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40 years on, Sikkim yearns happiness as old laws dilute
A gradual dilution of special constitutional rights accorded to the former Buddhist Kingdom of Sikkim during its merger with India on May 16, 1975 has become a painful setback for many from the generation that witnessed swift change from monarchy to democracy.

This tiny Himalayan State, known for its crest mountains and lusty green valleys, is entirely not happy 40 years after its merger with India. Old timers are tentative about the efficacy of Article 371(F) which protects the states old traditional laws after a referendum ended the 333 year old reign of the Choygal or King.

Political leaders and outfits have rolled in one after another this year opposing the move to dilute the old laws. The latest in the trend is a Non-Governmental organization vis-a-vis the Gorkha Apex Committee (GAC) which is entirely a Sikkim based Organization.

Though the committee has been instrumental in opposing dilution since a long time, this time it has chosen to take its protest global through launching a website and a book so that it can reach out to the common masses in its bid to educate them. Educate in the sense that people should come forward and fight for its rights or traditional laws which protects them constitutionally.

Launch of the Website, Book

The GAC launched their official website along with a 50 page book in its path demanding Article 371F be implemented with letter and spirit for the betterment of the Sikkimese people, a day after the state observed state day on May 16 this month.

The 50 page book titled "US - Uncensored Sikkim" written both in Nepali and English depicts the political history of the Namgyal Dynasty from yesteryears to till date. "The motive behind the launch of this webpage and the book is solely to generate awareness among the general people on the subject. Forty years on of the merger with India, the Sikkimese society still faces ample problems among the citizens," asserted Pasang Sherpa, the chief convenor of the GAC at the Press club here.

Both the book and the webpage were launched at the Sikkim Press club. The book has already been distributed among MLAs and bureaucrats while the process to reach out to the people is in the pipeline.

What the web page says

The website said although Sikkim has been a part of the Indian democracy for 40 years now, unfortunately, all its citizens have not been granted 'equality' in the true sense, which is the essence of any democratic setup.

"Certain rules and regulations have failed to deliver justice to the majority of the Sikkimese people. The selfish political leadership that Sikkim has seen so far, have never found it necessary to educate the masses  about the dangers of living in a 21st century world without equal political, social and economic rights," said the website.

It further reads, "The ruling elites have always protested that centrally legislated laws do not apply in Sikkim because of Article 371 F but the ruling elites have misused the provisions of the centrally legislated laws if it is found to serve their interests.  For example, Places of worship (special provision) Act, 1991, which was enacted to avoid Ram Janma Bhumi - Babri Masjid kind of situation and asked all the states (except Jammu & Kashmir) to notify all the religious places of worship of 100 years and above to avoid further confusion among religions on regard to their places of worship. Taking advantage of the said legislation, the elites serving in the Ecclesiastical department in tandem with civil society organization on 27th September, 2001 issued a notification renaming all the natural places such as peaks, rocks, caves, lakes and hot springs. These mentioned places already had the names given by the 74% Gorkhali/Nepali speaking original inhabitant of Sikkim."

Political leaders and outfits view

Some political leaders and outfits in the past have time and again spoken out on the issue vehemently accusing the Indian government for betraying the Sikkimese people. "The Indian government has betrayed the Sikkim as Article 371(F) has been diluted. Proportionate representation of diversified ethnic community in the state assembly has been done away," Nar Bahadur Khatiwada, a leader of anti-Choygal movement in the early seventies, was quoted as saying by a local daily here recently.

A three time former chief minister Nar Bahadur Bhandari feels despite Sikkim having its own income tax manual, 1948 the central Income tax has been thrust upon to the people.

However, a stiff opposition in the past on the issue has come from the Sikkim National People's Party (SNPP) over the couple of years. The SNPP leaders feel that the referendum was a fraud committed on the people of Sikkim. "New Delhi had taken the people of Sikkim for a ride," Biraj Adhikari, the president of SNPP has told the media on several occasions.

State's triumph after Merger

The merger - some still prefer to call it annexation - has brought significant gains though. Flush with central funds, the state tourism sector has flourished, so has horticulture and hydel power. It has set benchmarks on several fields - the latest being the initiative of the SDF ruled state government to make the state fully organic by 2015.

But the connectivity challenge persists. Sikkim's single national highway and lifelines for many interior areas, which a craggy walking trails, often gets blocked by landslides. The state is yet to get an airport as the proposal to build one at Pakyong, 30 km from state capital Gangtok, has been hanging fire since 2009.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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