Ladakh in the past few months has been in the national news because of the border stand-off with China. While the two sides have already held a series of diplomatic and military talks, there has been no concrete breakthrough.
But in the shadow of stalemate, another battle is quietly brewing.
Ladakh's political parties are fighting to win the maiden Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) polls, where as many as 94 candidates will be in the fray for 26 seats with the BJP sending in some big names.
The election to the LAHDC, which is the district's highest-elected body, is the first such exercise in the region since the Centre carved out the Union Territory from the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir on 5 August last year.
For the first time, traditional regional parties, the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are not contesting the polls, as per The Hindu.
The BJP, which will battle the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which is trying its luck for the first time in the region, has been pulling out all stops, including sending Union ministers to campaign.
BJP sends big guns
As per The Wire, the BJP has sent two Union ministers to campaign in the district, while two more are slated to campaign in the coming week, for an election in which just 89,000 people have voting rights.
The list includes big names such as Union minister for minority affairs Mukthar Abbas Naqvi, Union minister of state for youth services and sports Kiren Rijiju, Union minister of state for finance and corporate affairs, Anurag Thakur, and Union minister of state for home, G Krishna Reddy.
As per The Wire, officials acquainted with council politics say this is the first time that Central ministers from other states are campaigning for any party in the elections.
"Union ministers have never come here during Hill Council elections. They usually used to come for campaigning during the Lok Sabha elections," Chering Dorjey Lakrook, former chief executive councilor of Leh and ex-minister in the erstwhile state of J&K told the publication.
As per Hindustan Times, Union minister Anurag Thakur while campaigning last week said that the people of Leh will get much more than just Sixth Schedule. He assured that their land, culture and ethnic values will be safeguarded.
Addressing a press conference in Leh, Thakur said, "It was a long pending demand of Ladakh to get UT status. It happened only when Narendra Modi became prime minister."
Meanwhile, Union minister Kiren Rijiju exuded confidence of BJP's smooth sailing in the ensuing elections. "Elections are an indispensable part of democracy and Leh council is going to polls on 22 October. People in Leh trust BJP and they want to support us because under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi various developmental works have been taken up. From making Ladakh a UT to the speedy development of the region, these works should not stop," Rijiju told reporters while campaigning last week.
Rift in local BJP
While the preparations for the election are now in full swing in the Leh district, there has been a rift in the BJP between many party workers at different levels, including the executive councillor and councillor, who have resigned after being sidelined in the polls.
The saffron party has dropped some former councilors and given tickets to new faces for the LAHDC-Leh polls, with many senior leaders of the party, alleging that the party is sidelining them.
Many who have worked for the BJP for more than 20 years and are expecting to win are troubled over decisions of the party leaders, and have filed nomination papers as Independent candidates, reported The Print.
As per The New Indian Express, as over 300 workers including two former councillors and some core members have resigned from the party. Among those who resigned from the party also includes BJP vice president Leh Sonam Ponchuk Wanla.
Despite all the speculation and rifts, the BJP remains hopeful that it will sweep all seats.
Political parties call boycott, make U-turn
Ahead of the polls, last month, a representatives of political parties such as the Congress, Aam Aadmi Party and BJP, and leaders from different religious groups called for a boycott before making a U-turn.
The group, known as the Apex body of People's Movement for sixth Schedule for Ladakh, was formed in August after prominent political and religious leaders, leaving behind their ideological differences, came together to demand safeguards for the Ladakh region in the form of 6th Schedule and more powers to the twin hill councils, the other being LAHDC Kargil.
The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution makes separate arrangements for tribal-designated areas, restricting ownership of land and government jobs for local residents only.
"The apex body of People's Movement for the sixth schedule for Ladakh, unanimously resolved to boycott the ensuing 6th LAHDC Leh elections till such time the constitutional safeguard under the sixth schedule on the lines of Bodo Territorial Council is not extended to the UT Ladakh and its people," veteran politician and former Lok Sabha MP Thupstan Chhewang said.
The delegation, after a meeting with Union Home minister Amit Shah, withdrew their call to boycott the elections.
The three-member delegation " comprising Chewang, former Jammu and Kashmir minister Chering Dorjay Dorjay, and Thiksay monastery head Rinpoche Nawang Chmaba Stanzin " met with Shah, and Ministers of State G Kishen Reddy and Kiren Rijiju in New Delhi.
The decision as made after the Centre in the meeting assured its demands for protection of local language, jobs, land and demography will be considered positively.
Shah also assured a delegation of Constitutional Safeguard Under Sixth Schedule for Ladakh that the Central government is committed to empowering the LAHDC of Leh and Kargil and would protect the interests of the people of the Union Territory.
The Union home minister also assured that the Centre would explore all avenues towards this objective including under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
In a joint statement, former Ladakh MPs Thiksay Rinpoche and Thupstan Chhewang, former J&K minister Chhering Dorje and Union ministers Kiren Rijiju and G Gishan Reddy said the delegation was assured that all issues related to language, demography, ethnicity, land and jobs will be considered positively and taken care of.
Chhewang said after their meeting with the home minister, they now think that their apprehensions will be addressed and people's rights protected.
With the Indian Army and the Chinese People's Liberation Army in a stand-off in eastern Ladakh, the boycott call created an unexpected political crisis in the UT, which the BJP has resolved rather quickly as it goes all in its bid to win seats.
About Ladakh polls
The elections are scheduled to be held on 22 October and the results are set to be announced on 26 October.
The date for filing of nomination papers was from 21 September to 28 September, followed by scrutiny to be held on 29 September. The last date for withdrawal of nomination papers was 1 October.
In the 30-member LAHDC, 26 members are elected while four are nominated.
As per Indian Express, the LAHDC has a range of executive powers, and earlier functioned under the state government.
With only executive powers under the LAHDC, and without the safeguards provided by Article 370 and 35 A, people of Ladakh are now worried about a few things: the loss of land rights, and employment opportunities, and the dangers to their identity, culture, language and heritage, especially if the domicile rules notified in Jammu and Kashmir are extended to Ladakh.
With inputs from agencies