Spread over 173266.37 square kilometers, the cold desert of Ladakh holds the unique distinction of being the parliamentary constituency with the largest area in the country.
Situated at the altitude of 2900 to 5400 meters, Ladakh is the only place in the country which shares borders with both Pakistan and China. The constituency also houses the world highest battlefield of Siachen glacier situated at the altitude of 21000 feet.
This time around the roof of the world however is witnessing a fierce contest between the two old war horses for a new, developed and secure Ladakh.
While Congress has fielded former member of National Commission for Schedule Tribes Tsering Samphel, the BJP has reposed faith in Ladakh Union Territory Front (LUTF) leader Thupstan Chewang to make a debut in the cold desert.
BJP is banking on the emotive issues of union territory status for Ladakh and foolproof border security to record a victory in the cold desert. But the Congress is hoping that its development mantra will swing the pendulum in their favor.
“Ladakhis have been fighting for the Union Territory status for long. Congress has always betrayed people. This time we are hoping that once Narendra Modi government takes over at centre, Ladakh will get the status of union territory”, said Tsewang Tundup, general secretary, BJP Leh.
Spread over two districts of Leh and Kargil, Ladakh parliamentary has four assembly segments. Two of the constituencies of Muslim majority Kargil district are held by the National Conference. One each assembly seat of the Buddhist majority Leh district is held by the Congress and independent.
Ladakh is the only division in the state which is not disturbed and where Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is not applicable. There are two separate Autonomous Hill Councils for Leh and Kargil to undertake and oversee the development process in the division.
“We are fighting on the developmental plank of the Ladakh. Power, roads, schools, healthcare are our issues. We have created huge development in the area. We do not want to exploit UT status for votes unlike BJP. UT status is a bigger and long standing issue”, said Tsering Samphel, congress candidate for Ladakh.
Call it a coincidence, the parliamentary elections in Ladakh is being held exactly one year after Chinese army crossed 19 kilometer deep inside the Indian Territory at Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) sector on LAC and set up the tented posts on the intervening night of April 15 and 16, 2013. The 20 day standoff ended on May 5 when troops from both sides withdraw to the pre-incursion positions on the LAC.
“Congress led government did nothing to prevent incursion by Chinese in border areas. People living in border areas have migrated because of the fear. Only Modi can ensure the security of the borders”, said Tundup.
But Congress dismisses the charge saying the border management is better and the incursions are no more an issue in Ladakh this time around.
With and an electorate of 1, 59,949, of whom 81,168 are male voters and 78,781 are female voters, Ladakh Parliamentary constituency goes to polls on May 7. In 2009 National Conference (NC) rebel Hassan Khan, hailing from Kargil, defeated official nominee of Congress-NC P Namgyal by over 3600 votes. Khan later did the about turn and announced support to NC after his victory.
This time too tension is brewing in the Muslim majority Kargil against the coalition candidate. Muslim Leaders in Kargil are yet to pledge support to coalition candidate raising suspicion about a possibility of fielding of independent candidate backed by influential Islamic bodies in Kargil
“We have yet to see the situation on ground. After analysis we will be able to any decision. So far we have not decided”, said Asgar Ali Karbalaie, chief executive councilor of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Kargil.