(Edited version appeared in book review section of The Statesman)
The country's journalistic-politico circle is full of stories and tales about insurgency related episodes in northeastern states and the militancy in Jammu and Kashmir. There are also series of books and write ups on political one-upmanship of cow belt states Bihar and UP and also about sugar politics of Maharashtra; but Sikkim has had a long history of hiding its history of turmoil from the national mainstream.
Thus, this book in hand, ‘The Lone Warrior – Exiled in My Homeland’ penned by Jigme N. Kazi is an eye opener. More so because Kazi, a Sikkim-based veteran journalist and also an active political activist at one point of time, has been witness to and has thus written about almost every developments in Sikkim, some of it hardly known outside Sikkim.
In his own words, Kazi remains a journalist-turned-political activist-turned journalist and is ‘back’ where he belongs – Journalism - and hence this book by and large is a frank and candid portrayal of the affairs of Sikkim and reflects author’s indepth knowledge about the land and the people.
By his admission Kazi has flirted with politics but amidst all that what is important to note is that he has remained loyal to the interest of his people. These were definitely testing times for the author as an individual but also for state like Sikkim, whose portrayal outside the state is sadly stereotyped.
Kazi admits, “while I was soft on the Chamling government and the chief minister, particularly during the first tenure, it is on record….(we) took on the government on issues ranging from corruption, protection of locals, political rights of bonafide citizens….”. Facets like this not only make the book interesting. In fact the chapters – portrayed in biographical style mostly - start with one episode or a theme and then proceed to another convincingly and sequentially like a good drama plot.
The book actually makes an unintended praise of the political acumen of incumbent chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling politically, who has managed to remain a regionalist to the core and also in power for years now, probably by his ability to keep nationalist parties like Congress and BJP at bay and fighting hard other state-based outfits.
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According to the author, Chamling has been successful in ‘isolating’ Nar Bahadur Bhandari, who too had a long stint as chief minister before losing out to Chamling. The success was more in the context of sabotaging the ‘merger’ of Bhandari’s regional outfit Sikkim Sangram Parishad with Congress and with BJP. And when the merger of SSP into Congress came about in 2003 after lot of spade work by the likes of the author and Congress leader Salman Khurshid perhaps things were too late as Chamling continues to remain invincible.
The reference to machinations within Sikkim unit of Congress party (as on page 176) only brings to light how the then ruling party (Congress) with a commanding stature at the national level wasted an opportunity to strike strong roots in the state.
The writer quotes his own media reports exhaustively and points out how by 2001 when Mani Shankar Aiyar was Congress point-man for Sikkim as AICC general secretary, “only about 6-7 so called Congressmen, who ran the party (read in Sikkim) had sobataged the merger” of Bhandari-led Sikkim Sangam Parishad into the Congress.But he found even BJP no better and explains in certain details how attempts by few Sikkimese leaders to establish a toehold for the saffron party also failed.
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“Unfortunately, the BJP, too, went the Congress way and fell into the same trap. Pawan Kumar Chamling succeeded in wooing the central BJP leaders, including the Sikkim Governor, K N Sahani,” writes Kazi and partly blames L K Advani, then the powerful Home Minister, for endorsing Governor Sahani’s report against the SSP-BJP merger.
Politics is dynamic and more so in these smaller states. Nar Bahadur Bhandari, who succeeded in merging his party with Congress in 2003, and also made Congress state unit president by Sonia Gandhi, is again out of the party. Bhandari has revived his SSP on May 24, 2013. The hands of the clock have come back to the same position from where it all started.
In the end, it could sound ironical that though the Congress party was responsible for Sikkim’s merger with the union of India in 1975 it has never won assembly elections in the state. This is in sharp contrast to Congress performance in all other northeastern states where it has ruled the north east hills and the Assam valley for maximum number of years.
Sikkim’s annexation to India is a tribute to nation building and also anguish of China, but the tiny state cradled in the lap of Himalayas remains invincible politically by the national parties.