How has Sikkim managed to maintain the integrity of 371F and in turn maintain internal peace and harmony?
Byline: Journal Bureau
The state of Sikkim in north-east India has established its identity as the most peaceful state in the country. The world’s first and only organic state is one of the most favourite as well as the safest destinations for travellers from across the world. Sikkim has witnessed almost zero cases of social, political or communal tension in more than two decades.
Sikkim is the only state in the north-eastern part of the country that is completely free from any form of insurgency or violence. It is an established fact that all other seven states suffer from insurgency and violence primarily because people have deep resentment against the respective state governments and the Indian state machinery alike.
So, what is it that makes Sikkim so different from the rest of the country?
Sikkim became a part of Indian Union through a merger in 1975. Article 371F of the Indian constitution inserted with the 36th amendment of the constitution, grants special status to the state of Sikkim. The peace and stability in Sikkim can be contextualised with the existence of this article that guarantees to safeguard the distinct identity of the Sikkimese while making them part of the larger Union of India.
What makes Article 371F special is not just its uniqueness or prudence, but the importance it has as an article of faith between the people of Sikkim and union of India.
Before the merger, Sikkimese people underwent a prolonged period of poverty and under-development under the century-old monarchy. Even after the establishment of formal democracy, Sikkim continued to struggle with rampant corruption leading to political instability. However, in the beginning of the 90s, the state witnessed the khalikhutte or the bare footed people movement that established a people’s government in the state in 1994, and hence began a journey of unparalleled peace and development.
Though the small population of the state is often mistakenly portrayed as a single cultural identity, Sikkim is one of the most diverse states in the country. The Sikkimese identity comprises of three distinct ethnicities – the Sikkimese Lepchas, the Sikkimese Bhutias and the Sikkimese Nepalis. The Nepalis in themselves comprise of multiple ethnicity and varied religious belief systems. A caste system is also prevalent amongst the Nepalis.
Sikkimese society is equally sensitive to ethnic, religious, caste and class issues. But what differs here is the unique all-inclusive social engineering and the unquestionable faith that people have in their government. The peace in Sikkim has not been imposed with the help of state machinery, rather it has been nurtured as an atmosphere of mutual respect, proper recognition and togetherness by the government.
The state government has developed a mantra of 3Rs in Sikkim – Recognition, Redistribution and Representation.
All the communities have been identified and categorised under various recognised groups according to the central and state lists. To accommodate the communities left out from the OBC list recognised by the centre, the state government introduced a State list of OBCs that includes the Brahmins, Bhauns, Chettris, Newars and Sanyasis. Policies are made keeping in mind the special needs of these recognised groups, and equal attention is paid to ensure effective implementation of the policies. The government runs various outreach programs to ensure that all benefits reach the people directly. The state government has assured representation to each and every community through reservations in government services, higher studies and Panchayati Raj Institutions. The natives of Sikkim are exempted from Income Tax.
While the Women Reservation Bill lapsed
in the Indian Parliament, the government of Sikkim continues to provide 30%
horizontal reservation to women in government services and 50% seat reservation
in Panchayati Raj Institutions. The state achieved an unparalleled poverty
reduction in the last two decades and the government managed to pull out around
1.19 lakh people from the garb of poverty in between 2004-05 to 2011-12. The
remaining BPL families in Sikkim have 12% horizontal reservation in government
services, while education remains free of cost for them. Sikkim aims to become
a poverty free state by 2020.
The government of Sikkim has been fighting for Scheduled Tribe recognition for the left-out communities of Sikkim. In 2003, the twin communities – Limboo and Tamang – were granted Scheduled Tribe Status after a long struggle. This was the first victory of the Sikkimese Nepali community. However, there still remain 11 communities fighting for their due recognition, and the State Government has boldly announced that “securing tribal status for all Sikkimese Nepalis will be the government’s major political programme.”
Next step was to ensure proper representation for the newly recognised LT communities.
The reservation structure was restructured to provide 13% reservation to the LT communities in state quota for higher studies, government jobs and Panchayati Raj. Article 332 of the Constitution of India mandates reservation of seats for Scheduled Tribes in the State Legislative Assembly, while Article 371-F (f) empowers the Parliament to make provisions for protecting the rights and interest of different sections of the population of Sikkim by reserving seats in the Legislative Assembly for such sections of people. The State Government has passed several resolutions for seat reservation and sent them to the Government of India; a number of visits have been made with different Prime Ministers for submitting memorandums. A commission was also set up for assuring the representation of LT community in the assembly. But unfortunately, the union continues to ignore the valid constitutional demand of the Sikkimese.
The Union Government has to understand that peace cannot be taken for granted. Sikkim has three international borders with China, Nepal and Bhutan. And despite such sensitive location, it continues to maintain peace and stability for New Delhi. The Chief Minister of Sikkim, Shri Pawan Chamling is the longest serving Chief Minister for any Indian State and is a globally celebrated leader for his unique and innovative policies. As the state approaches Assembly as well as general elections, Sikkim needs to be even more cautious, and re-evaluate the peace and harmony that prevails against any form of vulgar change that is offered.