Nothing must have hit the hitherto unbeatable SDF as hard as their surprise defeat in the 2019 general elections. The narrow margin of defeat added that much more frustration to its rueful conscience. The shell-shocked party had no option but to wish it undone. Their party was found to be totally unprepared for the defeat. Some panicking SDF MLAs looked like a bunch of school children who had just flunked their annual exam by a whisker and were desperately begging their class teacher and headmaster to grant them promotion to the next class. To add to their panic, rumours of some of them joining SKM began to make the rounds on social media.
Two MLAs went on to attend the assembly their party had boycotted, thus making the rumours look like fact. Then it was time for the next ‘rumour’ – all the other SDF MLAs were joining the BJP. The conversion of rumour into reality did not take much time. Sikkim has never witnessed such an action-packed two months in its short democratic history. The phrase, ‘the rest is history’, does not yet apply to this drama, which shows no sign of coming to a closure. That being said, the numerous intriguing twists and turns amply suggest that something or somebody is monkeying with our politics. At times we laugh about it, but the matter is not nearly as funny as it seems.
What is deeply worrying is that these plots which are becoming ever more thrilling, no longer seem to entertain the otherwise entertainment-starved Sikkimese people. What thriller-stricken Sikkim deservedly wants now is stability in the political situation and a complete focus on governance. The SKM government deserves that trust now. But the master scriptwriters do not seem to think so. They want us perpetually on the edge of our seats. What they don’t seem to realize is that we have been there for a very long time and some of us are getting sore bottoms!
Among other things, the mindset of the Sikkimese people has been the worst-hit victim of these ridiculous political manoeuvrings. As ludicrous as it may seem, some people who had never even in their wildest dreams entertained the idea of joining the BJP have now become ardent BJP supporters. Perhaps some people sheepishly justify their wild political flip by saying, “this was the only way to counter SKM’s vendetta politics. They were going to transfer my wife to North Sikkim, how would I get my pending bill paid, etc”.
But surely there is a higher purpose to politics than ‘my own personal issues’, is there not? Then, there is another group who opposed the SKM for ten years, vehemently spewing venom on its leaders, but they are now apple-polishing to win the government’s favour. They say, “Actually, we were secretly always supporting the need for change”. What nonsense! Some genuinely hardcore SDF supporters seem miffed about the lack of direction in the party. Many are torn between their original SDF party and the new-fangled love interest (i.e. the BJP) thanks to their MLAs’ embracing it. These supporters with a literally ripped loyalty are perhaps wishing that the speculation of the BJP forming the government would come true. How else could they boost their sagging morale?
Sikkimese democracy looks different for at least two reasons. One – the Sikkimese people have been made to believe that anything can happen to the government, anytime. A narrative has been subtly fed into the current political scenario which wants people to believe that the current government is a provisional arrangement. In our rumour-ridden state, the word on the street so easily overrides official statements. And that’s exactly what is happening. Has Sikkim ever experienced a situation when political parties from across the spectrum were all living in a fantasy world with tantalizing “power” within the sniffing distance?
Two – Delhi seems to have overtaken Gangtok as the central stage of state politics. Sikkim’s top leaders had never frequented Delhi as much as they have in 2019. The common joke now among the people seems to be this, “I’m going to Delhi to meet my MLA”. And if you catch the right flight, you could meet a bunch of them on the plane itself. The laughter that this joke stirs is not one of joy. It is the frustrated response to our weakening political strength as a state.
Some of us may not like these two reasons. You don’t have to accept them. But Sikkim will have to deal with them someday, if not now.
Power is a significant matter. But just as significant is the oppositional force in politics. The fusion of evidentiary events suggests that Sikkim is likely to lose that force. Technically, the 10 BJP MLAs and lone SDF MLA constitute that force. The seeming bonhomie between the SKM and BJP hints that they are going to work together. Everyone is entitled to his own interpretation of their ‘working together’. But the fact remains – who will listen to the people’s frustrations? In democracy, people need government as much as they need opposition.
Looks like people have already begun to miss the luxury of having an oppositional force. We got a whiff of that on 22 September at the SDF Bhawan. Just when we were beginning to write the obituary on the political career of Pawan Chamling, a huge crowd of people gathered to celebrate his birthday. It was as if to say, “Wait, we are not yet done with him”.
It would be naive to miss the political significance of that birthday crowd. Conventionally, Sikkimese people could care less about visiting a non-incumbent leader, particularly one who has been unseated from the post of chief minister, let alone celebrating his birthday in the way in which they celebrated it. The spunk of the people, the gusto of their celebration and the timing of it made the event appear like more than just a birthday. They came – despite the fact that the party has been decimated through the loss of its MLAs, leaders and supporters to SKM and the BJP. They came – despite the fact that the party president has been silent. They came – at a time when by-polls in three constituencies are just around the corner and these by-polls are technically inconsequential to the SDF. They came – at a time when there was a rumour of a third front coming out with dissidents from all major parties of the state. A large percentage of the crowd was young boys and girls which is of great import given that the SDF has supposedly been losing its grip on the youth.
How the SDF will build on this potential public support will be interesting to see. It is hard to believe that one MLA can make much of a difference. However, if the party can project itself as the alternative vehicle for representing public aspirations, Sikkim will be spared political monotony. The SDF’s survival will provide a reverse impetus for the SKM government to work sincerely. Nothing is a better cure for administrative lethargy in government than a strong opposition party.
“What is deeply worrying is that these plots which are becoming ever more thrilling, no longer seem to entertain the otherwise entertainment-starved Sikkimese people. What thriller-stricken Sikkim deservedly wants now is stability in the political situation and a complete focus on governance. The SKM government deserves that trust now. But the master scriptwriters do not seem to think so. They want to have us perpetually on the edge of our seats. What they don’t seem to realize is that we have been there for a very long time and some of us are getting sore bottoms!”
By Jiwan Rai, the author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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