The tiny Himalayan province of Sikkim will go to the polls on April 12 – in the fourth phase of the general elections of the country. The state, which has the lowest voter population of India of three and a half lakh, will elect both its 32-seat assembly, as well as choose one Member of Parliament to represent it in the Lok Sabha.
Unlike most other regions, Sikkim has seen the unbroken dominance of a single party for the last two decades.
Pawan Kumar Chamling’s Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) has continuously been in power since 1994 and the Chief Minister is confident that he would be handed a fifth term as well.
Chamling, who has been returning as an MLA ever since his debut in 1985 from Damthang constituency, was first a minister in Nar Bhadur Bhandari’s Sikkim Sangram Parishad (SSP) government holding portfolios of Industries, Information and Public Relations, but had broken away from it and formed his own party SDF in 1993.
Ever since then his government has held forte in the state, and his party is so popular that it won 31 of the 32 seats in 2004 and made a clean sweep of all 32 assembly seats in 2009.
The reason for the supremacy of this single party is not far to seek. The state is among the most progressive in the country with some of the best development indices and the fewest law and order issues.
It seems Chamling’s good work has been the mantra for his continues success and statistics prove this.
Not only is Sikkim among the 5 states with least percentage of population beneath the poverty line (besides Goa, Kerala, Himachal and Punjab), the state also witnessed the steepest fall in poverty and increase in per capita consumption in the country, as per the latest Planning Commission data. The state now has only 51,000 people below the poverty line, whereas the average monthly per capital expenditure in its rural areas is estimated at Rs 1445.06 and urban areas Rs 2528.11 in comparison to national average monthly per capital expenditure of Rs 1287.17 and Rs 2477.02 respectively.
Sikkim is also the only state in the country that has achieved 100% sanitation in rural and urban households, Aanganwadi centres and schools.
As is apparent, Chamling, who is also a popular writer, is known for his good administrative abilities that have helped to bring both peace and prosperity to his state.
This year, besides his Rangang-Yangang seat, the Chief Minister will contest from Namchi-Singhithang too. Launching his campaign from the western part of the state, the CM not only praised his own track record but also attacked the opposition and dissenters.
A former minister in his government PS Tamang Golay has broken ranks and formed his own party called the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM), which has caused several incidents of violence recently. In early March demonstrators with allegiance to SKM had marched to the heart of Gangtok and called for a bandh.
The disruptive activities had spread to other districts with shops and other public property being vandalized at random. The Reserve Police had to be called in to control the situation and prohibitory orders under Section 144 had to be given. Several SKM were taken into custody before the situation could be brought under control and normalcy restored.
Predictably, Chamling has been critical of SKM as well as its leader Golay, against whom he has levelled several charges of corruption.
Besides SKM, the other parties in fray are likely to be the Congress, the BJP – whose President P B Chetri had in March crossed over to the Congress, CPI(M), Sikkim Gorkha Prajatantric Party, Sikkim Himali Rajya Parishad Partyand now Aam Admi Party(AAP) that has recently set up office in Gangtok and accused the current government of being corrupt.
Interestingly, and possibly wisely, SDF has so far supported whichever coalition is in power at the national level. Earlier it had lent its one MP support to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and has since then shifted to United Progressive Alliance (UPA). The idea is probably to get maximum benefit for Sikkim from whosoever is in power at the Centre, given the small size of the state.
Reading the trend, Narendra Modi during a recent rally in Assam had called Sikkim one of the jewels of India, clearly offering a carrot to SDF to shift sides again if a BJP led government comes to power.
Traditionally, the state has seen a high voter turnout. In 2009, 81.79% the voters had cast their ballot and the trend is likely to be no different this time.
Neither is the result likely to be dissimilar with SDF seeming set to sweep the state once again.