Sikkim’s small size and the status as a landlocked state have worked against it. What happens in this quiet little place, tucked among the Himalayas in the northeastern corner hardly interests this country where the big-boys are competing to make themselves heard. Indian politics is all about the numbers game and Sikkim, with just one Lok Sabha MP, does not measure up to the expectations of the number-hungry politicians who control national politics. The media and all the platforms of national significance are bursting at the seams with the ear-splitting clamour of those who represent larger states or larger political parties.
But it is time for India to accept that size is hardly a measure of potential and listen to the sound of Sikkim’s silence. Sikkim, the second smallest state and the youngest state by virtue of being the last one to join the union has emerged as a leading state on several fronts. It is in that sense that it is apt to borrow the expression of Balkrishna Sama, (often regarded as the “Shakespeare” of Nepal) and employ it to our case – “What Sikkim thinks today, the rest of India thinks tomorrow”. India may find it hard to accept but here is a list of seven cases where Sikkim’s farsightedness stands out far too clearly to miss:
Social Justice: The BJP government has come up with the 124th Constitution Amendment Bill, 2019 bill which will provide 10 per cent reservation for the upper caste poor. This was a smart move and even the arch-rival congress party had nothing much to say against the bill apart from questioning the timing. The move, “coinciding” with the 2019 general election would obviously irk the Congress party that feels rankled by several moves of the BJP. However, the Centre’s quota bill that is going to provide a 10 per cent reservation in jobs and educational institutions to economically backward sections in the general category is not new to Sikkim. The Pawan Chamling led state government had long ago anticipated the reverse discrimination that would occur after the implementation of Mandal Commission recommendations (OBCs) and immediately demanded the inclusion of the left out communities (Bahun, Chettri, Newar) in the list of Other Backward Classes. When a repeated plea fell on deaf ears, the state government granted OBC status to these three communities under the state list. In Sikkim the Bahun, Chettri Newar who come under general category as per the central reservation structure have been given 20 per cent reservation in government service and educational institutions. Such an inclusive framework adopted by Sikkim was premised on the conviction that weaker sections do exist even among so called upper castes. The country seems to have realized it now – better late than never.
Moreover, the Sikkim Government has notified a 2 per cent seat reservation for Weaker Sections of Society (Kami, Damai, Sarki not categorized as Scheduled Castes). Given the mood of national politics in general, the India Government may not awaken to this realization any time soon. But Sikkim has led the way.
Free Education: Sikkim is arguably the only state in the country where education is provided free of cost right up to the college level. The state government decision to provide free courses in ATTC Bardang and CCCT Chisopani is a significant step. What is more, the government announced the provision of free education in the upcoming State Medical College, Pharmacy College and National Law University, making Sikkim a dream state for education enthusiasts. The rest of India may never emulate Sikkim on this front. There is nothing elsewhere to match the Chief Minister’s Meritorious Scholarship Schemes under which 200 class V students from government schools across the state are selected to be admitted in some of the top-notch schools in the state and the country. The Chief Minister’s Free Scholarship Scheme is also unparalleled in the country – a scheme which provides free education in the world’s top 20 universities subject to the eligibility of Sikkimese students. The expansion of the educational infrastructure is noteworthy too. The annual growth rate of higher educational institutions of over 15 per cent towers over the national average of 7 per cent.
Organic Farming: Sikkim’s organic farming mission has all the potential to make Sikkim the Mecca of sustainable development. Many Indian states are already contemplating emulating Sikkim. Chief Minister Chamling says that even the Government of Italy, inspired by Sikkim, is seriously thinking about going organic.
Women Empowerment: Sikkimese women, who constitute less than 50 per cent of the Sikkimese population, hold more than 50 per cent of the government jobs. The state government provides a seat reservation of 50 per cent in the Panchayati Raj Institution and Urban Local Bodies and 30 per cent in government services to women. Can the rest of India copy such a reservation structure? It may take a few more decades to see anything like that happening outside Sikkim.
Nature Conservation: It is only apt that Sikkim, the Greenest State in India, continues to set the bench mark when it comes to nature conservation. During the period of 1993 and 2013, Sikkim became the only state in India to have increased its forest cover in the past two decades. The forest cover in Sikkim had increased to 47.34 per cent in 2013 from 43.95 per cent in 1993. Some of Sikkim’s eco-innovations like Ten Minutes to Earth, Smriti Van, Tree Adoption, Mit Tree (Adopting ceremonial friendship with tree) and Green Clubs in government schools are also worth imitating.
Poverty Reduction: The remarkable reduction of BPL percentage of 41.43 in 1993 to just about 8.19 per cent in 2011/12 was nothing less than a miracle pulled off by a tiny mountainous state in South East Asia. Impressed by the achievement of Sikkim, the then UN Resident Commissioner Lise Grande remarked, “No other government under similar conditions has made that kind of commitment and has achieved what you have achieved.” This is one record that the rest of India would do well to look to break.
Sikkim is in a tearing hurry to become India’s first kutcha house free state. The state government has been constructing one story pucca houses under the Chief Minister’s Rural Housing Mission. The rest of India can replicate this scheme in the near future.
CATCH – the Chief Minister’s Comprehensive Annual and Total Health Check-up for a Healthy Sikkim is a very ambitious program launched in Sikkim. Annual health checks are conducted at designated centers all across the state. If this innovative scheme of reaching health care at people’s doorsteps is improved and pursued diligently, this will become another success story, worthy of global emulation.
Apart from these seven areas, Sikkim’s outstanding performance in capacity building through livelihood schools, the promotion of ethnic languages, the protection of religious freedom, the promotion of cultures and religious heritages, the extension of tourism, the expansion and advancement of rural infrastructure and the escalation in job creation deserve national attention. It is time to look east and learn.
“The Centre’s quota bill (10 per cent reservation for general category) is not new to Sikkim. The Pawan Chamling led state government had long ago anticipated the reverse discrimination that would occur after the implementation of Mandal Commission recommendations (OBCs) and immediately demanded the inclusion of the left out communities (Bahun, Chettri, Newar) in the list of Other Backward Classes. When Centre did not budge at Sikkim’s plea, the Sikkim government gave 20 percent reservation to them under state OBC list”
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