Campaigning for LAHDC Leh polls ends; voting on Thursday
Leh: The campaigning for elections to the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) Leh ended on Tuesday evening, 48 hours before the first democratic exercise in the region which was carved out of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state and granted Union Territory status last year.
Despite the lurking threat due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the campaigning saw both the key parties — the BJP and Congress — which are contesting on all the 26 constituencies, making all-out efforts to woo the voters with major focus on the sixth schedule of the constitution.
As many as 89,776 electorate, including 45,025 women voters, would seal the fate of 94 candidates on the polling day on October 22.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is also trying its luck for the first time in the region, while none of the regional parties, including the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has joined the electoral battle.
“The campaigning for the LAHDC Leh polls ended peacefully at 4 pm today (Tuesday). There were about four complaints of violation of model code of conduct which were not of grave nature but still appropriate action as per law was taken,” District Development Commissioner, Leh, Sachin Kumar Vaishya said.
Vaishya, who is also the election officer, said the voting will take place from 8 am to 4 pm on October 22 and all the necessary measures have been taken to ensure peaceful polling amid strict adherence of COVID-19 guidelines.
“The main challenge was the shortage of polling staff which has been overcome by deployment of 50 per cent women officials at various polling stations,” the officer said, adding 294 polling stations spread across the district have been set up to facilitate smooth voting.
“We have 294 polling booths, of which two do not have road connectivity and therefore we have dropped the polling staff, poll material and security personnel by Air Force chopper,” he said.
So far, staff and security has been deployed at 122 polling stations, while the remaining 172 will get them on Wednesday, he said.
A shadow of uncertainty looms over the polls after the recently floated Peoples Movement for Sixth Schedule for Ladakh, a powerful platform having representatives from various political, religious and social organisations, announced a poll boycott last month.
However, it withdrew its call within days after a delegation of the Ladakhi leaders met Union Home Minister Amit Shah and highlighted its various demands including protection of land and jobs.
While four Union ministers joined the BJP campaign to reassure the people of Ladakh about the constitutional safeguards and “all round development”, the Congress too campaigned aggressively under the leadership of party’s UT president and former minister Nawang Rigzin Jora who described the polls as a tussle between “the might of government of India and the will of the people of Ladakh”.
“This election is a referendum over the sixth schedule and domicile law. We are fighting this election on the popular demand of the sixth schedule and are hopeful of winning all the 26 seats to show exit to the BJP,” Jora said.
He alleged that the BJP had failed to fulfill the aspirations of the people who want constitutional safeguards for protection of their land, jobs, distinctive culture and environment.
“The people of Ladakh are adamant on the sixth schedule and will not accept the domicile law as was enacted in Jammu and Kashmir after its reorganisation and where 5.43 lakh people from outside have already got citizenship rights under the new law and can now buy land and join government services there,” he said.
“We will win and pass a resolution shortly after forming the council to press for the sixth schedule,” he added.
Jora, who is also part of the Peoples Movement for Sixth Schedule for Ladakh, said they have offered the BJP all the 26 council seats provided it grants the region the sixth schedule but “it is not serious and wants to settle on domicile like it did in J&K”.
He also claimed that all the major developmental projects being undertaken in Ladakh were granted by the previous Congress government.
“We got the UT status but there are no constitutional safeguards and it is being run by officers,” he said and asked why the BJP for the first time had brought four ministers to campaign for local leaders.
The counting of votes will take place on October 26 and the poll process is expected to complete by October 30.
BJP UT president and MP Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, however, said it is the moral responsibility of the people of Ladakh to vote for the candidates of the saffron party.
“Our long pending demand for UT was granted by the Narendra Modi-led government. Prior to it, the region was granted the divisional status, a university and a medical college was sanctioned,” he said, adding “it is time to reciprocate to the gifts given to us”.
He said it is only the BJP which can provide constitutional safeguards to the region and “we need to walk along with our central government to fulfill all our dreams”.