How Nitin Gadkari’s election ‘jumlas’ backfired on BJP’s Ladakh MP

Thupstan Chhewang had recently made public his growing disenchantment with the ruling party over unfulfilled promise of UT status to Ladakh besides several other long-standing demands of the region

Photo courtesy: Social media 
Photo courtesy: Social media

Ashutosh Sharma

On November 14, BJP MP Thupstan Chhewang—who represents Ladakh in the Lok Sabha—resigned from the House and also his party. While the BJP said that he has decided to embrace spirituality and shun politics, the 71-year-old Ladakh MP in his letter stated that he was resigning from the party's primary membership on “health grounds”.

Even though he has gone incommunicado after his resignation, the real reasons behind his decision are believed to be BJP’s failure to keep most of the poll promises and Ladakh’s deep disillusionment with the party over demand for grant of UT status.

Thuptson, who has headed Ladakh Buddhist Association in the past, formed the Ladakh Union Territory Front (LUTF) in year 2000. In 2004, he contested for, and won, the Lok Sabha elections as an LUTF candidate. In 2010, the LUTF merged with the BJP. He again won the general elections in 2014 on a BJP ticket, defeating his nearest rival by a margin of just 36 votes.

The party eventually wrested control of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Leh, in 2015 for the first time.

But over two months before PDP-BJP parted ways in Jammu and Kashmir in June, Thuptson had made public his resentment against his party. He accused BJP of doing the opposite of what it had promised by forging alliance with the PDP and going back on the promise of granting UT to the region. Calling PDP as “political front” of the separatist Hurriyat Conference, Thupstan said that the PDP was the stumbling block in the way to abrogation of Article 370 and ultimately grant of UT status.

“It is really worrying us as to how we will face the people in the next general election because they voted for the party on the UT status poll plank,” he had stated.

Independent political observers recall senior BJP leader and Union Minister Nitin Gadkari promising “UT status for Ladakh within six months of BJP coming to the power at the Centre”. While listening to Gadkari speaking in election rally at Polo Ground, Leh in 2014, Thupstan knew it was not practically possible. But, as he said in an interview in July 2014, “We may or may not gain UT status in six months as for that abolishing Article 370 is a prerequisite. ...but I am very sure that under the BJP government, Ladakh will eventually gain UT status.”

In the same rally, Narendra Modi, in an audio message, had also called upon the people of Ladakh to become part of an upcoming strong government at the Centre, which would remove “discrimination and injustice’’ meted out to the hilly region by the successive governments.

Gadkari, had even promised to strive for getting a ministerial berth for Thupstan in the Union government. However, Thupstan was only made a member of the Standing Committee on Defence, Joint Committee on Salaries and Allowances of Members of Parliament and Consultative Committee, Ministry of Civil Aviation. An old video that shows Nitin Gadkari making tall promises to the people of Ladakh, can be viewed here:

The demand for UT, however, is not uniform as it has no takers in the Muslim dominated Kargil district. But there is a popular perception that due to ongoing conflict in Kashmir Valley, Ladakh has had to suffer economically. A majority of people in both the districts feel that they are discriminated against when compared with the other two regions of the state, Jammu and Kashmir.

There are many other promises that Gadkari and BJP had made to the people of Ladakh such as inclusion of Bhoti language in the eighth schedule of the Indian Constitution, opening of Kailash Mansarovar route via Ladakh and providing phone connectivity to remote areas. All these promises, however, remain unfulfilled like several other long-standing demands of the region.

The resentment against the BJP can be gauged from the fact that the party miserably failed to even open account in Ladakh region in the recently held urban local body elections. Out of the total 26 wards in the region, the Congress bagged all the 13 seats in Leh municipal committee and won six wards in neighbouring Kargil district. The remaining seven seats in Kargil were bagged by the independent candidates.

Given the long list of unfulfilled promises, ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Thupstan had no other option than to resign for saving face in Ladakh, according to local party sources.

But there are general speculations that he may retract his resignation if the BJP accepts its failure to keep election promises in Ladakh.

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