant Central Government headed by the BJP.
 Voter- population ratio
Out of the total electorate of 184,803 in the constituency, Leh accounts for 88,877 and Kargil 95,926. The strength of Muslim voters in Leh is almost equal to Buddhist voters in Kargil, which is also proportionate to their respective populations. The ratio of electors is higher in Leh than in Kargil, which has been worked out based on the number of voters and the projected population in 2024.
An analysis of census data and population in age groups from 18 years and above reveals about 14,000 persons stand disenfranchised in Kargil compared to the ratio in Leh unless there is a discrepancy in data collection during census operations.The Table below illustrates the position:-

 Distt population (2011)× Census DDGR

After the 1999 parliamentary elections, minority voters in Leh tended towards the Congress and later from 2004 to 2019 elections to independent and BJP candidates, contrasting with Buddhists in Kargil who overtly supported Leh-based candidates.
This shift in Leh was largely due to candidate-specific attributes or the leadership of the parties commanding leverage across communities. This time, however, chinks are visibly implicit, with the possibility of transcending sub-regional barriers, adding to the Kargilite candidate’s armoury without apparent revulsions in minority groups in Kargil who seem averse to disturbing existing alignments among the major segments of the Buddhist population in Ladakh.
Usually, voter turnout has been higher in Leh compared to Kargil, which the latter is now determined to surmount. During the 2004 and 2019 elections, the total votes polled in Leh were more than in Kargil. The civil society in Kargil needs to become proactive in the registration of eligible persons as voters otherwise the mismatch exhibited in the voter–projected population ratio shall subsist depriving thousands of people of their voting rights.
With the dictate of LBA not yielding results, the resurgence of Kargilite as the future MP of Ladakh should be acquiesced by people interested in unity.,( Courtesy Kashmir Times)
The author is a retired IAS officer and former chairman of the J&K Public Service Commission


Shaharbeen News Service Kashmir is a news service which covers, gathers, writes, and distributes news to newspapers, periodicals, radio and television broadcasters, government agencies, and other users. We at SNS Kashmir believe in fair and independent journalism to inform our masses or subscribers and readers about the happenings around the world. The prime focus of the news gathering and reporting is focused on Jammu and Kashmir state.

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