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SDF MLAs Join BJP: Who Is Pulling a Fast One in Sikkim?

Vivan Eyben |
This does not indicate that the BJP will be able to embed itself in the state.

Image Courtesy : The Hindu

As news breaks out of ten members of Sikkim's Legislative Assembly from the opposition Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), it would appear the BJP has finally gained a foothold in the state. However, Sikkim has a history of rejecting any and every non-local party at the polls.

In 1979, after late Nar Bahadur Bhandari's Sikkim Janata Parishad won the Assembly elections on a poll promise of 'Sikkim farkaunchu' (we will undo the merger), he landed in Delhi three years later to merge his party with the Congress (I). He must have realised the political suicide he nearly committed and later floated the Sikkim Sangram Parishad (SSP) in 1984 to contest and win the 1985 elections.

It is a fact in Sikkim's political history that no national party has ever successfully contested the elections in the state. However, the current turn of events would suggest that the BJP is attempting to replicate the model in Arunachal Pradesh, where in 2016,they gained power without winning at the polls. This would be a fallacy as there seems to be an unspoken and inherited nostalgia despite years of celebrating Indian State holidays.

Also read: Sikkim Elections: Slim Win for SKM But SDF Not Yet Down and Out

At present, the BJP has become the main opposition party in the state with Dorjee Tshering Lepcha as the leader of Opposition. DT Lepcha was one of the three contestants in the elections who contested and won from two constituencies. The other two were, former Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling, and Kunga Nima Lepcha, the present Minister of Human Resource Development, Law, Legislative & Parliamentary Affairs and Land, Revenue and Disaster Management in the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) government headed by Prem Singh Tamang (Golay).

Ahead of this announcement, there were rumours that DT Lepcha (who was then still with the SDF) was camping in Delhi with some of the SDF members of the Legislative Assembly. Speculation was rife that he would switch to another party and take some MLAs with him. However, the suspicion was that the destination would be SKM. This was primarily based on the fact that he would be committing political suicide by joining the BJP.

With the MLAs turning the BJP into the unelected opposition party, the SDF count has dropped to three members. Since the SDF is unlikely to support the SKM government, the two parties are likely to form a united opposition. One question that ought to be asked is why the BJP chose to accept members from the opposition when all along, their track record has shown that they are in the game of toppling the government? One likely answer is that the facts and figures showed the SDF to still have a good amount of popularity. Another is that the SDF had ruled Sikkim for 25 years and hence had been quite entrenched with a strong grassroots presence. This now puts Golay's SKM in a difficult position. In Parliament, they are a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. However, there seems to be no alliance in the state.

Also read: Is the SDF Gearing up for the 2019 Polls?

Despite the broader game of party politics, it is more likely that this is a fallout of the power struggle between PS Golay and Pawan Chamling. PS Golay had not contested the 2019 Assembly elections as he was barred from doing so owing to having served a sentence of one year for an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act. However, due to a constitutional loophole, he was sworn in as the Chief Minister. Pawan Chamling appeared to have taken great umbrage against this and passed remarks on the same in the Assembly. The SDF has filed a case in the Supreme Court seeking PS Golay's removal as Chief Minister. PS Golay, on his part, has on several occasions declared that he would allow the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to enter Sikkim and investigate Pawan Chamling and his family.

By siding with the BJP the SDF and the likely 'loaned' MLAs could avert such a CBI investigation. On the other hand, since PS Golay is disqualified from contesting elections due to his served sentence, he is unlikely to continue as the Chief Minister in a few more months despite impending by-elections. The power vacuum in the SKM is likely to split the party on ethnic lines, where the ultimate winner will be the BJP. However, Pawan Chamling appears to have his eye on the 2024 polls as he has not joined the BJP. Hence, his political career will still be alive and kicking in 2024 and there may be a few SDF returnees beforehand.

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