Saturday, Sep 23, 2023 07:15 [IST]
Last Update: Saturday, Sep 23, 2023 01:51 [IST]
GANGTOK,: Former Chief Minister Pawan Chamling on Friday announced that the SDF 2.0 is approaching the 2024 Assembly election as a “referendum to save Sikkim and Sikkimese distinct identity”. This “do or die election”, he asserted, arrived for the Sikkimese due to alleged systematic demolition of Article 371F under the SKM government.
“The 2024 election is not to form the government. It is a referendum to save Sikkim, to save our old laws, our land, and our distinct identity. It is a “do or die” election,” said Chamling. He was addressing the celebrations organised by the SDF party on his 73rd birthday at the party head-office here, Indira Bypass.
‘Don’t exchange Sikkim’s future with temporary benefits in 2024’
In his three-hour long speech, the former Chief Minister referred to various Central policies and legislations like ONORC, Citizenship Amendment Act, Registration of Births and Deaths (amendment) Act, and Finance Act 2023 that were enforced or being implemented in Sikkim in alleged violation of Article 371F. He blamed the PS Golay-led government for not protecting the Sikkimese rights as provided under Article 371F while allowing these Central laws into the State.
Chamling was particularly critical of the SKM government on the amendment in Income Tax Act 1961 earlier this year that expands the ‘Sikkimese’ definition for income tax exemption, as directed by the Supreme Court on the AOSS petition.
The SDF president reiterated that two more categories were added in the ‘Sikkimese’ definition under Article 14 (equality before law) though it is in conflict with Article 371F wherein the ‘Sikkimese’ definition applies to only those having Sikkim Subject Certificates or Certificates of Identification.
“Now a new category of Sikkimese has been added under Article 14, at the outset they have got income tax exemption and later, they can buy lands in Sikkim, get jobs and all those privileges that are being provided to the Sikkim Subject holders. The Supreme Court has redefined the ‘Sikkimese’ identity and for this, the present government is responsible,” he said.
Based on this issue, the SDF’s election stand in 2024 would be to seek a ‘revisit’ of the terms and conditions of Sikkim’s merger with India in 1975. Our stand is that there should be a status quo on the merger terms and conditions as enshrined in Article 371F for protection of Sikkim’s distinct identity and the special constitutional privileges of the Sikkimese people, he said.
“Whatever rights were given to the Sikkimese during the 1975 merger under Article 371F, we want those rights to remain forever. We don’t want anything more than that. We want rule of Sikkimese in Sikkim and the SDF 2.0 is fighting the 2024 election with this agenda to save Sikkim.”
Chamling appealed to the Sikkimese electorate not to “exchange Sikkim and future of their children” with government benefits in 2024 when the existence of Sikkim itself is at stake.
“Coming election is not about giving votes for temporary employment, housing schemes and government benefits. It is about saving Sikkim, don’t exchange Sikkim and future of your children with such things. If the right to employment goes away, your children will never get a job in future, if there is no land where you will make your house? Tapai haru lai paap lagcha. The biggest thing is our rights, identity, respect and future,” thundered the SDF president.
‘SKM silent on merger talks happening on other side’
Chamling, in his speech, strongly criticized the SKM government on various fronts and claimed that Sikkim took a destructive path in these four and half years. He maintained that the people can pack up their beddings and belongings if the SKM is re-elected in 2024.
“Sikkim ran into an accident when it gave the government to the wrong leadership in 2019. If the people repeat this mistake, it will be the end of Sikkim…Sikkim would not be found in the Indian map. We merged Sikkim with India and now they are trying to merge Sikkim with Bengal and demote the State to a district,” said the SDF president.
Chamling mentioned that slogans of Sikkim-Darjeeling merger are being heard from the other side but there is no response from the Sikkim government. Silence is taken as a support and Sikkim is being prepared to become a district of Bengal, he said. He pointed out that the SDF government in 2011 passed a resolution for a separate State of Gorkhaland with an intention to keep Sikkim away from such merger talks.
“By doing so, my relationship with the ruling party of Bengal was damaged but I took this huge risk to extract Sikkim from such merger talks. I am ready to take enmity with the world to save Sikkim.” he said.
“SKM has crony capitalists, SDF is with working class”
Chamling asserted that the SDF 2.0 is connected with the youth, villagers and working class of the Sikkimese society while accusing the SKM government of “looting Sikkim’ with its coterie of capitalists and gangsters.
“The SKM is running a crony capitalist government. About 50 of close confidants are reaping a windfall from the State’s budget and loans but there is no money to pay the bills of small contractors, to repair basic infrastructure and to stimulate trade activities. All the money of Sikkim is taken beyond Rangpo by these capitalist friends of this government in connivance with a few bureaucrats and technocrats. But I ask them today, where would you go? There is no place on earth for them, they won’t get a place in heaven, nobody will be spared for the kind of loot they are doing in Sikkim,” said Chamling.
Chamling promised to release the pending payments of the small contractors on the very first day of SDF 2.0 government if his party is elected to power in 2024. “Besides this, we will allocate 70% of the State Budget to rural Sikkim. This government works for outsiders, our government will be of the people of Sikkim. Bring our government in 2024, the owners of Sikkim Budget would be the Sikkimey Janata,” he said.
“SDF removed poverty from Sikkim”
Chamling spoke about several developmental achievements recorded by the SDF government during its 25 years rule. Among them, he said, was removal of extreme poverty and creation of a new neo-middle class in Sikkim.
“When we came to government in 1994, Sikkim had 42% poverty and by the time we left the government, there was only 4% poverty in the State. We uplifted the poor to a new class of neo-middle class,” said the former Chief Minister.
“Despite all the good work we did, people ousted us from the government in 2019 because the SKM lured them through unbelievable promises like making Sikkim a ‘Ram Rajya’ within 100 days, tribal status for the left-out communities within 100 days, and Limboo-Tamang seats within 10 days. Dreams were given to the people, so much so that people lost their senses. I request the people not to lose their senses again with similar tall promises being made by the present government. Take responsibility and do not be betrayed again,” said Chamling.
He directed the SDF workers to intensively reach out to the people with the agendas and ideologies of the party as elections are taking place within 5-6 months. “Go out and reach out to the people with the Sikkim Bachao Abhiyan. We have only six months left, work day and night and keep your personal issues aside to work for Sikkim,” he said.