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BJP seeks to make footprint in Sikkim ruled largely by regional parties

BJP to go solo in Sikkim Assembly polls after severing ties with SKM

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GANGTOK, April 3: The BJP is trying to make a footprint in Sikkim by riding on the wave of nationalism and welfare measures in the Himalayan state, which has been ruled largely by regional parties since its merger with India five decades ago.

The saffron party decided to go alone in the Sikkim Assembly polls after severing its alliance with the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) led by chief minister Prem Singh Tamang last month after the seat-sharing talks broke down on the latter’s reluctance to meet the BJP’s demand for a respectable number of seats.

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The BJP had 12 MLAs in the outgoing Sikkim Assembly with ten of them being defectors from the opposition Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF), while two others had won assembly bypolls held in October 2019 in alliance with the SKM.

Five of those 12 MLAs have deserted the party with three of them joining the SKM and will contest the Assembly elections on the SKM symbol.

Of the remaining seven BJP MLAs, only two have been given tickets to contest the assembly polls.

The BJP is contesting 30 Assembly seats and the lone Lok Sabha seat in Sikkim.

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Elections to the 32-member Sikkim Assembly and the one lone Lok Sabha seat in the state will be held on April 19.

BJP Sikkim unit president DR Thapa, who was elected on SDF ticket from Upper Burtuk assembly constituency in 2019 and was the architect of defection of 10 MLAs from his erstwhile party to the BJP, is confident that the people of Sikkim will repose trust in the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and elect the saffron party in the state in line with their aspiration to join national mainstream and reap the fruits of development and welfare measures.

“The people of Sikkim want to establish an emotional connection with the rest of India by being a partner in the ongoing development process underway at the national level under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership,” Thapa said at party meetings.

“Sikkim is a strategically important state which must have a strong government to protect the rights of the people and usher in a seamless development aligned with national aspirations,” he said.

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The BJP state unit president has been very critical of the SKM government charging it with corruption, misrule and financial mismanagement, besides abetting violence against political adversaries.

The SKM has been restrained in taking on the local BJP despite the latter making serious charges against it apparently to keep ajar the door for post-poll alliance.

However, Kala Rai, the SKM candidate from Upper Burtuk against Thapa, made a scathing attack on the BJP saying: “the lotus does not bloom in hills” apparently hinting at BJP’s defeat in the elections in Sikkim.

The other opposition parties, Sikkim Democratic Front and the Citizen Action Party (CAP), have been more strident in criticism of the BJP and have urged the people of Sikkim to keep it at away from power otherwise the special status and old laws of Sikkim protected under article 371 (F) of the constitution will be diluted beyond recognition if it gets power in the state.

The regional parties have been fuming with rage at the expansion of the definition of ‘Sikkimese’ people beyond indigenous Lepcha, Bhutia and Nepali people by including descendants of old settlers living in Sikkim till 1975 in the new Finance Act, of 2023.

The BJP has defended the decision saying that it was done to provide income tax exemption only to the descendants of old settlers.

All regional parties, including the SKM, have been wary and uncomfortable with the BJP’s outreach bid in Sikkim apprehending that the socio-cultural and political rights of indigenous people will be affected in the state which has a significant number of Christian and Buddhist people.

The BJP’s electoral track record in Sikkim till the 2019 assembly polls has been abysmal.

The saffron party had made a foray in electoral politics of Sikkim in 1994 by contesting three seats and losing security deposit in all three seats.

In the 2019 elections, it had contested 12 assembly seats and polled 5,700 votes in all and losing security deposit in all seats. (PTI)

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