IN HINDSIGHT, THE RESULT POSTED IN THE RANGANG-YANGANG BY-ELECTION MIGHT HAVE BEEN OBVIOUS, BUT IT STILL THROWS UP SOME INTERESTING POSSIBILITIES
Although his direct opponents were not political heavyweights themselves, but because he successfully campaigned against the collective might of everybody who is anybody in the current political space, RN Chamling, the new Member of the Legislative Assembly representing Rangang-Yangang constituency of South Sikkim, has earned himself the medal of being a giant killer. But he was more than that because it was not individuals he was really contesting against but established political entities – the ruling Front’s campaign for Kumari Mangar [who lost by around 700 votes] was led from the front by the Chief Minister himself and the Opposition SKM, still fresh from its impressive poll debut three months ago, had allied with BJP whom it also gave its former candidate Bikash Basnet and the campaign time of all 10 MLAs.
At the end however, it was two-way contest between SDF and the Independent, who was, till the last moment, lobbying for an SDF ticket himself. Mr. RN Chamling’s candidature, since he is the SDF party president, Chief Minister Pawan Chamling’s younger brother and hails from and has worked in Yangang all these years, clearly confused the SDF supporters enough for their votes to get split. The vote-share of the bye-election reflects that of the five candidates in the fray, three did not tickle the people’s interest at all. Mr. RN Chamling and Ms. Mangar split 95% of the votes cast between them, the winner pulling clear with 51.33% of the votes and Ms. Mangar securing 43.22% of the votes. The remaining three lost their deposits, and the surprise was especially shocking in the manner in which the SKM-BJP alliance collapsed. Mr. Basnet, who, as an SKM candidate from the same constituency in April 2014, had received an impressive [given that he was going up against Chief Minister Chamling] 3,201 votes, this time, as an SKM-BJP consensus candidate, polled only 315 votes.
Although Mr. RN Chamling’s campaign and supporters had attracted big crowds and made strong claims, his was always considered a doubtful candidature primarily because he was contesting as an Independent in a political environment which has been an SDF versus SKM battleground for a while now. Also, SDF, despite the aggressive and media savvy campaign of the SKM in the run-up to the bye-elections had managed to hold on to South and West districts where SKM had drawn a blank. It was perhaps from this performance that the party, which had brought back its veterans for the April elections, felt emboldened to field a first-timer for the bye-elections. In that sense, the Rangang-Yangang bye-poll was also unique in that all five were debutants [Mr. Basnet being the only one who had already contested an election, but that was technically the same poll].
The polling on 13 September drew a handsome 79% turnout, only marginally lower than the 82% who had voted in April. When the votes were counted on 16 September, Mr. RN Chamling won all the four rounds as well as the postal ballots. Although there is no way of knowing how individual people voted, if one were to surmise that Ms. Mangar’s 4,080 votes were from the 6,343 votes polled by the CM in April, and lost the remaining around 2,300 voters to Mr. RN Chamling, then these, added to the complete exodus from the SKM camp [which fell from 3,201 to 352] neatly ties up to the votes that won the contest for the Independent.
Though little was known of Mr. RN Chamling in the rest of Sikkim, it was clear that he was a favourite for Rangang-Yangang which has decided to stay with a Chamling [the seat was vacated by Mr. RN Chamling’s elder brother after he won from here along with Namchi-Singhithang in April].
The counting began at the Namchi DAC at 9am on Tuesday, and the quickness of EVMs ended the suspense within forty minutes. His supporters, who were gathered at the Namchi Public Ground erupted in celebration.
Interestingly, Mr. RN Chamling, while he was being escorted to Yangang from Namchi, stopped at the SDF party office at Namchi and exchanged greetings with SDF supporters there. There was no animosity on display.
In his short conversation with media personnel after winning, he said that he was grateful for the people’s mandate and that now not only he as the MLA, but all the people of Rangang-Yangang will collectively work for the development of the constituency.
The verdict has clearly surprised everyone and only the Sikkim Democratic Front has officially responded to the results through a press communiqué.
KT Gyaltsen of the SDF, in a press release issued on the evening of 16 September, while congratulating Mr. RN Chamling on his victory, has underlined that this was also an ideological victory for the SDF party president, who, despite knowing that his younger brother was a popular choice and confirmed victory, did not compromise on his stand of not promoting dynastic politics in the party. Delegations seeking the SDF ticket for Mr. RN Chamling had started approaching the senior Chamling since even before he had announced plans to relinquish Rangang-Yangang, it may be recalled.
“Some ideological underpinnings have thrown a new dimension to this election and more importantly to the rock-like principle and ideology of President SDF and Chief Minister Shri Pawan Chamling,” Mr. Gyaltsen details in his press release.
He highlights that not only did the Party President not give the ticket to his younger brother [despite knowing that he would win], but also spared no quarters for him by deploying all senior leaders to the campaign which he himself led from the front. “All this because he stood firm on a principle and ideological point which goes beyond electoral politics and even family obligations. No one can challenge the fact that Shri Chamling and SDF did not campaign hard,” Mr. Gyaltsen details.
He also highlights that the party’s stand on social equity was also reinforced in the ticket being offered to Kumari Mangar. “Hailing from a humble family background, Smt. Thapa Mangar will continue to represent the political ideology of SDF under the President Shri Pawan Chamling where all sections of population find honourable place within the party establishment,” he states.
He then goes on to take on the Opposition for the drubbing it received and rubs some salt on what should be still smarting wounds. “The outcome of this bi-election reflected how completely ineffectual, unreliable and irrelevant the Opposition SKM and other Opposition parties have become within three months of the last elections and also how uninspiring national parties continue to be in Sikkim,” he comments.
Sikkim Krantikari Morcha party spokesperson, the Syari MLA Kunga Nima Lepcha, when contacted, welcomed the result and congratulated the people for voting for an Independent candidate “showing the people’s might and the real meaning of democracy.”
Speaking to NOW! over the phone, he congratulated Rup Narayan Chamling for having “inspired the people to reject the Pawan Chamling dictatorship”.
About the SKM-BJP alliance, he said that the alliance will continue “as both the parties are working for the welfare of the people and consistently working to eradicate corrupt practices”.
The BJP has not issued an official comment on the results as yet.
Supporters of the winning candidate when contacted highlighted that he being a social activist had become popular with his diligent work and sincerity towards the interests of the people of the constituency. They now wanted him to continue his work for the development of the area by remaining an independent voice and speaking for the people.
The SDF supporters had a different story to tell when asked why they thought the party lost. They said that the public had voted for an individual this time and not ideology allowing their personal interests and feelings to decide their vote. Mr. RN Chamling was individually popular, they admit, and this is what the people voted for. They said that the SDF would continue to bring development in all spheres of the state and convince the people that they were committed to work for the best interest of the people of Sikkim and were the only party to strive for this.
Bikash Basnet, the BJP candidate, commented that elections were like battles and that he was happy with the results as this was what the people wanted and he was for the people and glad that SDF did not win.
Now, the Legislative Assembly has seen the SDF strength decrease from 22 to 21 and in its next sitting, will receive only the fifth Independent candidate ever to sit in the Assembly. The last time the SLA had an independent MLA was in 1999-2004 when Palden Lachungpa won from the Sangha seat. The Independents before that were Ashok Tsong , Balchand Sarda  and Lachen Gomchen Rimpoche . Now to see which direction Mr. RN Chamling’s political future takes and what having an Independent representative means for Rangang-Yangang.