Strongman Pawan Chamling’s return to state sets Sikkim politics on edge

Strongman Pawan Chamling’s return to state sets Sikkim politics on edge

India News

With almost all its MLAs part of the ruling alliance, Sikkim is not really known for political flare-ups. Since former chief minister Pawan Chamling returned to the state from Delhi on December 30 though, after three months in Delhi, the streets of the state have been marked by arson, clashes and stone-pelting.

The violence has pitched Chamling’s Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) workers against the followers of the ruling Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM).

With his five terms in power, between December 1994 and May 2019, making him the longest-serving CM of the country, Chamling was once the undisputed leader of Sikkim.

In 2019, his SDF though had ended up two seats behind the SKM’s 17 in the 32-member House. Months after the results, in August 2019, 10 SDF MLAs had quit to join the BJP, which aligned itself to the SKM, while two others had joined the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha. Now, Chamling is the only SDF MLA in the current House.

Chamling is seen to be trying to make a comeback after the 2019 setback, by rejuvenating his workers and grabbing the political space. The SDF says not much importance should be given to his three-month absence as he keeps frequenting Delhi. A huge crowd had greeted him on his arrival at Bagdogra Airport.

Following the recent incidents, worrying given that Sikkim shares contentious borders with Bhutan, Nepal and China, both parties have held press conferences denouncing each other. The SDF gave a memorandum to the DGP on the “deteriorating” law and order situation, seeking security for Chamling and claiming a threat to his life. The SKM said it was Chamling that was trying to spread unrest and playing the victim card. It has begun publicity drives in constituencies to highlight current CM Prem Singh Tamang’s works.

The incidents started with the January 8 heckling of Chamling, with his convoy being blocked on way to Melli by alleged SKM workers. The Melli seat had been won by the SDF in 2019, with its MLA part of the SDF group who crossed over to the BJP. Recently, many SDF grassroot workers from the area joined the SKM.

On January 9, a clash between party workers started when Chamling was stopped on way to a funeral at Sadam, escalating into pelting of stones, some of which also hit nearby tourist vehicles.

Then, at 2 am on January 11, the SUV of an SKM leader, John Subba, was set on fire in Jorethang. It contained publicity material of the party.

FIRs have been filed in the January 9 and 11 incidents. “Investigation is on. We have arrested some of the culprits too,” a senior police officer said.

SKM chief coordinator, media cell, Bikas Basnet said the incidents were a sign of desperation by Chamling, who had become “zero” after the 2019 loss. “Since his return to the state, there is trouble. When he tours, naturally people will ask questions. And since the SDF has no proper issues against our party or government, it is indulging in violence and provoking a section of the youths,” said Basnet, adding that Chamling should be questioned why he was travelling in a convoy of over 30 vehicles on way to a funeral.

Speaking to mediapersons Wednesday, SKM Lok Sabha MP Indra Hang Subba said: “Chamling has run out of options and his support base, forcing him to engineer violence. This is why we are seeing political disturbance since his return.”

SDF spokesperson M K Subba said the rule of law had broken down in Sikkim, which was not good for a border state. “Political terrorism and organised crime are what peaceful Sikkim stands for now. Since the SKM came to power, there have been a number of incidents of violence and assaults on political leaders, workers and the common man… The SKM is jealous because of the big crowd that came to receive Chamling on his return on December 30… Our former CM may be assassinated any day,” Subba said.

Having struck alliances to find a way to power in Sikkim like in other Northeast states, the BJP is seeking to distance itself from the violence. Before the SDF MLAs joined it in 2019, it had not a single MLA in the state. Calling Sikkim a “sensitive border state”, state BJP chief Dal Bahadur Chauhan said: “The ruling party should show restraint and the Opposition too.”


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