Often referred to as the “greenest chief minister” of India, Pawan Kumar Chamling is to Sikkim politics what Bhaichung Bhutia is to Indian football. Chamling’s Sikkim Democratic Front has ruled the lands and hearts of the picturesque North-Eastern State without knowing any bounds. For Sikkim, and the rest of India, his achievements as a politician make him a superstar—in the fickle world of Indian politics, Chamling has been the Chief Minister of Sikkim for 25 years without a break, the ‘longest reign’ ever.
Born poor, live rich
Born in a poor peasant family in Sikkim he dropped out of school, worked as a writer-constable in the police department for three years. Chamling is a farmer-turned-policeman-turned-politician, while also being a celebrated poet. Pawan Chamling soon quit his job to work for the people in his village and for the society at large. This is where Chamling’s political interest and enthusiasm set its roots, and he decided to take this Himalayan state to new heights.
Sikkim preparing for Chamling
Starting 1642 until 1890, Sikkim was under the rule of the Chogyal dynasty. In 1890, under the rule of the British, it became a “protectorate” state, meaning that it had to be administered under the jurisdiction of the British while acting as a buffer state between China and British India. In 1947, Sikkim became a part of India, handing over its foreign policy, security, and communication into India’s realm. Yet, Sikkim firmly retained its independence.
Until 1975, Sikkim, which shares a border with Nepal, China and Bhutan, was a Protectorate, governed by a monarchy which was more than 300 years old. Sikkim remained an independent country till 1975. As the people overthrew the monarchy, India took control of Sikkim in April 1973 as its associate state. On April 9, 1975, the Sikkim Parliament announced the king was deposed and declared that Sikkim had become a part of India through a decisive referendum. On May 16, the Indian parliament officially announced Sikkim, as a state of the democracy of India.
Political life – from rebellion to rule
Pawan Kumar Chamling was elected as the president of Yangang Gram Panchayat in 1982. Chamling joined politics in 1985 and became an MLA by joining the Sikkim Legislative Assembly. In 1989, he succeeded at the elections again by a sweeping 96 percent of the votes. After being elected for the second time from Damthang, he took charge as the Minister for Industries, Information and Public Relations from 1989 to 1992 in the Nar Bahadur Bhandari cabinet.
In 1992, Chamling was a member of Sikkim Sangram Parishad (SSP) in Bhandari’s cabinet. As the lone member in the 32-member assembly, he dramatically staged his rebellion against the CM by holding the famous protest on the floor of the House by lighting a candle, symbolizing “search for democracy” in the “autocratic regime” of Bhandari.
Calling Bhandari an autocrat, he floated his own party, the Sikkimese Democratic Front (SDF), catalyzed public support, and seized power in the 1994 polls. The protest endeared Chamling to the people of the newly-minted state of Sikkim and a ground roots movement of support propelled the farmer-poet to the “throne” and since dethroning Bhandari in 1994, when he started his time as the ‘longest-serving’ chief minister, Chamling has won 5 consecutive terms- 2004, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014 assembly polls, justifying his title as the ‘Greenest Chief Minister’, time and time during his 25 years as the chief minister.
He has been cautious not to allow anyone to sully his image as a champion of democracy. For instance, the day he formed his party he announced that no member of his family would ever join politics, and he has kept his word.
Chamling’s mastery of politics
Headed by Pawan Kumar Chamling, SDF successfully battled anti-incumbency and the “parivartan” (change) cry of the Opposition by ruling on grounds of peace and sustainable development. Known for his love for the environment, Chamling has been bestowed with the title of “greenest chief minister of India”. He made Sikkim the first Indian state to start a green mission and increase its forest cover.
Speaking of community-wise arithmetic, Chamling has undoubtedly got his maths right. Sikkim has a population of more than six lakhs, which is distinctly divided into three definite ethnic groups—the Nepalis, who constitute more than 75 percent, the ethnic tribes, Bhutias, and the Lepchas. Chamling nurtured this constituency among the Nepalis, with more than 70 percent of who belong to the other backward class (OBC) and the remaining to the upper castes over the past three decades. This section of the state’s population has thus stood by and voted diligently for his SDF.
Even his critics admit to no other alternative but to stand united in the idea that Chamling has been rewarded by his voters for bringing about unprecedented development and progress in the state. Sikkim’s GDP growth has consistently been higher than the national average and it’s per capita income is the third-highest among the Indian states and amazingly double of the national average. The population below the poverty line has come down to 8 percent from over 40 percent since Pawan Kumar Chamling took charge of this north-eastern state.
His rule has duly looked into strategic matters of public service, health, and education. Empowerment of the people through decentralization and institutional governance has been one of the highlights of Chamling’s rule. His government offers medical aid to all within the state of Sikkim, completely free of cost. When those who are aided are referred to medical agencies outside the state, the state ensures assistance of Rs.2 lakhs each. In case the patient belongs to the BPL category, the government bears the entire expenditure. The state also proposes free education till college. The state reserves 30 percent of government jobs and higher education for women while 50 percent of seats are reserved for women in urban local bodies and gram panchayats.
The size of the state has definitely added a fortune to Chamling’s governance. His development model relies on exploiting the natural advantages of this Himalayan state, i.e. agriculture and tourism. In another remarkable achievement, Sikkim’s agriculture became 100 percent organic in 2015 and it banned all chemicals and fertilizers in farms. It came out as an affluent producer of cardamoms and the second-largest producer of spices in the world. The state ‘landlocked between the Himalayas’ has secured its spot on the map as a major tourist destination, established itself as an attractive investment area from the pharmaceutical industry, earned self-sufficiency in power generation through hydropower, and is considered as one of the best-managed small states in the country. And unlike other neighboring northeastern states, Sikkim has coined itself as a peaceful and harmonious territory.
As a man with a multitude of capabilities, Pawan Kumar Chamling often called the ‘people’s minister’ has lodged many honors to his credit. He has been felicitated with the Bharat Shiromani for national integration, Bhanu Puruskar for poetry, and Manav Seva Puruskar for social work. As a reward for his endeavor to make Sikkim the ‘greenest state’ in India, he was recognized honorably by the Centre for Science and Environment
The end of an era
The massive 25-year legendary reign, as the longest-serving chief minister came to an end in 2019 after Pawan Kumar Chamling resigned as CM from Sikkim Legislative Assembly and was replaced by former member Prem Singh Tamang’s Sikkim Krantikari Morcha party. Chamling’s resignation is a result of the opposition scripting history by victory in the Assembly polls in the state.
Tamang is more popularly known as Golay and his party has a “huge fan following” in the form of more powerful youths dominantly in the 18-45 age group. He is proposedly rooting for some change. His party formed the government by winning 17 seats out of 32 while SDF, led by Chamling managed to secure only the remaining 15 seats. It won an absolute majority in the Assembly polls, bringing the curtains down on two and half decades of Pawan Chamling led Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) rule in the Himalayan state.
Ironically, it is believed that Tamang replicated Chamling’s age-old strategies to overthrow the dynastic rule of his. Golay was once a trusted lieutenant of Chamling who became his arch-rival. Might be an incidence where the anti-incumbency factor has caught up with the longest-serving CM of Sikkim.
Critics argue that most of his schemes have been populist, but the numbers reflect that these schemes have helped improve certain social indicators. Under Chamling’s leadership, Sikkim transformed its face in the Indian demography and proved to be the center of optimum utilization in the truest sense. It brings no thought to ponder why he was rightfully called the ‘people’s minister’. He owns landmark achievements of the Sikkim state towards national integration and enhancement. Pawan Kumar Chamling has proved beyond question, with his first-ever and only slogan of “Desh hamara Hindustan, Sikkim hamara Sukhistan”.