Congress Faces Stiff Challenge From Party Rebel In Ladakh

2 May 2014
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Arteev Sharma

Leh: The Congress faces a major challenge from the party's rebel candidate Ghulam Raza, a former MLA from the Zanskar Assembly segment in Kargil, who is contesting as an Independent candidate. The snow-capped Ladakh - the northernmost parliamentary segment of the country - will go to the polls on May 7. Raza had recently resigned as president of the Kargil district unit of the Congress after the party high command decided to field a Buddhist from Leh, Tsering Samphel, for the Ladakh seat. Raza maintained that Kargil district, which is predominately inhabited by Shia Muslims, was ignored by the high command while selecting the candidate. There is a massive divide in Ladakh, which is inhabited by Buddhists and Shia Muslims, on the lines of religion and region. Raza enjoys the support of powerful religious body Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust (IKMT), Kargil, and Congress councillors in the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), Kargil. The Congress has been ruling the LAHDC in both districts, Kargil and Leh, which constitute the Ladakh parliamentary constituency. Interestingly, Samphel and his supporters are busy devising a strategy to defeat the challenge posed by Raza. Samphel has been camping in Kargil and will campaign there for the next two days. 'We are not worried about the BJP and the National Conference-supported candidate. It is now virtually a contest between the A and B teams of the Congress. The B team is full of rebels of the Congress. The victory of our party candidate will depend on his performance in Kargil,' a senior Congress leader, who refused to be named, said at the party office here. The NC is tacitly supporting an Independent candidate, Aga Syed Kazim Sabri, who is also backed by a powerful religious group, Islamiya School Kargil (ISK). The Congress leader said although the NC-supported candidate was backed by the ISK, he was a weak candidate as compared to sitting MP Ghulam Hassan Khan. In the 2009 parliamentary elections, Khan contested as an Independent candidate, and was supported by the NC and the ISK. Mohammad Shafi, a nominated councillor of the Congress in the LAHDC, Leh, said the party had been facing a serious challenge from Raza, who had recently resigned from the post of party's district president. 'The BJP is non-existent in Leh. In the 30-member LAHDC, Leh, we have 26 councillors, including four who have been nominated, while the BJP has only four elected councillors. Nearly 90 per cent of the panches and sarpanches are affiliated with the Congress. We have been facing a challenge from Kargil but we hope to win the seat this time. The 30-member LAHDC, Kargil, has 10 councillors of the Congress and eight from the NC. Some Independents owe their allegiance to the Congress,' Shafi said. Norboo Gailchan, Congress MLC from Leh, too admitted to the challenge from the rebel leader Raza. 'He holds a good base in Kargil district.' 'Our workers are doing their best to reach out to the people of Ladakh, who have always supported the policies and programmes of the Congress. This seat has a vast area and the population is scattered. It is an uphill task to reach out to all in the segment,' he said. The Ladakh seat, which has four Assembly segments, has an electorate of 1,59,949, which includes 81,168 male voters and 78,781 female voters. Leh district, covering over 44,000 sq km, has 80,000 voters. Kargil district has a population of 1,40,802 and is spread over 14,086 square km. Congress team A vs team B * Ghulam Raza recently resigned as president of the Kargil district unit of the Congress after the party high command decided to field a Buddhist from Leh, Tsering Samphel, for the Ladakh seat. Raza maintained that Kargil district, which is predominately inhabited by Shia Muslims, was ignored by the high command while selecting the candidate. * A senior Congress leader, who refused to be named, said the party was not worried about the BJP and the National Conference-supported candidate. 'It is now virtually a contest between the A and B teams of the Congress. The B team is full of rebels of the Congress.'