By now Ladakh has made into the “to-travel” list of the majority of the Indians, thanks to Bollywood movies, especially “Three Idiots”. But when it comes to resolving the issues and challenges faced by the people of the region, neither the elected members in the Parliament or assembly nor the rest of India gives any heed. So now when the Lok Sabha elections are just around the corner, Ladakh goes to vote on 6 May, the Ladakhi’s are hardly concerned about who wins or lose. For them, the opening of the Zojila pass after a long winter haul is of more news value than elections, firstly due to the fact that they are connected to civilization once again after the long winter, secondly, it brings in fresh supplies of vegetables and fruits and other essential commodities which are barely available in the winter.
Each year when the elections are around the politicians both at the regional and national level renew their old promises, like the opening of the Zojila tunnel, bringing Kargil into the fold of the aerial connectivity and opening of border routes like Kargil-Skardu for trade. But when the festivities of the election are over, there is hardly any effort by the responsible authorities to reconnect or hear to the vows of the people.
In Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, Ladakh is the largest Lok Sabha constituency area wise and is divided into four broader constituencies, Leh, Nubra, Kargil and Zanskar. The politics in the region is complicated due to internal fault-lines and underneath simmering communal tension between Kargil and Leh. When it comes to voting, a Kargil will never vote a candidate from Leh and vice versa; the voting is almost on religious grounds. Kargil is a Muslim dominated region and has two strong religious-based schools/organisations, IKMT and Islamic School that plays a vital role as an influencer in swaying the votes of the public. These two key organisations have a stronghold in the Kargil society and no other party, regional or national, can influence the people without their blessing or for that matter without a bit of adjustment with the institutes. On the other hand in Leh Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA) does have a religious undertone but does not have the capacity to sway the votes entirely on the basis of religion. The BJP who won the last election had to face a major showdown when a prominent leader and MP Thupstan Chhewang resigned, followed by the resignation of other counsellors from the LAHDC claiming non-fulfilment of promises made by BJP in 2014 parliamentary polls. One of the most prominent promises was to grant Union territory status to Ladakh.
On one hand, if the leaders in Leh are demanding for a UT status for Ladakh, Kargil has taken their demand to a whole new tangent by demanding a greater Ladakh which will include Baltistan of the northern regions of Pakistan. The BJP has made an attempt to regain the lost trust of the people just before the elections by granting a division status to Ladakh, thus steering it clear from the clutches of Kashmir. But in the process, it further isolated the people of Kargil by announcing Leh as the divisional headquarters. The people of Kargil hit the street with huge protests day and night demanding that the divisional headquarter should be on a rotational basis, six months of summer in Kargil and six months of winter in Leh. At the same time within Kargil, voices demanding a separate district for Drass and Zanskar gained traction. After much protest finally the central government gave in to their demands but will it solve the internal politics within Kargil, will this decision bring the people of Zanskar and Drass into the manifold or push them further to the edge, making their independence demands strong, has to be seen.
So for an average Ladakhi, it hardly matters who wins the election. What matters is a good harvest and ways and means to stock essentials for the next long winter. For when the winter comes the ones they have voted will migrate to their palatial bungalows in Srinagar or Jammu, leaving them behind to face the hardships on their own. I think it's in the interest of the politicians and decision makers to keep the Ladakhi’s undereducated and isolated otherwise how can they fool them to vote in the next elections. So this election, I am not voting, which is equal to stamping NOTA and I know the majority of educated youth of Ladakh feels the same.