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Look North-East: The Sikkim model of Communal Harmony

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By P.D Rai

The recent riots in parts of Gujarat have taken most of the elite in the state and the country by surprise. These events need a thorough examination. Could we have foreseen them? Hardik Patel’s fiery persona has triggered a mass movement of Patidars (or Patels) coming forward to claim something they believe to be their right. They want to be included into the other backward class (OBC) fold like the Yadavs of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Sikkim_Kids_(15747573)
Regrettably, the police did not know how to act or react to the riots. We lost public property and precious lives, including a youth who died in police custody. This communal upsurge has left Gujarat limping and has opened up another wound which will take many years to heal.

While Gujarat slowly returns to normal, social and political scientists will seek many explanations. In this backdrop, let me present what Sikkim has done over the years.

 

Sikkim is known as the most peaceful state in northeastern India and perhaps within India as well. However, communal fault lines are embedded in Sikkim’s society as well. So how has this communal harmony been sustained even though we have a rather curious history of a Himalayan kingdom becoming the 22nd state of India?

Two decades ago, after the Mandal Commission’s recommendations, Sikkim was facing a social challenge similar to what Gujarat is now facing. Of course, there was no such massive mobilisation, but the context is comparable. The newly-elected Pawan Chamling-led Sikkim Democratic Front had pre-empted reactions from traditional upper castes and manoeuvred the delicate social balance through what may be called universal affirmative action – something worth examining today.

The first SDF government, immediately after coming to power in 1994, had recommended to the union government to include seven communities – the Sikkimese of Nepali ethnicity – as socially and educationally backward classes (OBCs). This was a historic step that commissioned affirmative action for the weaker sections of the population.

Consequently, the Bhujel, Gurung, Limbu, Magar, Rai, Sunuwar and Tamang communities were declared OBCs on June 2, 1994. This empowered these communities, except for the ‘creamy layer’, by making them eligible for reservation within Sikkim and India in higher education and government services.

However, similar to the Patidars led by Hardik Patel in Gujarat, a feeling of reverse discrimination began to beset within the Newar, Bahun and Chettri communities in Sikkim, generally considered forward and economically advanced.

In December 2002, Limbus and Tamangs were accorded the status of the scheduled tribes in Sikkim and West Bengal. Following this, the Sikkim government declared the Bhujel, Dewan, Gurung, Jogi, Kirat Rai, Magar, Sunuwar, and Thami communities as most backward classes (MBCs). Similar steps to categorise original OBCs as MBCs were taken by the governments of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar around the same time.

This created space for recognising that even within the Newar, Bahun and Chettri communities, there were disadvantaged and poorer sections. The Sikkim government, under Chamling, proactively recognised these communities as OBCs within the state, though they continue to be in the general category as far as the centre is concerned. This move fulfilled Chamling’s promise made in 1996 that all Sikkimese of Nepali origin will be accorded OBC benefits.

This is just one example of how Sikkim’s inclusive framework and social engineering have helped maintain communal harmony within the Sikkimese social fabric, an all-important aspect of governance especially in a geo-strategic state that shares borders with three countries.

Politicians and leaders must remain sensitive to issues related to inclusion and exclusion of sections of society into reserved categories, which is also affirmative action. With increasing education and awareness, reactions can build up and this can and may take a violent form if not addressed with care and concern in time. But, in the rough and tumble of politics,we might just be brushing under the carpet time bombs that need to be defused.

Avoid taking steps in time, and we might end up with outbursts of anger by the not included masses who feel a sense of injustice as has happened in Gujarat. Re-examination of these possibilities is both wise and politically sensible.

The steps taken by Chamling, who has been in office for well over 21 years in Sikkim, are fine examples of being politically astute and sensitive. He has articulated the next steps in the form of making Sikkim a fully tribal state but this is something which Parliament has to decide. Hence, what could be done in the state has been done proactively.

The ball is now, for the future of communal harmony, in the court of the central government.

(IANS)

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Come April, government will be more comfortable in Rajya Sabha

Of the 100 BJP-allies MPs, 24 are retiring. Which means, the government will be left with 76 MPs

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Parliament of India is a source of interest for many people because of various reasons. Wikimedia Commons
Parliament of India is a source of interest for many people because of various reasons. Wikimedia Commons
  • In April, the opposition may lose its edge over BJP in Rajya Sabha
  • NDA led by Modi has faced many embarrassments in Rajya Sabha in past few years
  • This is expected to change soon

Come April, the opposition in the Rajya Sabha may lose its edge in the numbers game and the power to stall any government bill, as the ruling BJP-led NDA coalition is set to catch up with its rivals, though a clear majority will elude them for a while more.

BJP to soon get more comfortable in  Rajya Sabha. Wikimedia commons
BJP to soon get more comfortable in Rajya Sabha. Wikimedia Commons

As 58 MPs, including three Nominated and one Independent, are set to retire in April, the Rajya Sabha math is going to change. It is set to favour the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and the trend may continue in the elections to the Upper House later too with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) having solid majorities in a number of state assemblies, especially the ones it won after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

With this, while the Congress-led opposition’s numbers will come down to around 115 from the present 123, the numbers of the BJP, its allies and sympathisers together would climb to around 109 from the present 100-odd members.

And the gap, once wide enough to let the opposition invariably have its say, will keep narrowing further in the coming months.

Of the 55 retiring members (excluding those Nominated), 30 belong to the opposition camp while 24 belong to the BJP and allies. Of them, a large number of NDA candidates are set to return while the opposition will lose a chunk of its members.

As things stand now, the Congress-led opposition has 123 MPs (including 54 of the Congress) in a house of 233 elected members (apart from 12 Nominated), while the NDA has 83 members (including 58 of BJP) plus four Independents who support the BJP (these include MPs Rajeev Chandrashekhar, Subhash Chandra, Sanjay Dattatraya Kakade and Amar Singh).

Rajya Sabha or the Upper House can often be a game changer while passing of the bills is in process.
Rajya Sabha or the Upper House can often be a game changer while passing of the bills is in process.

Also, for all practical purposes, the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), that has 13 members in the Rajya Sabha, is also with the NDA. This means the NDA’s effective strength in the upper house of Parliament is 100.

The gap was wider till just a few months ago. This meant that during any battle between the government and the opposition in the Upper House over bills and major issues, it was the opposition that invariably had its way. The recent example was the triple talaq legislation that the opposition stalled in the upper house, demanding that it be referred to a Select Committee.

For over less than four years, the Narendra Modi government had faced quite a few embarrassments in the Rajya Sabha thanks to the majority of the opposition, forcing it often to take the money bill route to avoid a clash in the house. Under the Constitution, a money bill needs to be passed only in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha cannot stall it.

Also Read: For Modi, Road To 2019 Will Be Steeper

However, after April, the NDA will be in a far better position.

Of the 100 BJP-allies MPs, 24 are retiring. Which means, the government will be left with 76 MPs (including AIADMK). But at least 30 from the NDA are set to get re-elected. So the number will rise to 106. Add three members that the government would nominate to the upper house and the final NDA tally will roughly be 109 MPs.

Further, there are fence-sitters such as the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the YSR Congress, which are not virulently against the BJP and would not oppose the government unless for very compelling reasons.

Now, for the Congress and the rest of the opposition, they are set to lose 30 MPs (including one Independent, A.V. Swamy) through retirement and would be left with around 93 members. The Opposition may win roughly 22 seats, which means that its final tally after April is likely to be around 115 members.

Government can now expect some smooth sailing in the Rajya Sabha, coming this April.
Government can now expect some smooth sailing in the Rajya Sabha, coming this April.

The gap has clearly narrowed and the government may not be at the mercy of the opposition during crucial votes and can have its way in the Rajya Sabha if it musters its numbers by deftly wooing “floater” MPs.

The three newly-elected Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) members may remain equidistant from both the BJP and the Congress, though the party is friendly with some of the major opposition parties like the Trinamool Congress.

Also Read: BJP MP Seeks Amendment to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill

In an interesting development recently, the AAP actively participated in the opposition’s walkout and the day-long boycott of the Rajya Sabha over long intra-day adjournments of the Upper House by Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu.

The AAP, which was not welcome at any opposition meetings earlier, particularly those held in Parliament House, was invited to speak at a joint opposition media interaction on the day. But nobody can be sure as to how long this bonding would last.

Partywise tally of those retiring in April-May from the opposition’s side include 13 from the Congress, six from the Samajwadi Party, three of the Trinamool Congress, two each of the Nationalist Congress Party and Biju Janata Dal and one each of the CPI-M, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha.

NDA has to face many embarrassments in past few years in Rajya Sabha. Wikimedia Commons
NDA has to face many embarrassments in past few years in Rajya Sabha. Wikimedia Commons

From the ruling side, 17 MPs of the BJP, three of the Janata Dal United, one of the Shiv Sena and two of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) are retiring.

In terms of state-wise vacancies to be created in April, the highest number is from Uttar Prdaesh (9), followed by Maharashtra (6), Madhya Pradesh (5), Bihar (5), Gujarat (4), Karnataka (4), West Bengal (4), Rajasthan (3), Odisha (3), Andhra Pradesh (3), Telangana (2), Uttarakhand (1), Himachal Pradesh (1) and Chhattisgarh (1). IANS