India

Ten SDF MLAs in party, BJP emerges main opposition in Sikkim

Ten SDF MLAs in party, BJP emerges main opposition in Sikkim

With 10 MLAs of the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) joining the BJP on Tuesday, the saffron party is in a position where it can look to form the government in the eastern Himalayan state, despite finishing a poor third in the Assembly polls in April this year.

The SDF, spearheaded by former chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling, was defeated by the relatively new Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM), led by Chamling’s one-time protégé and now arch-rival P S Golay.

The SKM won 17 seats in the 32-member House, just two more than SDF’s 15. Having drawn a blank, and less than 2 per cent of the votes polled, the BJP has now emerged as the largest opposition, and is positioned to put up a fight in three constituencies that are scheduled to go to the bypolls before November this year.

In Gangtok, the SDF leadership said it will “wait and watch’’ the “complex’’ situation. The SKM did not comment on the development. The MLAs met BJP working president J P Nadda and joined the party in the presence of BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, who is in charge of the party’s affairs in the Northeast.

Two SDF MLAs, including ex-CM Chamling and D T Lepcha (who has now joined BJP), had won from two seats and resigned from one each, reducing the party’s strength to 13 in the Assembly. The third seat has been vacated by SKM minister Kunga Lima Lepcha, who also won from two constituencies.

Addressing the media in Gangtok on Tuesday, senior SDF leaders P D Rai and K T Gyaltsen said: “We want to wait and watch the situation. The issue is complex. We can neither welcome it, nor condemn it outright without giving consideration to the circumstances in which this development has taken place.”

Among the 10 who joined the BJP are Dorjee Tshering Lepcha, a five-term MLA and three-time minister in the Chamling governments, and three-term MLA Ugen Gyatso. Lepcha said they were impressed with the Narendra Modi government’s Look East policy. “This is the first time that MLAs of a regional party in Sikkim has joined a national party en bloc…. We want the Lotus to bloom in Sikkim,” he said, referring to the BJP’s poll symbol.

Sources in SKM said rumour about SDF legislators switching to the BJP first emerged a month ago, when the MLAs were camping in New Delhi. Despite a failed attempt at an alliance with the BJP ahead of the Assembly elections, Golay, now the Chief Minister, has been alluding to his party’s “closeness” to the saffron party in various public meetings over the past month.

Golay has also visited Delhi several times since his party’s victory, ostensibly to get the BJP’s support in order to be able to fight the bypolls. Golay was convicted on corruption charges under the previous SDF government and spent a year in jail – he was released in August 2018. He can fight the by-elections only if allowed by the Election Commission of India.