Friday, September 5, 2014

The Battle for Yangyang- PURAN TAMANG

As far as bye-elections go, this one has set itself up as one packing in more drama than perhaps even the statewide Assembly elections held in April. What is more, this constituency, in its present avatar as Rangang-Yangang or earlier [till 2009] status as Khamdong, has never been a very easy constituency to win. It is the SDF president, Chief Minister Pawan Chamling’s home constituency, and that perhaps puts more pressure on him and the party because the contest is not just about winning, but also winning big. Interestingly, with SDF already having formed the government and with this one seat not making any difference to its stability in power, the election should have been an easy walkover. But the party is clearly not taking any chances and has deployed itself in full strength to the campaigning and is working from the grassroots up, competing not only against the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha backed BJP, but also checking against possible split of votes caused by the Chief Minister’s brother, Rup Narayan Chamling, contesting as an Independent.
The bye-election at Rangang-Yangang was necessitated by the Chief Minister having won from both, this and Namchi-Singithang constituencies in April and deciding to relinquish his home constituency.
In April, the SKM debutante, Bikash Basnet, who interestingly returns to the contest as a BJP candidate this time, put was a respectable performance, securing around 32% of the votes polled. It goes without saying that the SKM-BJP collaboration hopes to retain these votes and then make a play for RN Chamling eating into SDF votes. Should the votes be split three-ways more or less evenly, a swing of two or three percent votes could decide the winner.
That is the projection, but election mathematics is never that simple or obvious. Voters will be factoring in the situation created by the April elections and the potential of candidates and parties to deliver on their aspirations.
At one level, this is a personality-driven election, as most elections are in Sikkim. And the moment it becomes a Chamling vs. Chamling contest, the other three candidates fade into the sidelines. As things stand, with only a week left for the constituency to go to bye-polls [13 Sept], officially, only SDF has announced and conducted public campaign meetings. Mr. RN Chamling and his supporters are also on the campaign trail, and although SKM leaders are reported to be campaigning for their former candidate, BJP has officially not convened public meetings yet. At present, most of the publicity material occupying public spaces at Yangang belong either to the SDF or RN Chamling.
While it is candidates who compete in elections, the contest is also about plans and proposals for the constituency. On this count, as far as SDF supporters are concerned, they remain satisfied with what has been charted out for the constituency by way of the Sikkim University campus and the Bhaley Dhunga Skywalk project, two mega-projects on the anvil.
Speaking to this correspondent, they reiterated support for the party and reminded that like on 12 April five months ago, their vote will go for peace and sustained development again on 13 September.
Mr. RN Chamling, who has not issued any official press statements thus far, is reportedly concentrating on door to door campaigning. His supporters, when contacted, explain that they are supporting his candidature because he has been an earnest social worker who has always been there for the people. They believe that with Mr. RN Chamling representing them, the quality of basic facilities like roads and all-round development will improve. Apart from the mega-projects already earmarked for the constituency, his supporters are keen to see Yangang develop as a tourism hub.
Supporters are expected to be passionate and confident, at least while on campaign mode, and the same can be sensed when one interacts with party and leader supporters at Yangang. What the voters are thinking beyond this circle is not very clearly understood and should be the aspect that candidates pay closer attention to. Rangang-Yangang is often mistaken by casual observers to be a small constituency, it is not, at least not by Sikkim standards. At 11,762 electors, it is a reasonably big constituency [the capital Gangtok has barely 10,000 voters in comparison] and what is more, they are also keen voters, having registered an 85% voter turnout in April even though the result [of Pawan Chamling winning] was obvious to all. It also perhaps because of this reason that this constituency has traditionally received candidates from the constituency itself, a luxury not all other constituencies enjoy.
For those with a soft spot for trivia, the bye-election presents some interesting asides. Bikash Basnet for instance secures the rare record of contesting technically the same election representing two parties within six months. RN Chamling also becomes a rare instance of a brother seeking to replace a brother but by challenging the officially mandated candidate. This is also a very young contest in which a debutante, RN Chamling, is the oldest candidate in the fray despite his young 46 years even as the “veteran” in the group [Bikash Basnet who is technically facing his second election when all others are first-timers] is the youngest!
And that really is what this contest is heading to become- an interesting contest albeit one with very few ideological conflicts beyond the traditional claims and allegations.
1)    Number of Voters: 11,750 2)    Male Voters: 6,083
3)    Female Voters: 5,667 4)    Polling stations: 14
5)    Critical Polling stations: 2 -Nehbrum and Kolthang
7)    Number of EVMs: 14
[IPR Deptt]

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