A lawmaker who facilitated the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) entry into the 32-member Sikkim Assembly without securing a single victory has been nominated as the party's candidate for the solitary Rajya Sabha seat from the Himalayan State of Sikkim.
Dorjee Tshering Lepcha's nomination to the Upper House is perceived as a prize for his departure from the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) following the 2019 Assembly election. Lepcha, along with nine others, switched his allegiance to the BJP shortly after the election.
For nearly a quarter of a century, from December 1994 to May 2019, Sikkim was governed by the SDF under the leadership of Pawan Kumar Chamling. However, in the 2019 election, they were narrowly defeated by the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) which secured 17 seats.
A State BJP leader from Gangtok stated that the party's central leaders have recognised Lepcha's efforts in expanding the party's presence in Sikkim, distinguishing them from other parties. This statement was made following the announcement of Lepcha's name by Arun Singh, the party's national general secretary.
The term of Hishey Lachungpa, the sole Rajya Sabha representative from Sikkim who belongs to SDF, is set to conclude in February 2024.
The 66-year-old Lepcha holds the position for the Gnathang Machong Assembly seat in the Pakyong district. He was appointed as the Minister of Public Works (Buildings and Housing) and Transport during the fifth term of Chamling, which lasted from 2014 to 2019.
His transition to the BJP represented a notable political change in the State. This is a place where the fight, frequently lopsided as shown by the SDF and Sikkim Sangram Parishad securing all 32 seats in 2014 and 1989 respectively, has consistently been amongst regional parties.
After winning the by-elections for two seats, the BJP's count in the Sikkim Assembly rose from 10 to 12. Meanwhile, the SKM's count also increased to 19, following the defection of two MLAs from the SDF.
The SKM Government, led by ex-SDF leader Prem Singh Tamang, receives support from the BJP. In Sikkim, Chamling is the only legislator representing the SDF.
Nishtha Anushree is Senior Sub-editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @nishthaanushree.
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