JAC in Singtam again on May 8 to celebrate 50 years of Tripartite Agreement

Gangtok: A month after brutal mob attack on Joint Action Council’s (JAC) general secretary Keshav Sapkota in Singtam town of Sikkim, the civil organisation is set to return to the area to observe the 50th anniversary of the historic May 8, 1973 Tripartite Agreement.

The Tripartite Agreement signed on May 8, 1973 — between the Indian Union, last King of Sikkim Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal and representatives of the political parties in Sikkim — laid the foundation for democracy and made way for the erstwhile kingdom of Sikkim to join the Indian Union.

To commemorate the day, the JAC has invited Sikkim Governor Lakshman Prasad Acharya as chief guest while promising to send invitations to Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Golay as well as to every other political parties in the State. However, issuing an advisory, JAC urged, “Come as a Sikkimese, keeping political affiliations aside.”

Addressing a press conference in Gangtok on Sunday, JAC vice presidents Duk Nath Nepal and Passang Sherpa highlighted the commemorative event on May 8 to be a reminder to “the 140 crore Indians about the solemn promise made by India to protect the distinct identity of Sikkimese, as recorded in Article 371F, the sequel of the May 8, 1973 tripartite agreement”.

JAC has been protesting against the expansion of ‘Sikkimese’ definition under the amended Section 10 (26AAA) of Income Tax Act 1961, which was passed recently by the Indian Parliament through the Finance Act 2023. Old settlers, who were domiciled in Sikkim before the merger date, and their descendants have been included in the ‘Sikkimese’ definition eligible for income tax exemption.

JAC spokesperson Duk Nath Nepal mentioned, “It is almost accepted that the Sikkimese term has been diluted through the Finance Act 2023 even though the State government and Centre insists that the expansion is only for income tax purpose. The 1973 tripartite agreement guarantees the protection of Sikkimese through Article 371F, the mini Constitution for Sikkim within the Indian Constitution.”

JAC vice president Passang Sherpa added, “The 1973 tripartite agreement was historic for Sikkim. It was on this day that the Sikkimese got an opportunity to take part in the policy decision making process and thus, democracy was ushered in Sikkim. The tripartite agreement promised the protection of the distinct identity of Sikkimese and who the Sikkimese are have also been clearly defined and protected under Article 371F. However, the Finance Act 2023 has added a new group of citizens in this definition distorting our identity.”

On celebrating the event once again in Singtam, Sherpa shared, “Yes, it is connected to some extent because our earlier programme was sabotaged that day. Recovery must be done from the same spot. From Singtam, we want to seek justice for the 7 lakh Sikkimese from the 140 crore Indians. We want to remind the 140 crore Indians that they had promised to protect our distinct Sikkimese identity through the 1973 Tripartite Agreement. We will also write to all the Chief Ministers of different States and appeal to them to honour the promise made by India while merging Sikkim with India.”

Away from the non-permitted April 8 event in Singtam, this time JAC has got permission from the administration and police to conduct the May 8 event at Singtam. “Last time, we were criticized for not taking the authorization but this time we have got permission from police who has promised protection for the event. On April 8, the rally could not take off as a mob attacked the JAC members during which JAC general secretary Keshav Sapokta was severely assaulted despite police presence.”

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On inviting the Governor as the chief guest, JAC maintained, “Governor is the constitutional head of Sikkim with special powers, it is his decision whether to attend the event or not. We are also inviting Chief Minister PS Golay as the elected head of the people. We are also inviting all political parties, NGOs, community-based organizations and people from various walks of life but all must come as Sikkimese without any political affiliation.”

Also Read | May 8, 1973 Agreement: Sikkim’s long road to democracy

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