Prem Singh Tamang: Rebel’s second turn

By winning 31 seats in the 32-member Assembly, the Sikkim Chief Minister’s SKM has emerged as the new dominant political force of the State

Updated - June 16, 2024 11:24 am IST

Published - June 16, 2024 02:57 am IST

Namchi, about 2 hours drive from Sikkim’s capital Gangtok, sports two of the tallest statues on earth. One is the 87-foot statue of Lord Shiva on the Solophok Hill within the Char Dham complex that houses the replicas of some of the major temples in India. The other is the 118-foot statue of Padmasambhava, or Guru Rinpoche, the Buddhist patron saint of Sikkim.

The two projects, landmarks in southern Sikkim’s Namchi-Singhithang Assembly constituency, were executed when Pawan Kumar Chamling, leader of the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF), was Chief Minister for a record 24 years and 165 days. He was seen invincible in Namchi-Singhithang, a constituency he held since its inception in 2009. But in this year’s election, the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) of Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang broke the SDF hold in Namchi-Singhithang.

Mr. Tamang’s wife, Krishna Kumari Rai clinched a huge victory in Namchi-Singhithang, while the SKM won a landslide in the Assembly election, allowing Mr. Tamang, who came to power five years ago, to continue as Chief Minister of the Himalayan State.

Ms. Rai resigned as MLA 11 days after wresting Namchi-Singhithang from the SDF. It was perhaps the SKM’s answer to Mr. Chamling’s pre-poll barb that Mr. Tamang practised ‘pariwaar-tan’ — a pun on ‘parivartan (change) — by letting members of his family run the government.

Rise of the rebel

Politics in Sikkim, an erstwhile Himalayan kingdom that merged with the Indian Union in 1975, has revolved around regional satraps. Each ceded power to a rebellious protege or colleague who went on to form another party. The trend began with Mr. Chamling’s SDF dislodging Nar Bahadur Bhandari’s Sikkim Sangram Parishad (SSP) from power in 1994.

Mr. Chamling was a Minister in Mr. Bhandari’s Cabinet from 1989 to 1992 before the two fell out. The SDF chief had a taste of his own medicine when Mr. Tamang, one of his Ministers, rebelled to chart a different path.

Better known by his clan’s name Golay, the 56-year-old Mr. Tamang became a government teacher in 1990, two years after graduating from the Darjeeling Government College under North Bengal University. He quit his job after joining the SDF in 1993 and won his first election the following year from the Soreng-Chakung constituency, defeating the SSP’s Tika Gurung by a margin of 1,606 votes.

He served as a Minister in the Chamling government handling several portfolios from 1994 to 2009. Cracks began to appear in the alliance between Mr. Tamang and Mr. Chamling soon after his 2009 electoral victory from the Upper Burtuk seat. He rejected the SDF’s offer to make him the chairperson of the Industries Department instead of continuing as a Minister.

The two leaders began drifting apart after Mr. Tamang launched a ‘Parivartan Sankalp Yatra’ that culminated in what came to be known as Rolu Picnic, a political conclave held at a stadium in south Sikkim on December 21, 2009.

Mr. Tamang resigned from the SDF in September 2013 and founded the SKM a month later. In the 2014 Assembly elections, he led the SKM to victory in 10 seats in the 32-member Assembly. Between 2015 and 2016, the SKM lost seven MLAs to the SDF. Mr. Tamang was disqualified from the Assembly and convicted for “misappropriating government funds”. He was sentenced to a year in prison with a fine of ₹10,000. But he did not quit fighting.

In the 2019 elections, the SKM won 17 seats, two more than the SDF. Mr. Tamang was sworn in as Sikkim’s sixth Chief Minister in May that year. And in the 2024 election, the SKM won 31 seats, while the SDF was reduced to one.

“The SDF lost because they could not do in 25 years what we did in five. The overwhelming mandate is a challenge to live up to the people’s expectations,” says Mr. Tamang.

A member of a Scheduled Tribe, he says he will continue with the government’s “pro-poor” beneficiary programmes, while pursuing “ecologically viable” projects to develop Sikkim.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.