Amid deep regional divide, Ladakh maintains trend of high poll turnout with over 67% polling

Arteev Sharma. Updated: 5/21/2024 3:21:40 AM Front Page

BJP stands on shaky ground to retain seat as Leh records low turnout; region records continuous dip in voting since 2004

Jammu: Despite having tough geographical terrains and inaccessible snow-bound areas, Ladakh—the country’s cold desert--on Monday kept up the trend of a high turnout by recording an overall impressive poll percentage of over 67 percent in its first-ever parliamentary polls after it was carved out of Jammu and Kashmir and granted Union territory status in 2019.
If one goes by official statistics, Ladakh reported a slight dip in voting over the years as from 73.52 percent polling in 2004 to 71.05 percent in 2019, it dropped this year. The overall polling percentage in Ladakh was 70.78 during the 2014 general elections. In the last two previous elections, the BJP managed to win the seat. The voter turnout in Muslim-dominated Kargil district remained 71.45 per cent while it was 62.50 per cent in Buddhist-majority Leh district, taking the overall polling percentage to 67.15 percent.
The election officials, however, said there was a possibility of slight increase in overall voting percent as the reports with regard to number of votes polled on remote and inaccessible areas were yet to be received.
The Lok Sabha election in Ladakh has been held against the backdrop of Leh and Kargil residents holding strong protests, demanding Statehood and inclusion in the Sixth Schedule.
The lone Ladakh parliamentary constituency has a total of 1, 84,803 electorates--92,689 are male and 92,114 are females. Leh district has 88,877 voters while Kargil district has 95,926 voters-- over 7000 votes more than Leh district.
Long queues of voters in traditional attires, including Buddhist monks, outside polling stations, were a clear reflection of the people’s participation in the biggest festival of democracy in Ladakh.
There are three candidates in the fray for the Ladakh Lok Sabha seat. While there are two candidates from the Buddhist-dominated Leh—BJP’s Tashi Gyalson and the Congress’ Tsering Namgyal -- Independent candidate Mohammad Haneefa Jan is the lone candidate from the Shia Muslim-dominated Kargil region.
If sources are to be believed, low turnout in Leh district has created jitters for the BJP which has been struggling to retain the seat against the backdrop of a deep religious divide between two districts—Kargil and Leh. “The drop in voter turnout in Leh district has pressed the panic button in the BJP camp as low voting in Leh would alter the outcome of polls which had remained closely contested in the recent past,” sources said.
Both the Congress and the BJP had fielded Buddhist candidates from Leh district, while a Congress rebel and an NC, PDP and religious group Islamia School Kargil (ISK)-backed ‘consensus candidate’ joined the electoral race from Kargil district as an independent.
The BJP has been facing strong resentment in Ladakh for its alleged failure to fulfill its promise of Ladakh’s inclusion in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Given the widely spread protests and dharnas in the region, all top leaders of the BJP preferred to stay away from campaigning in Ladakh.
“There is no doubt that the conduct of hassle-free polling in Ladakh has been a major challenge given the three major factors—tough geographical terrains, poor connectivity, and remoteness of the area. We are happy that all went smoothly due to the full cooperation of our staff and people,” a senior official in Ladakh told The News Now while sharing his experience of being remained closely associated with electoral exercise in the region.
Ladakh has the distinction of being the largest parliamentary constituency of India with a total geographical area of around 60,000 square kilometers. Given the tough geographical terrain and sparsely inhabited population, there were some polling stations where the number of voters was just five to 12. Keeping in mind the previous close contests on the seat, the Election authority tried to ensure that no voter was left behind from the poll process. Some polling stations were set up at the altitude of 15,000 feet while helicopters were used to ferry polling staff to their respective polling booths.
Earlier in the day, Lt Governor Brig (Dr) BD Mishra (retd) and his wife Neelam Mishra were among those who cast their votes at Skara Yokma in Leh. “Voting is the festival of democracy. I am happy that we are celebrating it like that. Free and fair voting is an important step of democracy,” Mishra told reporters after voting.
Well-known climate activist Sonam Wangchuk, who was in the news recently for leading a 66-day sit-in protest in Leh over demands such as safeguards under the 6th Schedule of the Constitution for Ladakh and statehood, cast his vote in Leh's Ulyaktopo village.
“I have just voted and I am happy. I am also feeling sad because many people don't exercise their right to vote. Many leaders sacrificed a lot for this country. People should celebrate the festival of democracy,” he told reporters after voting.
Ladakh Chief Electoral Officer Yetindra M Maralkar had earlier in the day said that they are expecting up to 75 percent voting.
“I cast my valuable vote for a better future for Ladakh and India,” KonchokStanzin, a councillor from Chushul, said.
At least 10 'Model Booths' were set up here with traditional seating arrangements and local refreshments while election promotion music was played.
In this sparsely populated constituency, a unique polling station for just five members of a family was also set up in the remote village of Washi in Leh district. At the booth at Ulyatokpo where Wangchuk cast his vote, there were only 53 voters.

Updated On 5/21/2024 3:23:35 AM

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