New Delhi: Two months after D.B. Chauhan quit as Bharatiya Janata Party’s Sikkim unit president, the party appointed D.R. Thapa in his position. The appointment comes at a time when there’s general disenchantment within the Sikkim BJP state unit about the central leadership’s purported lack of involvement in the state.
Thapa, a Member of Legislative Assembly from Upper Burtuk who won the 2019 assembly election as a candidate of the Sikkim Democratic Front but switched over to the BJP the same year, is a lawyer by profession.
Sources in the BJP told ThePrint that Thapa was a suitable choice for the post because he was “the most vocal voice in the House” and led from the front during protests against the controversial Supreme Court order last month describing the state’s Nepali Sikkimese population as people of foreign origin.
People who speak Nepali constitute 63 per cent of Sikkim’s total population.
“He (Thapa) formed an alliance for the agitation, which led to Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamag to file a review petition for correction of the remark,” a BJP source told ThePrint. “He belongs to the majority community and he will act as an aggressive leader in preparation for the election which is due in 2024.”
In its order on 13 January, the Supreme Court had asked the central government to amend the definition of ‘Sikkimese’ in Section 10 (26AAA) of the Income Tax Act 1961 that provides income tax exemption to all Indian citizens domiciled in Sikkim on or before the merger date of 26 April 1975.
The order recorded the petitioner’s contention that migrants from other countries or erstwhile kingdoms like “Nepalese migrants”, who “migrated to and settled in Sikkim at the same time or even after migrants/settlers of Indian origin”, were benefiting from the law “while arbitrarily excluding settlers of Indian origin such as the petitioners herein”.
Several political parties in Sikkim, including the ruling Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM), protested the remarks, leading the Tamang government to file a review petition in the court.
Thapa’s appointment comes two months after Chauhan quit the BJP president’s post. While quitting, Chauhan accused the BJP high command in Delhi of “apathy” and ignoring the interest of the Sikkim BJP unit.
The BJP has also appointed N.K. Subba, a former minister in the Pawan Kumar Chamling government, is the head of the legislature party. Among Chauhan’s allegations as he quit was that the BJP had no time to even appoint a legislature party leader — a post that has been vacant since 2019.
Speaking to ThePrint after his appointment, Subba said the BJP took some time to come to appoint the two leaders but “now our combination will fight election aggressively and expand party footprint in the state”.
A BJP leader who didn’t want to be named told ThePrint that Thapa was from the upper caste, which constitutes 20 per cent of the state’s population. Subba, on the other hand, is a tribal leader and tribes constitute over 30 per cent of the state’s population.
“This, combined with Thapa’s aggressive style of functioning and Subba’s experience, will work in our favour,” the leader told ThePrint.
The appointments come less than two years of the assembly elections in Sikkim. The BJP currently has 12 legislators in the state’s 32-member assembly.
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When he quit the BJP in December, Chauhan accused the party’s central leadership of “apathy”.
“I am resigning from the post of the Sikkim BJP president after getting totally disillusioned with the central leadership’s indifference to sort out various issues affecting the functioning of the party’s state unit,” he said.
The crux of Chauhan’s ire was that the party’s high command had not paid heed to the state unit’s “rightful demand” of joining the Prem Singh Tamang-led Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) government, even though the regional party was purportedly on board with the idea.
B.D. Chauhan was serving the second out of his two successive terms as the state president of the BJP when he resigned.
It was during his tenure that the BJP got a foothold in the state, starting with the defection of 10 MLAs from the Pawan Chamling-led SDF to the BJP in August 2019. A couple of months later that year, the BJP also won a by-election to two out of three assembly seats, finally making it a significant political force in the state.
Speaking to ThePrint then, BJP Sikkim general secretary Sudeep Pradhan said he was aware that the BJP MLAs wanted to join the government, but that the high command may have had “other” considerations. The CM, he added, had appointed several BJP MLAs as advisors.
A former party in charge of Sikkim told ThePrint that the BJP faced two “basic problems” in the state — one flowing from the CM and the other from within the party.
“The first was that we wanted to be a part of the government, but the CM was not willing to give ministerial posts to BJP legislators. Instead, he offered seven BJP MLAs the post of ‘advisor’,” the BJP leader said.
The second problem, he claimed, was due to the BJP’s high command. “The leadership in Delhi was not interested in pressing the issue (of ministerial berths for MLAs). They thought that the CM was listening to every word of the BJP anyway so they wanted to continue with the arrangement as it was.”
This BJP leader also claimed that the party’s high command was not devoting enough attention to “rising conversions to Christianity” in the state. “We have placed this issue before the high command many times, but they kept mum on it. We have to choose which side we want to be on.”
Another BJP MLA from Sikkim added that the party was in limbo in the state— not quite a part of the ruling dispensation, and nor a member of the opposition.
“Largely in the northeast, politics run on sharing power. Whichever party is in power in Delhi either aligns with the state’s ruling party or sits in the opposition. The BJP hasn’t taken either of these positions. Neither are we in the opposition and nor are we in the government, despite having 12 MLAs,” he said.
When asked about friction with the BJP, SKM MLA Bishnu Kumar Sharma denied it.
“The SKM’s relationship with the BJP is very cordial and the CM respects the leadership. It is up to the BJP central leadership whether or not they want to be part of the government, but the CM has given advisor posts to BJP MLAs,” Sharma said.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)
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