Sikkimese feel betrayed as Article 371F violation’: Chamling

Gangtok: According to Article 371F, only the descendants of Sikkim subjects whose names were mentioned in the 1961 register are Sikkimese with rights to own land, get state government jobs

BY | Sunday, 9 April, 2023
SDF supremo Pawan Kumar Chamling (Credit: @pawanchamling5/Twitter)

SDF supremo Pawan Kumar Chamling claimed that the Sikkimese people feel betrayed as Article 371F, which guarantees special provisions for Sikkim, was “violated”.

The former chief minister, in a telephonic interview with PTI, also alleged Sikkim had become a hotbed for political violence and sought President’s rule to ensure a free and fair election in 2024.

According to Article 371F, only the descendants of Sikkim subjects (those who lived in the state before its merger with India) whose names were mentioned in the 1961 register are Sikkimese with rights to own land, get state government jobs. They were also exempted from paying income tax.

“But now, the Financial Bill, 2023 redefines Sikkimese as any Indian citizen domiciled in Sikkim, extending to them the same benefits as that of the original inhabitants whose forefathers’ names were in the 1961 register,” Chamling said.

“This violates Article 371F, which was the basis for the merger of Sikkim with India in 1975. People of Sikkim feel betrayed as the special provisions extended to them have been taken away,” he said. Analysts feel the main concern of Sikkim’s politicians is that land rights which are now enjoyed by only those Sikkimese whose parents were subjects of the earlier princely kingdom will be extended to any Indian domiciled in the Himalayan state.

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Asked whether this will be a major poll issue, he said, “People are very angry over the issue. We have a very small population of only 6-7 lakh and we fear we will be swamped by settlers within 2-3 years,” he said.

Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang, better known as P S Golay, however, said in a Facebook post that Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, during a recent meeting, assured him that the amendment was only related to income tax exemption and the original definition of Sikkimese will always be respected.

Chamling also claimed that politics in Sikkim has become “violent” after the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) government came to power in.

Chamling alleged that Golay, in his SKM Foundation Day speech on February 4, had called upon party workers to attack members of opposition parties, and since then 68 SDF workers and leaders have been injured in violence perpetrated by the ruling party and opposition party offices have been vandalised.

“Earlier, Sikkim was peaceful and adjoining Darjeeling Hills was restive. Now, there has been a role reversal. Stone-pelting happens in our state like Kashmir Valley. So much unrest in a sensitive border state like Sikkim is not good for national security,” he said.

“If the Centre and the ECI want next year’s elections to be free and fair in Sikkim they must impose President’s Rule in the state before the polls,” he said.

If voted to power in 2024, Chamling said he would restore peace in Sikkim, bring down unemployment, which he claimed has risen to 24 per cent from 3 per cent during his rule, and complete pending projects.

“There has been an economic disaster in Sikkim. The present government has gone on a borrowing spree. There has been no proper maintenance of the infrastructure built during my rule The condition of roads is bad. People are not getting basic minimum facilities like electricity and water. The tourist inflow has reduced to 4-5 lakh annually from 17 lakh in 2016-17,” he said.

The SDF supremo said people’s response to his Sikkim Bachao Yatra has been “positive” and they appreciated finding their old CM with them in the “current times”.

Asked whether he fears poaching of MLAs may take place after 2024 polls, in a repeat of 2019, he said, “Anything can happen in Sikkim now. The present CM was debarred from contesting polls for six years but ECI allowed that.”

“However, this time, I will go to the people and seek their opinion before giving tickets to candidates. Most of our nominees will be young people,” he said.

The SDF, which ruled Sikkim for 25 years at a stretch, managed to win 15 seats in the 32-member assembly in 2019 polls, just two less than SKM’s 17.

However, all the winning SDF candidates, barring Chamling, deserted the camp and joined the BJP and SKM, leaving the former CM as the only opposition member in the House.

Golay was convicted in a corruption case when he was a minister in Chamling’s cabinet in the nineties. He was sentenced to one year in prison in 2016, which he served and was released in August, 2018.

Golay was debarred from contesting polls for six years from the date of his conviction but he approached the ECI, seeking exemption under Section 8 of the Representation of People Act, which reduced the debarment period to a year. Following which he contested and won a by-election.

Written by Aishik Chanda

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