Winning the Lok Sabha or assembly polls in Sikkim has eluded the national parties for the past four decades since the state came into being. It has been the regional parties - Sikkim Sangram Parishad (SSP) of Nar Bahadur Bhandari and Sikkim Democratic Front(SDF) of Pawan Kumar Chamling which have won the lone Lok Sabha seat and the state assembly since 1979.
In an exception, in the first Lok Sabha polls held in Sikkim in 1977, two years after its merger with India, the Congress had won unopposed to the Parliament. In respect to the assembly polls, it has tasted limited success so far. The party had won an assembly seat in 1984, two in 1994 and alone one in 2004.
The BJP is yet to open its account in the 32-member assembly of the Himalayan state. The fortunes of parties like the CPI, CPI-M, Trinamool Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), who have contested in Sikkim at various times, have been equally disappointing so far with more than 60 per cent candidates of all national parties forfeiting their deposits since 1979.
Asked, a BJP senior leader said that strong regional sentiments among the people, who feel more comfortable with local leaders have led to the complete rout of the national parties in the polls in the state. "The regional parties like the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front have milked the vulnerabilities of the local people to their advantage by telling them that if the national parties come to power in the state they will abrogate Article 371(F), which protects their rights and provides special provisions for Sikkim," he said.
"We have been unsuccessful so far in convincing that we will safeguard their rights," the BJP leader said, adding, it would require more interaction between the party's leadership and the people for any headway in the electoral politics of Sikkim. This time the party is repeating its foray in the state assembly polls despite the previous debacles and has put up candidates in 12 seats as well as in the lone Lok Sabha seat.
The Sikkim National Peoples Party (SNPP) president Delay Barfungpa confirms the analysis of the BJP leader. "We cannot trust the national parties to protect Article 371F," Barfungpa said. The Sikkim PCC president Bharat Basnett felt that the national parties have not given enough importance to Sikkim because it has "just one Lok Sabha seat".
"It is the national parties' indifference towards Sikkim, its people and issues which have prevented them from making inroads in the state's politics," he said. Basnett, who is the party's candidate for the lone Lok Sabha seat this time, said Congress had done important things for Sikkim like granting special status to it under Article 371F and inclusion of Nepalese language under the eighth schedule of Constitution.
"Yet the Sikkimese people have not reposed confidence in the Congress, elections after elections, for decades," he said. He also blamed the regional ruling parties for creating a fear psychosis among the people against the national parties saying they will snatch the special status if allowed to rule Sikkim.
The SDF spokesperson Bhim Dahal, agrees that the Sikkimese people are not comfortable with the national parties when it comes to voting for them in elections. "The national parties like the Congress and BJP have paid only lip service to the aspirations of Sikkim while ruling at the Centre ... The tendency of the central government to sit on important demands of the Sikkimese people for decades have led to strong undercurrent against them among the local people," he said.
Dahal, a former Lok Sabha MP, cited the issue of delay in a reservation of assembly seats for the Limboo and Tamang communities as an example of the national parties' apathy towards Sikkim. As long as the national parties continue to remain indifferent towards Sikkim it is unlikely that the Sikkimese people will trust them, he added.
The SSP had been in power in the state since 1979 to 1994, while the ruling SDF under Pawan Kumar Chamling has held the tight reins of the state since 1994. Chamling is the longest-serving chief minister of the Himalayan state and is looking forward to returning to power for the sixth consecutive term.
Polling for the 32-member assembly and the lone Lok Sabha seat will be held on April 11.
(With inputs from agencies.)