Srinagar: The electoral battle in the Ladakh Lok Sabha seat of Jammu and Kashmir has become interesting for poll watchers, but tough for contestants.
The constituency, spread over Leh and Kargil districts, is geographically one of the largest and population-wise one of the smallest in the country. Being one of the remotest areas of the country, the Ladakh division has its own issues, dissimilar to the Valley or the Jammu division.
Politically, Ladakh has always been closer to New Delhi than to Srinagar or Jammu, the two administrative capitals of J&K. It has faced no separatist movement, even as the Valley continues to remain in the throes of an unabated violence.
For over four months, from the middle of December to the end of April, each year, Ladakh remains emotionally and economically cut off from the rest of the state as snow in the Zojilla Pass area snaps it's only surface link.
Of the 1,56,888 voters (85,763 in Kargil and 71,125 in Leh districts), 79,432 are men and 77,456 are women. They will vote on May 6 in the last phase of the five-phase parliamentary elections.
The nomination papers of Jamyang Tsering Namgyal (BJP), Rigzin Spalbar (Congress) and four Independents -- Haji Asgar Ali Karbalai, Sajjad Hussain, Kacho Muhammad Feroz and Asgar Ali -- were found valid in scrutiny on Saturday.
But the contest is largely among the BJP, the Congress and the independent Sajjad Hussain. The regional National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have not fielded candidates in Hussain's support.
Traditionally, Buddhists and Muslims vote on different lines. With the Buddhist votes likely to be divided between Namgyal and Spalbar, both Buddhists from Leh, the NC and the PDP plan to consolidate Kargil votes behind Hussain.
Hussain also has the backing of Kargil's powerful religious organisation, Islamia School. However, what's thrown a spanner into the NC-PDP plan is the presence of Karbalai, former Congress MLA from Kargil, as Independent.
Karbalai deserted the Congress after he was denied ticket. He is being backed by influential Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust. Hectic efforts are on to persuade him to withdraw from the contest on Monday, the last date for withdrawal of nomination papers in the constituency.
Ladakh's long-standing demand for grant of divisional status was fulfilled during the current Presidential rule in the state. Because of this Prime Minister Narendra Modi is quite popular among Buddhists and this will weigh in favour of Namgyal, also the chief executive of the powerful Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council.