Sikkim Democratic Front leader Pawan Chamling, the longest serving chief minister currently in office, completes 20 years at the helm of this pretty Himalayan state later this week and could well be on the way to breaking the record of late Communist leader Jyoti Basu.Chamling, who became chief minister for the first time Dec 12, 1994 when he was 44 years old, was given again the mandate in May this year for an impressive straight fifth term, after he secured for his party a decisive 55-percent vote share and as many as 22 out of the 32 assembly seats.Once he completes the present term, he will surpass the feat of Jyoti Basu who became chief minister of West Bengal on June 21, 1977 and went on to serve in that capacity for 23 years till Nov 6, 2000, when he handed over the baton to his close aide Buddhadeb Bhattacharya.
In these 20 years of Chamling's rule, what has been the progress achieved in Sikkim -- India's second-smallest state in terms of area after Goa, and the least populated one with a little over 600,000 people? Going by the statistics, the record has been quite impressive."Completion of 20 consecutive years as chief minister and giving our party a fifth term is in itself a major milestone. But in these 20 years, much progress has been made, and some of these are quite visible and measurable," said P.D. Rai, the sole member of parliament in Lok Sabha from Sikkim, told IANS.
According to him, Sikkim ranks best in India on the Gini Index that measures the spread of wealth among people and income inequality; it has already eradicated abject poverty of its people; it has the best growth of gross state domestic product of 12.26 percent per annum; and it ranks among the top three states in terms of per capita income."By 2015-16, in my reckoning, we will be a poverty-free state," said Rai, an alumnus of both IIT and IIM, adding: "The chief minister is people-centric, and within that a rural-centric approach has kept people happy. So what he has managed is a Sikkim that today enjoys an environment of communal harmony, free of social tensions."
On the personal front, Chamling was born Sep 22, 1950 in Yangang, in the southern part of the state. He is also a well-known Nepali language writer, using the pen name "Kiran" and received the Bhanu Puraskar in 2010, awarded by the Sikkim Sahitya Parishad.One of the best-known projects conceived by him that has grabbed the national attention was to make Sikkim a fully-organic state. The project started in a small way in 2003 and became a mission in 2010. The chief minister got an assembly resolution passed for this. The state even stopped lifting its share of subsidised fertilisers from the central pool seven years ago.From 2015, this dream will be a reality and any produce from any part of Sikkim will be fully organic -- an impressive list of produce including tomatoes, peppers, Chinese and Indian cabbage, lettuce, turnip, beetroot, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, some 60 varieties of local rice, ginger, cardamom, grain, oranges and bananas.This achievement was praised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in one of his first addresses to parliament."Sikkim is a small state. It's sparsely populated. But is set to become a fully organic state soon. This is a matter of pride," Modi said. "If a small state like Sikkim can do it, why can't we dream of developing the whole of our north-east as an organic state? The Government of India will help it in capturing the global market."Chamling's success, his aides say, has much to do with his style and approach.
"The chief minister's policies, right from the beginning, have been simple but focused," says Bhim Dhungel, till recently, the state's tourism minister and now the party's general secretary. "Some targeted short-term programmes, medium-term strategies and a long-term vision have all operated together," Dhungel told IANS.
The short-term programmes involved immediate help for the needy in the form of food, shelter and medicines, the medium-term strategy focused on schemes for education, tourism, healthcare, agriculture and horticulture, while the long-term vision gave institutional and infrastructure support for these initiatives.
"The fruits of this approach are quite visible. The most important thing is people are happy," said Dhungel. "Why else would people elect a chief minister for the fifth straight time and why else would our party manage a popular mandate of 55 percent of the votes?"