“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:

India Today - - POLITICS | SIKKIM -

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.

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