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What Will Sikkim Reveal On June 2?

By Aditi Phadnis
May 31, 2024 08:59 IST
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Ahead of this election, the alliance between the BJP and the SKM had broken down.
One reason is the fear that like Article 370, Article 371F might also be changed.

IMAGE: Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang shows his ink-marked finger after casting his vote in Gangtok, April 19, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

As Sikkim awaits the Assembly election results (voting was on April 19 and the votes will be counted on June 2, not June 4, along with the rest of the country, according to the Election Commission's latest decision), four significant events that took place in 2023 will shape the state's future trajectory.

First, in February 2023, footballer Bhaichung Bhutia merged his Hamro Sikkim Party with the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF).

In tandem, SDF chief and five-term Sikkim chief minister Pawan Chamling announced that 2024 would be his last election, made Mr Bhutia vice-president of the SDF, and offered him nomination to an Assembly constituency.

Mr Bhutia's efforts to become a politician have met with little success so far: He was the Trinamool Congress candidate for mayor of Siliguri, an election he lost.

He also lost the Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency in 2014 to the Bharatiya Janata Party.

In 2018, he launched the Hamro Sikkim Party in a bid to return to his home state.

Mr Bhutia's electoral record was mocked by Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang Golay, who advised him to stick to football instead of attempting to toss dallo khursani (tiny red chillies grown in Sikkim and considered the hottest in the world) in politics.

Second, Sikkim saw its worst flash flood in recent history when in October a glacial lake flooded the Teesta river and the downstream Teesta III hydroelectric dam.

For a tiny state like Sikkim it was a catastrophe: More than 20 Indian Army jawans and significant quantities of weaponry and ordnance vanished in the deluge.

More than 100 bodies were recovered and over 60,000 people were affected.

Corruption in compensation became a major political issue and figured in the assembly election.

Third, the Dalai Lama paid a three-day visit to Sikkim in December, the first in 13 years.

The Paljor stadium, where he addressed followers, is just 50 km from the India-China border at Nathu La.

His visit followed China's refusal to allow three Indian wushu players from Arunachal Pradesh to enter the country to participate in the 19th Asian Games.

The last violent clash between troops on the India-China border at Sikkim took place in 2021.

Reports based on government sources stating that concrete bunkers were being constructed on the Chinese side of the Naku La area in north Sikkim to facilitate quick troop deployment have not been refuted by India.

Fourth, ecstatic young Sikkimese erupted at the announcement that the Sikkim-origin hard rock/heavy metal band called Girish And The Chronicles shared the stage for the first time ever with the internationally famed rock group Guns and Roses at Abu Dhabi in June 2023.

'Totally stoked and really don't have the words to express what we are feeling right now, but one thing's for sure, we are so proud to represent Sikkim and India today,' the group said on X.

Girish Pradhan and his brother Yogesh, guitarist Suraz Sun, and drummer Nagen Mongranti all belong to Sikkim.

Rolling Stone magazine says Pradhan is one of the most sought after vocalists in hard rock and heavy metal circles today.

IMAGE: His Holiness The Dalai Lama being assisted by his disciples on his arrival in Gangtok after a gap of 13 years, December 12, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

All the events above will likely have an impact on the result for the 32-member assembly poll.

The SDF, which ruled Sikkim for 25 years from 1994 to 2019, lost to the Prem Singh Tamang-led SKM in the last assembly elections.

June 2 will decide whether Mr Bhutia's presence will make a difference to the SDF's fortunes.

The current government announced, days before the model code of conduct kicked in, that it will revert to the Old Pension Scheme for state government employees.

The new government will have the financial responsibility of implementing this decision.

There is also the hot potato of reservations for the Limbu and Tamang communities that the current government has promised but has not yet implemented.

Sikkim is attempting to adopt entirely organic methods of farming. But effects of climate change are evident.

Whoever comes to power, livelihood issues in an era of threats from climate change will continue to be a challenge.

Sikkim's model of development is different from that of other states.

Sikkim has said 'no' to 13 hydel projects because they could have threatened the state's ecosphere.

The alternative model of development is 'back to nature'.

But it also needs jobs. Ahead of this election, the alliance between the BJP and the SKM had broken down.

One reason is the fear that like Article 370, Article 371F might also be changed.

Because of this Constitutional protection, the Sikkimese have the right to own land and get state government jobs.

They are also exempt from paying income tax.

You can make new friends. But you cannot change geography. Sikkim is acutely conscious that it could become collateral damage in India-China hostilities at any time.

But the most important is the aspiration and ambition of the young in Sikkim.

The state has among the highest rates of suicide in India: 37.5 per 100,000 people, nearly triple the Indian average.

Seven out of 10 teenagers in Sikkim abuse pharmaceutical drugs. One person in every family is involved in substance abuse.

All these issues have featured in the election campaign. All that remains now is the result.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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Aditi Phadnis
Source: source
India Votes 2024

India Votes 2024