Gangtok, June 2: The land-locked northeast Indian state of Sikkim shares its boundaries with three countries – China, Nepal and Bhutan – but has been peaceful in the last two decades, and is set to become poverty-free as well, is seeking a peace bonus – an airport and rail connectivity- from the new government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“One of our longstanding demands is the peace bonus that we believe this government will seriously consider,” Sikkim Democratic Front’s Pawan Kumar Chamling, who has successfully fought anti-incumbency to become chief minister for a record fifth time, told IANS in an exclusive interview.
Stating that infrastructure development would be his key focus area, the 63-year-old leader said: “Sikkim remains the only state without airport or railway connectivity (it can only be reached by road from Siliguri in north Bengal). The central government should also look into the feasibility of alternative means of transport like ropeways for hill and mountain regions.”
A decisive mandate under Narendra Modi is beneficial not only for Sikkim but also for the entire country, the chief minister said, adding he expects cordial relations between Sikkim and the central government to grow further.
“We have very good relations with the BJP and have chosen to stand shoulder to shoulder with the NDA to develop our country. Under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, many historic decisions like opening of Nathu-la, inclusion of Sikkim in NEC (North Eastern Council) and ST (scheduled tribe) status for Limboo-Tamangs were taken,” Chamling told IANS.
“We will take the Sikkim-Centre ties to a new level,” he said. Chamling first became chief minister in 1994. With the fifth straight win of his SDF in the recent assembly elections, he is now on course to become the longest-serving chief minister of India, surpassing the record of Jyoti Basu who served as chief minister of neighbouring West Bengal 1977-2000.
“Our stress on peace, security and development has found resonance with the people of Sikkim,” he said. Stating that he has his tasks cut out, Chamling said: “By 2020, we would have empowered our workforce with enough skills and opportunities to economically sustain their families and only minimal welfare schemes will be necessary.”
“We want to be self-reliant by the end of the 12th Plan period,” said the chief minister, who believes local youth have the first right on jobs created in Sikkim.
Chamling said a separate ministry for the development of the Himalayan region would help build upon the positive initiatives such as the task force by the Planning Commission on mountain regions and earmarking 10 percent of budget to the northeastern states.
“We need more concentrated decisions at the policy level. A separate ministry for the development of the Himalayan region is the answer to it; we definitely support it,” Chamling told IANS.
Dismissing as mere “anti-Chamling” and “no threat” the fledgling Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) who ate into the SDF votes and reduced its numbers to 22 in the 32-member assembly, the chief minister said: “People vote for policies and work, not on the basis of personalities.”
“Time and again we have proved that as far as Sikkim goes, there is no anti-incumbency, only pro-incumbency,” he added.
The SDF had won all the 32 seats in the previous election in 2009.
Calling his victory a triumph of democracy, the chief minister, who also takes keen interest on writing poetry, said Sikkim would be a “poverty-free state” by the end of this fiscal year and that the State Organic Mission would help it become the “first fully organic state.
“Once these basics are achieved, we look at larger goals of transforming Sikkim into a knowledge society,” Chamling told IANS.
Referring to the Teesta river water sharing treaty that India may sign with Bangladesh, overriding West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee‘s opposition, he said: “We have no intentions in holding back any water within Sikkim.”
However, he called for joint efforts to deal with the problem of receding glaciers due to climate change.
“No one is talking about the receding glaciers that feed the waters,” he said, adding that “it will become a reality within the next decade or so by impacting water flow volumes”.