New Delhi: On Tuesday, 10 of the 15 MLAs of Sikkim Democratic Front joined the Bharatiya Janata Party in New Delhi, making the latter the main opposition party in the Sikkim assembly and pushing it closer than ever of achieving the majority mark there.
In the 32-member assembly, the BJP needs just seven more seats to topple the present government, led by Sikkim Krantikari Morcha supremo Prem Singh Tamang, better known as P.S. Golay.
The BJP had failed to open its account in the state election barely four months ago. In the polls, the SDF lost power after 25 years by just two seats to the SKM, its bête noire. BJP has increasingly been known for ‘poaching’ opposition members to establish itself as a force worth noting across the country.
This is effectively the very same strategy that BJP used to seize power in Arunachal Pradesh in 2016, with the help of rebel Congress MLAs. The copybook similarity of the events which unfolded in Karnataka bear further testament.
In the case of Arunachal, the Supreme Court had declared the government formed by the rebel MLAs (and supported by BJP) illegal. However, within days, the rebel MLAs had joined BJP and formed a government under the leadership of Pema Khandu. Khandu himself had won the 2014 assembly polls on a Congress ticket.
Events leading up to the Sikkim development had come thick and fast.
On July 12, the Supreme Court, responding to a petition filed by an SDF member, sought responses from the Central and Sikkim governments as to how Golay could become a chief minister and take important policy decisions in spite of being convicted in a corruption case. He had been released from jail in August 2018.
As per the People’s Representation Act, 1951, a person convicted under Prevention of Corruption Act cannot contest an election for six years, which meant Golay would have had to stay away from active politics till 2024.
Golay, on July 29, wrote to the Election Commission of India (ECI) seeking a waiver of the remaining period of his disqualification under Section 11 of the Act. A senior ECI official was quoted as having told Indian Express, “The request is being examined.”
#Sikkim CM Shri @CM_PremSingh called on Hon’ble PM Shri @narendramodi today. The two leaders discussed various issues concerning Sikkim & the union government. PM Modi assured all necessary support to the state & offered his best wishes to the new CM & his cabinet collegues. pic.twitter.com/kdVDQ5XBZQ
— sikkimgovtipr (@sikkimgovt) June 11, 2019
In the run-up to the April assembly elections, even though SDF was a part of the BJP’s North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), the BJP had entered into a pre-poll alliance with the SKM. Sources among the SDF brass had then told The Wire that though NEDA convener Himanta Biswa Sarma had sought a pre-poll alliance with SDF first, the party had decided not to go ahead with it as “the people of Sikkim would not want a national party to form a state government”.
With SKM having put up a strong fight against Chamling’s SDF government for 25 years, the leader told this correspondent that SDF “didn’t want to take a chance with the alliance”.
SKM soon walked out of the alliance for the same reason. SKM spokesperson Jacob Khaling had told The Wire then that the party soon realised that BJP would not be preferred by the voters “for its support to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.”
However, just days after taking oath, Golay travelled to Delhi to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national president Amit Shah among other leaders. Modi also congratulated Golay on Twitter on becoming Sikkim chief minister in May.
Congratulations to Shri Prem Singh Tamang on taking oath as Sikkim’s Chief Minister. I assure full support from the Centre in furthering Sikkim’s development.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) May 27, 2019
Soon after, rumours began circulating of a mass defection. In Gangtok on August 13, top SDF leaders, including its former MP P.D. Rai, held a press conference. The leaders said they would come out with a more detailed reaction to the development after “the party has a meeting”.
However, an SDF leader, still in the Chamling camp, said, “It is now to be seen whether Golay makes some vital compromises to hold on to his chair or if the BJP uses the Act to result in more defections and eventually form a state government.”
Prior to the 25 years of Chamling rule, Sikkim saw Nar Bahadur Bhandari in the chief minister’s chair for 15 years – first as the chief of Sikkim Janata Parishad and then of Sikkim Sangram Parishad.
However, with the trouncing of the latter in 1994, the Chamling regime was ushered in and Bhandari shifted based to the Congress. The Congress, under him, tried its utmost to form a state government but failed. If the BJP manages to form a government in Sikkim, it will be the first government in a state by a national party.