Spirit of democracy reaches dizzying heights of Ladakh (Election Special)
Surrounded by high mountains and deep gorges, snow-bound Zanskar, in Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, is all ready to vote. Poll officials and paramilitary personnel began the tough trek to some of the remote hamlets a few days ago to set up booths and ensure all arrangements are in place for Wednesday's Lok Sabha election.
Around 1,500 paramilitary personnel have over the week-end climbed up to Zanskar, some 10,000-11,000 feet above sea level where air is thin and breathing a challenge. The Ladakh parliamentary constituency has four assembly segments - Kargil, Zanskar, Leh and Nubra - with around 159,000 voters.
Election officials began their preparations for the arduous trek to some of the polling stations in Zanskar region much earlier on April 28.
Paramilitary personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) have been deployed in Leh on election duty.
"The police personnel were airlifted in Indian Air Force choppers to the Udhampur air base from Chandigarh," Leh's Deputy Commissioner Simrandeep Singh told IANS on phone. The polling parties were the airlifted to Kargil on April 28.
There are around 50 polling stations in Zanskar with an electorate of about 11,000, Singh said. And a team of five-six polling officials is deployed for each polling station.
"The team members carry with them oxygen cylinders, sleeping bags, eatables, torches, besides the poll material that comprises the EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines), indelible ink and other stuff," the official added.
With the Leh-Srinagar road blocked by heavy snow, the polling teams were airlifted to Youlchung, and from there on they trekked to Skumpata, said Singh, who is also the returning officer for the election in the constituency.
Among the polling stations at very high altitudes are Lingshed, Dipling, Skumpata, Youlchung, Neraks.
Other high-altitude polling stations in Ladakh are Markha, Rumbak, Sriyul, Chilling, Kaya, the Nubra Valley, and Skumankha.
"The polling teams and police would be required to trek around 35 km to reach some of the polling stations," the deputy commissioner said.
In the 2009 general elections in Ladakh, Zanskar registered 80 percent voter turnout in spite of being a far-flung and inaccessible region, while Kargil registered 75 percent, Nubra 74 percent and Leh 60 percent.
Some polling stations in the constituency also have less than 90 voters.
Zanskar, spread over an area of 7,000 sq. km, is a preferred destination for tourists seeking adventure. Its stark mountain landscape is dotted with little hamlets and monasteries perched on high cliffs, with the towering snow peaks forming the backdrop.
In Ladakh, the Congress-National Conference alliance has fielded Tsering Samphal, a Ladakhi Buddhist. He is the alliance's official candidate, but Congress rebel Ghulam Raza is also in the fray. In the past, Ladakh has witnessed polarisation on religious lines between Buddhists and Muslims.
Buddhist voters have always viewed that their interests are safer with New Delhi than with leaders in Srinagar, while the Muslims, for religious reasons, are closer to people living in the Kashmir Valley. Syed Kazim Sabri, a Muslim, is also fighting the election as an Independent.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has fielded Thupson Chewang, another Ladakhi Buddhist, who is being supported by Congress legislator from Leh and Urban Development Minister Nawang Rigzin Jora.
In 2009, the seat was won by Ghulam Hassan Khan, an Independent who is not contesting this time.
(Ranjana Narayan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 06-05-2014)