“YOU NEED A BIG HEART TO OCCUPY A BIG CHAIR”
Pawan Kumar Chamling spoke to KAUSHIK DEKA on being the country’s longest serving chief minister, the Sikkim development model and Gorkhaland. Excerpts from the interview:
Q. How did you build such a long innings in politics?
A. Without people’s trust, I’m nothing. They appreciated my work and I got an opportunity to serve them.
Q. What are your big achievements as chief minister?
A. Today, Sikkim is a clean, prosperous state, where there is no poverty. The second big achievement is that today Sikkim is emotionally integrated with India. When I came to power in 1994, I coined a slogan: “Desh hamara Hindustan, Sikkim hamara
Sukhistan (Our country is Hindustan, Sikkim is our land of peace)”. Among all the northeastern and border states, Sikkim’s the most peaceful. We’re drafting a law to declare basic needs—housing, water, power, roads, schools, hospitals—as a legal right holding the state government and local bodies responsible for providing these.
Q. Describe your political journey.
A. I was born in a poor family and dropped out of school. I worked as a writer-constable in the police department for three years and quit because I wanted to work for the people in my village. I joined politics in 1985 and became an MLA. In 1989, I won elections again, winning 96 per cent of the votes. During oath-taking, people clapped more when my name was announced than for the then chief minister, Nar Bahadur Bhandari. This antagonised him, and two years later, I was thrown out of the cabinet. I launched my own party. Bhandari slapped a number of cases against me. I went underground for three months and came back with anticipatory bail. On September 9, 1992, I lit a candle in the assembly, walked across the stunned House looking for democracy, finally reached the CM’s chair and said, “Now I see the killer of democracy in this candlelight.” For those five minutes, I felt as though I was the only person alive in the assembly, the rest were dead. Two years later, my party came to power and since then, my politics has revolved around solving people’s problems. If you are occupying a big chair, you must have a big heart.
Q. Sikkim’s per capita income is among the highest in the country, less than 10 per cent people are below the poverty line. What’s the Sikkim model of development?
A. I don’t want Sikkim to be a consumer state. Our development model is based on
utilising human and natural resources. It began with the launch of ecotourism and blending it with the promotion of local culture. The next step was making the state organic. Initially, it was difficult to convince people, motivate bureaucrats and replace chemical fertiliser with organic. This not only boosted the rural economy but also increased life expectancy by 10 years. Agriculture contributes 50 per cent to CO2 emission. If we stop using chemical fertiliser, it will reduce CO2 emission. We hope to be self-sufficient in foodgrain production in the next five years. Development can never be at the cost of environment. Sikkim has many power projects, but only seven households were displaced due to these dams. Since I came to power, the forest cover has grown by four per cent.
Q. Your critics say enough jobs have not been created in the state.
A. Our growth rate shot up because the state saw huge private investment in the past decade. This was propelled by a 10-year tax incentive between 2007 and 2017 under the Northeast Industrial Development Policy and the conducive socio-political environment. Fifty pharmaceutical companies have set up plants here. But they are not recruiting the local youth. I’m bringing in an act which will make it mandatory for private companies to offer 90 per cent jobs to locals. If the local youth are not skilled enough, the companies must train them.
Q. BJP leader Ram Madhav says SDF is ‘Sikkim Dictatorial Front’.
A. Those saying this want to rule Sikkim. I’ve been in politics for 40 years not to rule but to empower people. When I launched the SDF, I said as long as I am in politics, no member of my family will join politics. I’ve kept my word.
Q. You’re a BJP ally at the Centre. Yet, it poached three of your members and is talking of an alliance with other parties against the SDF.
A. I’ll keep my promise to the prime minister, follow the Constitution and support the central government.
Q. During the 2017 gram panchayat polls, you warned people against a party that practises the politics of religion and is trying to gain a foothold in Sikkim. Was it not an attack on the BJP?
A. Sikkim is a sensitive border state. We have Doklam on our north. We are India’s sentinels. We don’t pelt stones at armymen. We will pelt stones at China. This is because the people of Sikkim are united. There is no discrimination on the basis of religion or caste. Some parties want to create division for political gain; people must guard against them.
Q. Are you happy with the way the Centre has dealt with China? You said Sikkim did not join India to be sandwiched between China and Bengal.
A. I was misquoted, I wanted to highlight how Sikkim suffers when its lifeline, NH10, gets blocked. Regarding the Union government’s policy on dealing with China, I have full faith in Narendra Modi’s leadership.
Q. The West Bengal government often criticises you for your support to Gorkhaland.
A. I extended my support to the Gorkhaland agitation to earn the goodwill of those blocking the national highway. I thought they’d let foodgrains reach Sikkim. But my stand now is, it’s Bengal’s internal issue. We’ll cooperate with the West Bengal government and the CM has promised free passage on the roads to Sikkim.