The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which secured just 1.62 per cent of the votes in the recent Assembly elections in Sikkim, has suddenly found itself to be the main opposition in the State Assembly, after 10 MLAs of the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) defected to the saffron party in Delhi on August 13.
The SDF had lost to the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) by a narrow margin, securing 15 seats in the 32-member Sikkim Assembly as against the SKM’s 17. Though it won 15 seats, the SDF had in effect only 13 MLAs, with two SDF legislators being elected from two constituencies simultaneously.
The SDF, which had ruled the State for five consecutive terms, even secured the maximum voting percentage in the elections, 47.63 per cent (the SKM got 47 per cent), but in a bizarre turn of events it is now not even the main opposition in the State.
SDF supremo Pawan Chamling, who has the distinction of being the longest serving Chief Minister in the country (25 years), has not joined the BJP; he is the only MLA from his party. Two other MLAs had earlier rebelled against the party diktat and had distanced themselves from the SDF.
The BJP, on the other hand, which was never a factor in Sikkim politics, has emerged as a political force, with it now having the second-highest number of MLAs after the SKM. Addressing a press conference in Delhi, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav said: “The SDF was in power in Sikkim for 25 years, and now most of its MLAs have joined the BJP. We will fulfill the responsibilities of an opposition party in Sikkim and strengthen the organisational base of our party there.”
The SDF leadership, while acknowledging the setback for the party, said that as of now, it was adopting a "wait and watch" policy. "The SDF is a regional party, and even though the times are a little difficult now, we will plod along. It was a fractured mandate here, and for the BJP, which is a strong Central party, the State seemed like a good proposition. We are now in a situation where all we can do is wait and watch. We are not saying what has happened is a good thing; we are not saying it is a bad thing either. It is a story that is developing," senior SDF leader and former Lok Sabha MP P.D. Rai told Frontline . According to him the party has also been observing the reaction of the people on the ground over the recent developments, and that reaction has been "mixed".
While on the one hand the SDF's loss appears to strengthen the position of the SKM, political sources in Sikkim say that the ruling party is also apparently nervous, as quite a number of its MLAs have allegedly shown interest in joining the BJP. "From all these developments, a new political narrative may emerge in Sikkim," said Rai.