Nestling comfortably in the lap of the Himalayas at altitudes varying from 500 to 8,500 metres, Sikkim is the second smallest state in India (7,096 sq km) after Goa. Elections for the 32-member assembly and the lone Lok Sabha seat will be held on April 12. The results will be out on May 16, the day Sikkim merged with India in 1975.
The even tenor of political life in Sikkim has flowed staidly for years and decades. It was in 1993 that Pawan Chamling founded the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF). The new party won the next year’s elections and Chamling became Chief Minister. He has been holding that office for the last 30 years. There is practically no opposition in his state. Will he win again this time, too ?
In the 2009 elections, the SDF captured all the assembly seats as well as the lone LS seat. But in February last year, something unexpected happened. Prem Singh Tamang, better known as Golay, who was elected to the Assembly on the SDF ticket and became a minister in Chamling’s cabinet, rebelled against his leader’s ‘autocratic and undemocratic’ rule and formed the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha. Formally, the party president is Bharti Sharma, but the real leader is Golay.
The poll campaign in Sikkim, however, has begun on a jarring note. Early this month, clashes between SDF and SKM supporters broke out in the south district. It was a sequel to the death of one NK Gurung on March 4. The SKM alleges he was killed by the SDF men. The SKM gave a strike call in protest and demanded the arrest of the Melli MLA who was said to be the ‘mastermind’ behind the attack on SKM supporters at Melli and Tobruk on February 28. SKM has now demanded a CBI inquiry into Gurung’s death. Clashes between the workers of the two parties have been reported from various parts of the state.
The great importance of this tiny Indian state lies in its strategic location, with Bhutan on the east, Nepal on the west and China (Tibet) on the north. The Nathu La pass is here at an altitude of over 14,000 feet. It lies on the ancient Silk Route. ‘Silk’ route is a misnomer inasmuch as this 4,000-mile corridor once connected Asia with Europe, via the Mediterranean Sea. Not just silk but a wide variety of merchandise used to pass through it. Nathu La connects Sikkim with China. The meaning of ‘Nathu’ in Tibetan language is ‘the listening ears’ — a very appropriate name, indeed.
Though Nathu La was re-opened for trade in 2006 after several decades, the volume of trade is negligible. Available figures show that in 2009 Indian export to Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) of China was valued at Rs1.35 crore while import from TAR was an insignificant Rs2.96 lakh. There is enough scope for increasing the volume. That it hasn’t happened may be due to the tensions prevailing along the border. The armies of India and China face each other in this region. There is an area called the ‘Finger’ in northernmost Sikkim because it is a finger-like projection of Sikkim into Tibet. China has claimed this area because the border highway it is building has to pass through the ‘Finger” to connect it to the other part of Tibet. Both armies are on round-the-clock vigil in this area. Internal peace in Sikkim is, therefore, very necessary. The poll battle in Sikkim must not become a battle between different sections of the people.
The author is a senior journalist