Nearly half of Sikkim is benumbed by the shock wave set off by a massive political shift on May 23. Another large portion of Sikkimese are over the moon, and rightfully so. There is a third group, comprised of two kinds of people namely fence sitters, who are understandably jumping into the winning side and traitorous ones who are busily crossing the floor. The fourth group, made up of the truly politically neutral, is resolutely unmoved; perhaps the most enviable group to be in. One place that mirrors these phenomena is social media.

Author Jiwan Rai

Looking beyond the celebrations and disappointments, crackers and silence, violence and victimization, political parties must sink their teeth into the many takeaways this election has offered. The SDF party must learn them to control further damage and the SKM party must learn them too lest complacency set in. It is time for a kind of ‘political post-hoc analysis’, so to speak.

As a senior local journalist, Mita Zulca posted on Facebook, one thing that separated the SKM from SDF was the ever soaring level of hunger for victory. I could not agree more. It was displayed in the way they conducted their campaign.

Absorption– In terms of “joining”, the SKM was by far the most absorptive party. They were an “all-consuming party” (absorbing anyone who wanted to join) and were driven by a tearing sense of urgency. Instead of organizing a formal and ceremonial joining program, they went to the spot and embraced every single person or family then and there. The SDF did not show the same assimilatory capacity and urgency. Some leaders were either reluctant or too laid back or even sceptical to welcome willing joiners. Some desperate ones had to try several doors and many gave up trying and bounced back to SKM.

Ballot Paper– The SKM party seems to have done their homework well on this front. They figured out that the ballot papers could become a crucial decider in many a close contest and, lo and behold, those curious papers did prove to be a clincher, mostly favouring the SKM. In Sikkim with a small electorate, a single vote counts big time. This will teach all Sikkimese parties lasting lessons.

Candidates– In electoral politics, nothing gets trickier than nailing the right candidacy. No party can ever come up with the ‘perfect candidate’ in this imperfect world but choosing the best among all is a possibility. The incumbent party has more risks for at least two reasons. An anti-incumbency feeling weighs down heavily against both the party and the candidate concerned. Novelty wears off, no matter how much one tries to stay relevant. People want something new, some out of genuine need but others just for the sake of wanting it. Two, since most popular candidates are selected by the grassroots, a lively process of dialogue with them is a must. The incumbent party, due to the added responsibility of administration, cannot participate in this dialogue as well as the non-ruling parties. Moreover, the SDF party by virtue of being the oldest active regional party is bound by cadre-hierarchy which either slows down or deadens this vital process. The people’s voice penetrating this hierarchy and reaching the top is almost improbable.

The SDF party had one more disadvantage which is their ever thickening leadership strata. This is the irony of every well-structured and democratic organization. It both strengthens and weakens an organization. The interpersonal conflicts of influential leaders make the party vulnerable to making prejudiced decisions. It is always difficult to override the personal opinions of some top brass leaders. Some may have pushed for candidates purely on the basis of personal liking, thus closing their eyes to ideological aspects and popularity graphs. One hopes that if there were leaders who chose their personal agenda over political wisdom, they have at least blistered their conscience with a sincere sense of guilt. It is perfectly politically correct to take the blame and apologize.

The SKM, being a new party, enjoyed the advantageous sides of all the above issues. The SKM top brass leaders including the party president, PS Golay, had all the time in the world to reach out to the masses.
Disconnect- The most cardinal issue that the SDF failed to address was the sense of disconnect with their leader by the masses. Make no mistake about it that Pawan Chamling is a mass leader who derives his strength through this rootedness. This connectivity is vital for the sustenance of people’s faith in him. He has been ever so relevant to public aspirations for nearly three decades largely due to this intact connectivity. People love him almost unreservedly and all they want is his physical proximity so that he can hear them directly as they hear him. Did you notice how people were hugging him tight and crying their hearts out when he left Mintokgang? The gradual alienation from the leader they loved was either not detected or taken too lightly. Some people say, perhaps rightly so, that he was surrounded by the same people for far too long.

Now the biggest question for the SDF supporters is this – is the Chamling era over? Looking at the delicate margin of wins and even more delicately balanced mandate given to the SKM, SDF supporters would like to think that all is not over yet.

The vote share shows that he is still the most popular leader among the masses. As a matter of fact, 47.63% voters wanted him to become their CM this time, as opposed to the 47.03% votes cast in favour of the SKM. This marginal vote share victory is quite telling. Some hardcore Chamling supporters are of the opinion that this election has not been so much about an anti-Chamling mandate as it has been about an anti-Chamchas mandate. They claim that some were blinded by power and milked their positions for what they were worth. Having said that, the SKM party must realize similarly that the layer of sycophants will thicken over its leadership too every single day. It will be naive for any party to ever draw ‘chamcha related worries’ prematurely to an end.

For now, both the parties have to set their priorities right. For the SDF, it will be a challenge to hold its team together – the toughest thing to do in a despairing atmosphere. For the SKM, keeping its supporters under control – again the toughest thing to do when excitement is too high to rein in. Law breeching activities like importing and bursting crackers, parking vehicles in prohibited areas and pelting stones (alleged) must be drawn to an instant close.

“Did you notice how people were hugging him tight and crying their hearts out when he left Mintokgang? The gradual alienation from the leader they loved was either not detected or taken too lightly. Some people say, perhaps rightly so, that he was surrounded by the same people for far too long.”

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