‘What will happen to Sikkim now’ is more than a question in the Sikkimese people’s lips, it is a common concern in their hearts. The question betrays a deep-seated fear that Sikkimese people live with inherently. Whether or not the fear is backed by a solid rationale is beside the point. Even the seemingly most courageous of Sikkimese people worry about it.
The question has again gained relevance with the apparent possibility of the BJP becoming a contender to form the government in Sikkim by way of ten SDF MLAs joining it. The BJP may have been the strongest political force across the country but Sikkim was hitherto quintessentially unmoved by Modi magic. As ludicrous as it may seem, the Sikkim BJP did not even have an electoral presence strong enough to win a panchayat seat. However, the BJP, with the weakest or rather nonexistent hold at the grassroots has now become the second most powerful party in the Assembly. The irony in politics knows no bounds.
The situation has begotten some curious questions. Was there a need for them to fly the coop? Is it Pawan Chamling’s move? Or was he abandoned against his will? Does the SDF have a future? How will it affect the SKM government and the party? Will the BJP really form the government? If so, how and how soon? Beyond these curious questions is that mega question- what will happen to Sikkim?
Often we overanalyse an episodic event out of context and lose sight of the larger picture. Also, we tend to forget the historical perspective and remain captive to the moment allowing our temperamental arguments to override everything else.
Much as the MLAs crossing the floor is highly condemnable which betrays an utter lack of ideological moorings among our accidental politicians, what happened to the 10 SDF MLAs was inevitable. When the two SDF MLAs attended the Assembly against the whip of their party, even the ‘politically dumb’ felt the undercurrent. The intention to stay in the SDF was snowed under by the seductive compulsion to move into the party in power (either state or centre). As a side note, for us to know the compulsion, we have to become the MLAs ourselves. There were open stories circulating about other SDF MLAs being approached by the SKM. ‘Approach’ is a tricky word in politics. For the elected MLAs, the SDF party was a liability simply because it was not in the government. Flying the coop was a predestined move but which direction had to be thought through. Only ideological reasons and clear vision would have held them back but both are too notional in Sikkim politics where the ‘brute fact of power’ is the predominant political reality.
For the ten, joining SKM would entail playing second fiddle to the SKM leaders, many of whom were rookies. There was no chance of bagging any ministerial portfolios as the SKM government is already saturated. Also, for some senior SDF MLAs, taking such a lowly position would be too humiliating. Against such a bleak backdrop, the most powerful party of the country, the BJP, looked too eye-catching to let go of. Since the SKM government is also ultimately submissive to the Centre, they (the ten) can behave like bosses now. If the BJP finally forms the government in Sikkim as they did in Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya, almost all of them will be in the cabinet. Make no mistake about it, the BJP can cobble up the numbers even with just two MLAs. Ten is more than sufficient. Romantically speaking, the 10 MLAs also would like to think that they will be able to lobby with the central government more effectively for state demands like the LT seats, ST for the 11 left out communities, permission for the Karmapa to enter Sikkim, exemption of income tax for old settlers, etc. That is how they would like to cement their position in Sikkim politics. But that looks too melodramatically scripted to be fulfilled in reality. As for us, we accept politics to be a dirty game and expect politicians to be fair players. Grow up, folks. The SKM condemning the ten is like the pot calling the kettle black. Both of them have been burnt in the BJP oven. Some of their MLAs had written to Amit Shah requesting him to accept them into the BJP in 2015. What is more, they had forged a pre-poll alliance with the BJP for the Rangang-Yangang bypoll in 2014 and contested it under the BJP banner. Now it is a classic case of the shoe being on the other foot and it does hurt.
What the SDF President is faced with is just the repeat of history if not the sequel. The former Chief Ministers, Lhendup Dorjee Kazi, NB Bhandari and Sanchaman Limboo, all had been there. When the Delhi pressure seemed unconquerable, they joined national parties. Kazi merged his party with Congress (I) in 1975 and then he joined the Janata Party in 1977. He even went on to be called the ‘man of mergers’. Bhandari merged his Janta Parishad with the Congress I in 1981 and he left his SSP and joined Congress in 2003. Limboo merged his SSP (S) with Congress. Chamling has not yet joined the BJP. His critics would say that the BJP would not take him. That is simply the venting of anti-Chamling frustration and lacks evidentiary reasons to validate their claims. If he stays aloof and focuses on holding the SDF together, it will be a significant ideological victory. This is one opportunity for him to rewrite Sikkim’s political history which is replete with the ill-tradition of “political prostitution and ideological suicides”. The only other leader who refused to succumb to Delhi pressure was the last Chogyal, the late Palden Thendup Namgyal. The position of Sikkim’s Chief Ministers has a different significance from the Chogyal’s in relation to India. However, Sikkim’s history will have a glorious position for those who keep the Sikkimese regionalism sacrosanct. In whatever way the critics of Chamling would like to evaluate his leadership, one of his biggest achievements is that he kept Sikkim’s political status sacrosanct from Delhi’s direct dictates. Andrew Duff puts it, “Chamling is not shy of taking on the central government on behalf of Sikkim. So much so, that one local journalist chuckled that he suspected that the irony of India’s takeover in 1975 is that it probably actually loosened India’s grip on the state.” (Sikkim Requiem for a Himalayan Kingdom). There is now a chance for Delhi to tighten that grip once and for all.
Is this the end of the Chamling era now? Earlier it was basically the SKM that was his biggest challenge to resurrect his political movement. Now he has his own MLAs and the nation’s most powerful party, BJP, to outwit. The only chance for him lies with his ability to keep his connectivity with people intact. Apparently, many of his supporters are confused. He is still the most popular mass leader followed by PS Golay. The BJP will make efforts to sideline both of them and facilitate the emergence of new leaders who can be mentored under the saffron values.
This impending reality forces me to think that his leadership is still relevant both to Sikkim and Delhi. Sikkim – because as of now, he is the most seasoned politician with pan India recognition. At a time when Sikkim political leadership is transitioning from being centred in Gangtok to being centred in Delhi, a man like him could be the need of the hour for Sikkim to hold fast the traditional belief that Sikkim politics must be controlled from Gangtok. Delhi – because he is the first and only Sikkim CM to have vocalized that the merger was backed by a public referendum and advocated the need for emotional integration to erase the de-Indianized conscience of the Sikkimese people. Believe it or not, before the Chamling-era, there was a tradition of Sikkim people calling non-Sikkimese plains people ‘Indian’ subconsciously or deliberately segregating ‘them’ from ‘us’ by using a term exclusively for ‘them’ that actually applied to Sikkimese people also. That persistent delay in accepting a term that defined Sikkim’s new nationality is almost gone now. It is doubtful if that would have been possible without the state governmental advocacy for emotional integration.
The man who promoted ‘emotional integration’ with India’ and also advocated for the ‘insertion of Sikkim into the National Anthem replacing Sindh’ is a good candidate for keeping Sikkimese aspirations and nationalist ideals co-preeminent in Sikkim politics.
So far as the SKM is concerned, if they can manage to steer clear of the BJP’s dominant advancement and deliver efficient government, they could be Sikkim’s most popular party. Their challenges are daunting, however. They do not have time-tested leaders as most of them are greenhorns. Their strength is their passion. How will they leverage their raw passion against seasoned BJP leadership- only time will tell. For now, delivering efficient government must be their principal occupation. Remember, the BJP may woo people with this bait and believe me they can.
What will happen to Sikkim now? How did Sikkim land into this political situation? How can it affect Sikkim’s twin political parties, the SKM and SDF? Can PS Golay survive this crisis? What will happen to Pawan Chamling – India’s longest-serving Chief Minister?
By Jiwan Rai, the author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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