Democracy has hit a new low in Sikkim, and I am not surprised
Sikkim-JAC attacked before protest rally

I might as well save your time and re-share the article I wrote on February 4

The weather may have changed, but even as Sikkim witnesses unseasonal snow in some parts, it is clear that at least politically, the weather is hotter than ever. As a journalist, there are few things that I love more than the heat of politics: I was in Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland during the election season and believe me, there are few things in life as fascinating as seeing democracy in action and political parties going toe-to-toe against each other. 

But what is happening in Sikkim is not democracy in action: instead, we are witnessing a slow but sure strangulation of democracy. Saturday’s incident, when a well-known civil rights activist was attacked by goons, is a chilling reminder of how far Sikkim has fallen. There was a time when crimes were virtually unheard of in my state, today, it repeats with alarming regularity. I would have accepted it as a part and parcel of modern India had this been limited to political parties leaving no stone unturned to settle political scores. But it has gone beyond that too: Keshav Sapkota was attacked by unidentified miscreants who objected to the assertion of being Sikkimese. 

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Let me explain. 

In January, the Supreme Court issued its judgement on a decade-old case related to tax filing for old settlers in the state. 

The apex court struck down the exclusion of Indian settlers who had permanently settled in Sikkim before 26.04.1975 from the definition of “Sikkimese” in Section 10(26AAA) of the Income Tax Act, 1961. The apex court also said that in “Provision to Section 10(26AAA) in so far as it excludes from the exempted category, “a Sikkimese woman, who marries a non-Sikkimese after 01.04.2008” is hereby struck down being ultra vires to Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution of India.

For the uninitiated, Section 10(26AAA) covers the income of a Sikkimese individual arising either in Sikkim or by way of dividends or interest on securities. As per the act, it is not to be included in total income for tax calculation.

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What has followed since is a sad indictment of how far the Sikkimese society has fallen. Today’s attack on Sapkota is yet another chapter in this, but I would be a fool to say this will be the last. 

You see, over the past few years, Sikkim has slowly but efficiently shed its image of being a peaceful, welcoming state and is in a hurry, it seems, to become as intolerable of dissent as possible. We saw this in 2021 when innocent students were expelled and their futures put in danger because they ‘dared’ question the delay behind their college construction. Political violence has become so common in the state that it no longer makes news. Over the past few months, the protests have turned violent on more than one occasion and yet, we seem to be in a hurry to glance over all this. 

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I am not going to waste my time, or words, trying to explain who is behind the attack on Sapkota. Such incidents cannot take place without support from those in power. This has all the markings of people knowing what was going to happen, and choosing to ignore or act surprised. I can also be pretty sure that barring a few arrests, nothing else will happen to address such acts of violence because doing so will not help those in power. The issue at hand has overwhelming support from the Sikkimese people. Yet, when a rally is taken out in this support, it is attacked in public. If this had happened in UP and Bihar, journalists would have rushed to call this an example of Jungle Raj. How many people need to be attacked before we use similar terms for Sikkim?

Those familiar with Sikkim’s history are also too aware that the fall of every ‘stable’ government has been preceded by violence: it happened towards Nar Bahadur Bhandari’s last days as CM. The last days under Pawan Chamling were similar. Current chief minister Prem Singh Golay has done good things for the state but has shown little to indicate that he has violence under control. If anything, he has time and again forgotten that he is the state’s, not a political party’s, chief minister. 

Help sustain honest journalism.

When the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha celebrated its 11th foundation day in Namchi town under Namchi district on Saturday, the CM promised to SKM supporters that he will now work ‘more as SKM President than Sikkim CM’. Why? Because the opposition called for a state-wide bandh. And why did the opposition do so? To protest against the SC order, which, interestingly, even SKM opposed. 

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Today’s event should be seen as a dark day in Sikkim’s history. We have reached a stage where even civil society members are not safe from hooligans and when having opposing views is enough to attack and maim people. But today’s violence will soon be overshadowed by fresh violence.

The Himalayan State, unfortunately, is taking a turn for the worse and as someone proud of his Sikkimese identity, I cannot help but feel disheartened, disillusioned and disappointed. 

Also Read | Never a better time for northeast states to settle border disputes

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