In Sikkim, ‘king’ Pawan Kumar Chamling fights to retain his turf

Pawan Kumar Chamling.  

On March 25, the last day for filing of the nomination papers for the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in Sikkim, the people of the Himalayan State witnessed an unusual sight. In front of the office of the District Commissioner of Gangtok (Sikkim East), the supporters of the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) and the Opposition Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) came face-to-face and shouted slogans in support of their candidates.

A similar scene was witnessed at Namchi, about 80 km from Gangtok, the district headquarters of south Sikkim, where the Chief Minister of the State for 25 years — Pawan Kumar Chamling — filed his nomination papers for the Assembly polls.

Frantic activity

The frantic political activity is a surprise to many political observers in a State that has seen five consecutive governments formed by the same party and a Chief Minister with a record of being in office for 25 years.

Soon after filing his nomination papers, Mr. Chamling, 68, targeted his political rival Prem Singh Tamang (better known as P.S. Golay), saying he was fooling the people by saying that he was the chief ministerial candidate of the SKM.

“Golay has been convicted and was released after serving a jail term in August 2018. He cannot contest any election, not even panchayat polls” Mr. Chamling told presspersons.

Prem Das Rai, an SDF MP, said the party would draw the attention of the Election Commission to the issue of the SKM party making false promises. Despite having represented the State for two terms, Mr. Rai is not contesting the Lok Sabha election this year. The SDF has reposed faith in a younger D.B. Katwal to contest from the lone seat in the State.

In the list of nominees for the Assembly polls, the Sikkim ruling party has replaced 18 of 32 candidates. “The idea is to give more space for the young. The party is preparing its second line of leadership,” Mr. Katwal said.

In Sikkim, ‘king’ Pawan Kumar Chamling fights to retain his turf

While Mr. Chamling and Mr. Golay offer a study in contrast at many levels, there is a similarity in the way their political careers have panned out.

Like Mr. Chamling, who quit the post of a Minister in the Sikkim Sangram Parishad in 1993 to form the Sikkim Democratic Front, Mr. Golay, a four-time MLA and a former Minister in the SDF government, went on to form the SKM in 2009.

Mr. Golay’s rallies have often drawn large crowds. On March 27, he led a large rally in Gangtok ahead the release of the party manifesto. The manifesto of SKM makes big promises: provision of jobs to all unemployed in 100 days; an unemployment pension of ₹10,000 per month, smartphones to college students, colour television sets to all families below the poverty line and ₹5 lakh to every female head of a household in five years.

Mr. Golay’s slogan emphasises on ushering in change and removing the “king of the State for 25 years”.

“I do not ask for 25 years, I am asking for five years only. In five years, I will make all promises true,” he said.

On the other hand, the SDF has claimed that it has ushered in many firsts in Sikkim, including making it a plastic-free State.

The party has promised universal income guarantee and a government job for one member of every family if it is voted to power.

The Assembly and Lok Sabha election will be held in the State on April 11.

He carefully evaded the question on his Chief Minister candidature a ticket being given to his son to fight Assembly polls. Mr. Golay points that his party has nominated 32-year-old Indrahang Subba to contest Lok Sabha polls.

Indian football superstar Bhaichung Bhutia has also jumped in the electoral fray with his new Hamro Sikkim Party. Like the Chief Minister who has decided to contest on two seats Mr. Bhutia is also filed nomination from two Assembly seats and have put up candidates on 24 out of 32 Assembly seats. Inside a dimly lit room in Gangtok, Mr. Bhutia released election manifesto of his party.. A two-page press release where he announced ₹1,500 per month to every family member whose family income is less than ₹25,000 a month. The former football captain calls the scheme Sikkim Samman Yojana and said that despite the claims of the ruling party, their is a high unemployment and there is a need for equitable distribution of wealth.

Political observers feel that that the contest this time is between SDF and SKM . Though the people of Sikkim joined India by voting overwhelmingly for abolishing monarchy in1975 no national party has ever made its presence convincingly felt in the State. SDF MP P.D. Rai said that there is a strong cultural identity among the people and a belief that they are very different from rest of the India. During this election the Bharatiya Janata Party was keen to have an alliance with the SKM but the efforts fell apart at the last moment.

All the 32 Assembly constituencies and the lone Lok Sabha seat will go to polls in Apri 11. The total number of voters is about 4.32 lakh. The State usually records a high voter turnnout. In 2014, the turnout was about 83% one of the highest in the country. The elections in the State has been largely peaceful in the past. A police observer deputed by Election Commission to the State, while checking the crime records of the State, found that there were only five murders recorded the state last year, a figure which gave the officials confidence that polls this year will not be an exception.

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 3:56:11 PM |

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