Creating political space in Sikkim has become nearly impossible for national parties, with the country’s ruling BJP also failing to establish itself politically after its talks with the opposition Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) broke down over acceptance of the local party’s key demands…writes Sonam Yangchen Lepcha
From Lendhup Dorjee Kazi’s Sikkim National Congress (SNC) to incumbent Pawan Kumar Chamling’s Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF), Sikkim has the distinction of being ruled by regional parties since it became India’s 22nd state after merging in 1975.
Ever since then, the regional political parties have been playing an important role in the state’s developmental process. The regional parties, especially SDF, have been able to mobilise the traditional communities into politics. The fear of negligence by national parties has also been one of the reasons why people always supported one or the other regional political parties in the state.
“I think no national political party is being able to fully convince the people of Sikkim on local issues. The sentiments and trust of the people of Sikkim are still with the regional parties”, said Dichen Lepcha, 30, a government employee from Tadong in East Sikkim.
With the inception of democracy in Sikkim in 1975 it was expected that the national parties will flourish in the state. But this never happened.
Instead, the SDF of five-term Chief Minister Chamling has been able to bring the necessary development to the region and fulfil some of the people’s basic aspirations.
“The Sikkimese people are so much socially interconnected that no national party will understand and can fulfill their aspirations like the regional parties,” said a political leader who was not willing to be identified as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
After the SDF came to power, the social, economic and political rights of the people are seen to be well-secured for the last 25 years.
“Being with a national party with one seat in parliament, its voice may get lost in the national agenda. A local party ensures that the priorities are set straight,” said Namrata Neopaney, 28,an aide of P.D. Rai, the MP from Rakdong in East Sikkim.
“Sikkim has a leader from the land who has given us peace, progress and prosperity. The ‘Sikkimese Pride’ that we carry is all because of him. We haven’t witnessed any other party that has done this,” Neopaney added.
The Sikkimese identity is a long-debated issue presented differently in the pre- and post-merger period. Also the fear of losing their special identity, rights like 371 of the constitution and fear of influx of outsiders are the biggest reasons for national parties being kept at bay by the Sikkimese people.
“There is a combination of reasons why the Sikkimese people habitually reject national parties. The most significant reason could be their love of and deep commitment to Sikkimese rootedness. Make no mistake about it – the Sikkimese people have accepted Indian nationality with a caveat of preserving their distinctiveness,” political analyst Jiwan Rai said.
“A quick look at history will confirm what I am saying. The two longest serving CMs – the late N.B. Bhandari and (incumbent) Pawan Chamling are both from regional parties. The two cameo governments led by B.B. Gurung and Sanchaman Limboo were backed by the Indian National Congress and their brevity says it all. Also remember that Bhandari joined the Congress twice to no avail,” Rai added.
“Lastly, as a Sikkimese I feel if we let the national party enter our domain then it will be the biggest threat to our special rights and we might end up like Jammu and Kashmir someday,”Asaid Dichen Ongmu Bhutia, 27, a journalist from Chandmari, East Sikkim. summing up in general the views of the people of the state.