Like a traveller on the rugged mountain passes of Ladakh, two-time MP Haji Ghulam Hassan Khan is in for a rough ride in the Lok Sabha polls. Representing the most polarised parliamentary constituency of Jammu and Kashmir — with Kargil being a Muslim-dominated district and Leh a Buddhist-majority area — Khan is on slippery turf for various reasons. From a poor track record on the development front to new coalition politics between the ruling National Conference (NC) and the Congress, the odds are stacked against him.
Twists and controversies
Once an important NC leader from Kargil, Khan parted ways with the parent party after he was denied the ticket for the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. Contesting as an Independent, Khan defeated Congress candidate Phunsog Namgyal by a small margin of around 3,000 votes. Two other formidable independent candidates in that elections — Asgar Ali Karbalai and Thinless Angmo — again pose a threat to Khan.
The MP triggered a controversy when he announced his decision to return to the NC after he won the 2009 parliamentary polls. However, he lent unconditional support to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and again announced his split from the NC. As he never formally joined the Congress, he continues to be described as an Independent candidate, though his loyalty still lies with the NC.Active in Parliament
Khan repeatedly drew attention of Parliament towards the tourism potential in the twin districts of Kargil and Leh. He has been very vocal about the Zojila tunnel, which will connect Kargil with Kashmir round the year. The project has already been sanctioned. He also raised environment-related issues such as dying glaciers and dwindling population of wild animals and took up the cause of the 2010 cloudburst victims. The victims later got generous donations.
Bumpy ride ahead
Khan’s fate depends on a number of permutations and combinations. The pre-poll alliance between the NC and the Congress for the parliamentary elections has consolidated the vote bank in favour of the Congress candidate, to be announced soon. According to the deal, the Congress is fielding candidates from Jammu, Udhampur and Ladakh constituencies, while NC nominees will contest from Srinagar, Anantnag and Baramulla.
If the Congress fields a Kargil leader, there is a possibility that Buddhists of Leh, irrespective of their party affiliation, will vote for a non-Congress candidate and might give an edge to the BJP. However, if the Congress picks a Leh leader — which is highly likely as the Congress is zeroing in on chief executive officer, Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC)-Leh, Rigzin Spalbar — there are slim chances of Khan winning the seat if he fights as an Independent and the electorate is sharply divided between Independents and BJP candidates.Bete noire
Khan’s rival Asgar Ali Karbalai, who heads LAHDC-Kargil, is unhappy with the MP’s performance. "There is nothing I can point out as his path-breaking achievement. He became MP in 1999 when Kargil was hitting the headlines. However, he neither cashed in on it nor got a better communication system for the area. He also failed to improve road connectivity. He was not able to generate employment for local youth in the army and border projects. His MPLAD funds were spent on very small and insignificant projects," alleges Karbalai.
He claims that despite being a Kargil resident and serving two terms in Parliament, Khan was not able to bring the area on the tourism map. Inayat Khan, a Leh businessman says, “He was not accessible. His focus was more on Kargil rather than on Leh.”
Tomorrow Part 34 of 34:
Preneet Kaur, Patiala