A day after 10 MLAs of the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) joined the BJP, making the saffron party, which had finished a poor third in the Assembly polls, the main Opposition, two more SDF legislators on Wednesday joined the ruling Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM).
This leaves SDF chief Pawan Kumar Chamling, whose over 24-year tenure up to May this year makes him the country’s longest-serving chief minister, as the party’s only MLA.
On Wednesday, G T Dhungel and E M Prasad Sharma joined SKM, which had won 17 seats — against SDF’s 15 —in the most closely contested Assembly polls in the Himalayan state’s history.
Three MLAs — Chamling; D T Lepcha, elected on an SDF ticket who has now joined BJP; and state minister Kunga Lima Lepcha of SKM — won from two constituencies each, necessitating bypolls to these seats.
Chief Minister P S Golay, who did not contest the Assembly polls, will also have to get elected to the 32-member House. The SDF, in fact, had a chance of dislodging the Golay government had it won all three seats in the by-elections.
State’s first brush with instability?
Defection of 10 SDF MLAs to the BJP has thrown Sikkim’s politics into great uncertainty. The Pawan Kumar Chamling-led SDF, which governed the state for more than two decades, lost narrowly to P S Golay’s SKM. In many seats, the number of NOTA votes was more than the margin of victory. The bypolls were expected to throw up a clearer winner but the BJP’s entry in the fray has created uncertainty for the ruling party. After 25 years of one stable government, Sikkim is grappling with a bout of political instability.
While political circles in Sikkim hint at an “underlying strategy” in the defection to BJP, claiming that the MLAs have been ostensibly “given on loan to the BJP” to stem SKM’s rise in state politics, former Lok Sabha MP and senior SDF leader P D Rai dismissed the claims. He, however, said the party maintains cordial relations with the BJP.
“We are a part of the NDA and our Rajya Sabha MP will continue to support BJP and the NDA,” Rai said. “Sikkim has historically had a tradition of Opposition members going towards the ruling party, or in this case a stronger party. It’s nothing new.”
Alleging that his former party leaders were unnerved by “widespread violence” unleashed by SKM cadres, Rai said they “probably felt safer being with a party in power at the Centre”.
Chamling remained unavailable for a comment.
Rai maintained that the departures do not mean an end to SDF. “Mr Chamling is still there and he will continue to work and fight for the people. Our cadre base is intact and strong. Besides, we still have over 1,000 panchayats, zila parishads and urban local bodies with us, which are not going to the polls for another year-and-a-half.”
Calling the decision by 10 MLAs to join BJP “strategically a good move by SDF”, a party leader said, “It’s the SKM that’s worried at this point of time”.
SKM general secretary Bikash Basnet dismissed these claims and said the ruling party has full support of the people of Sikkim. He also said that national parties have traditionally played no role in the state’s politics. “So we are not worried. What has happened only shows inability of the SDF leadership…soon as they lost power, they were unable to hold on to their MLAs for even 90 days,” Basnet said.