A year after Ladakh was granted Union Territory status, the BJP returned to power in the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, though with a reduced margin.
The election, which the PDP and the National Conference boycotted, saw the BJP winning only 15 of 26 seats (five short of its tally in the last Council) while the Congress, which had only six members in the last Council, emerged victorious at nine places, wresting Lower and Upper Leh in Leh town from the BJP. The remaining two seats were won by Independents.
As the final tally emerged in the evening, the mood in the BJP camp turned sombre as the elections were considered a prestige battle for the party, which had aimed for a clean sweep with its “Abki Baar Chhabis Paar” as a poll slogan.
Nearly half-a-dozen Union ministers, including Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy, Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur and Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports Kiren Rjijiu, besides senior party leaders such as Ram Madhav and Arun Singh, had visited the hill district to campaign among an electorate of less than a lakh.
Even senior party leaders from J&K, including general secretary (organisation) Ashok Koul, had stayed in Leh to supervise the campaign.
Among the most high-profile losses for the BJP was from Sakti, where Gyal P Wangyal, who was Chief Executive Councillor of the last Hill Council, lost to Congress’s Rigzin Tsering.
The BJP, however, swept Nubra Valley, winning all five constituencies here. Chushul and Neoma in Eastern Lakakh, where India and China are in a standoff position, went to Independent candidates.
As the results came out, senior BJP leaders, including Jamiyang Namgiyal, Ladakh’s sole MP, went into a huddle. While senior BJP leaders in Leh avoided phone calls, sources in the party and the administration attributed the party’s poor performance to the Centre dilly-dallying on granting Constitutional safeguards under the Sixth Schedule to Ladakh — on the lines of the Bodo Territorial Council.
The last Hill Council meeting, which was also attended by BJP MP Namgyal, had passed a unanimous resolution seeking “under the 6th Schedule, Article 371 or Domicile Act of the Constitution to protect the rights of indigenous people of the Union Territory”.
The opposition Congress had walked out of the meeting, alleging that Ladakh UT in its present form was “incomplete’’. MP Namgyal had, however, welcomed the resolution, saying “selective law and safeguards of any state can’t be replicated in Ladakh as it has its unique demography, different socio economic and climatic condition, geo-climatic factors and border aspects”.
However, as there was no movement after the resolution, local units of all political parties, including the BJP, decided to boycott the LAHDC polls. As the National Conference and PDP had already decided to stay away from the electoral exercise to protest against the abrogation of Article 370, the BJP high command persuaded its local leadership to contest the elections, hoping it would be a cakewalk for them in the absence of the two major regional parties, said a senior official in the UT administration.