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After EC delists Sikkim ex-CM Bhandari’s party, Bhaichung Bhutia lays claim to flag & legacy

Sikkim Sangram Parishad (SSP) V-P handed over party's flag to Bhutia Wednesday. Bhutia's Hamro Sikkim Party expects several SSP members to join it in the coming days.

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Guwahati: Former Indian football captain Bhaichung Bhutia’s Hamro Sikkim Party (HSP), formed in 2018, has adopted the flag of the Sikkim Sangram Parishad (SSP), one of five five Sikkim political parties that were delisted by the Election Commission of India (ECI) in September.

On Wednesday — marking the 82nd birth anniversary of former Sikkim chief minister and SSP founder Nar Bahadur Bhandari, who died in 2017 — SSP senior vice-president Kamal Rai handed over the party’s red-and-white flag to Bhutia along with the “legacy of Nar Bahadur Bhandari”.

In a press release, the HSP said: “As a founding father of modern Sikkim, Bhandari remains one of our finest and most beloved statesmen, who laid the foundations on which Sikkim stands today. The HSP will carry the values of Bhandari in our fight to unite the people in our fight for change. The new flag signals new beginnings, a new approach, a new vikalpa, and a new era of progress and prosperity in Sikkim led by the Hamro Sikkim Party.”

Speaking to ThePrint, HSP general secretary Biraj Adhikari said, “We have adopted their (SSP’s) flag as our own”.

When asked if members of the SSP are also likely to join the HSP, he said, “One or two members joined yesterday and more are expected to join in the coming days.”

Dr Durga Prasad Chhetri, head of the political science department at Sikkim University, said the move isn’t likely to be significant in Sikkim’s political landscape.

“The trend here is that once a party loses elections, it’s difficult for them to come back — perhaps that’s why members of the SSP have decided on this,” he said.

He added: “Voters here are mostly looking at the incumbent Sikkim Krantikari Morcha and some are still rooting for the previous ruling party, the Sikkim Democratic Front.”

ThePrint tried to contact Bhutia via telephone for his comments on the adoption of the flag, but was unable to get through.

Also read: Northeast music has too much Western influence, needs Korea-type cultural revolution: Papon

The two parties

After Sikkim became India’s 22nd state in 1975, it held its first assembly election in 1979. The Sikkim Janata Parishad (SJP) — a party Bhandari had founded in 1977 — emerged as the largest party, and Bhandari became chief minister for the first time.

Two years later, the SJP merged with the Congress. However, in 1984 — after he was dismissed as CM by the then governor, Homi J.H. Taleyarkhan — Bhandari split from the Congress. He was elected to the Lok Sabha that year as an Independent candidate, and formed the SSP.

The SSP went on to win the 1985 Sikkim assembly election — after which Bhandari resigned his Lok Sabha seat to become CM once more — as well as the next election in 1989. The party finally lost power to the Sikkim Democratic Front in 1994.

Bhandari merged the SSP with the Congress in 2003 and was appointed president of the Sikkim Pradesh Congress Committee, but was ousted from the post 10 years later. He then became the SSP’s president once again.

However, the SSP had not won any seats since the 1999 assembly polls, and in the 2004 election, it supported a new party, the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha, with which Bhandari was reportedly closely linked until his death in 2017.

The SSP was then headed by Bhandari’s wife, Dil Kumari, till it became defunct. This September, the ECI delisted 86 “non-existent” Registered Unrecognised Political Parties (RUPPs), including the SSP.

The HSP, meanwhile, was started by footballer-turned-politician Bhutia in 2018. In the 2019 assembly election, the party nominated candidates in 24 constituencies but lost all of them.

In the 2019 bypolls for the Gangtok and Martam-Rumptek assembly seats too, HSP fielded two candidates including Bhutia (for Gangtok), but didn’t win either.

(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)

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