Thursday, April 30, 2015

Sikkim has lost a great son in the passing away of Balchand Sarda

(L to R) Jigme N Kazi, KC Pradhan, LD Kazi, BB Gurung and Balchand Sarda.



Before time passes and memory lapses I would like to record a few things that have impressed me about Balchand Sarda. Loved, respected and admired by a cross section of Sikkimese society, Balchad Sarda created history when he trounced former chief minister Nar Bahadur Bhandari’s influential wife, Dil Kumari Bhandari, in the Assembly elections of 1985.
Bhandari’s newly-formed Sikkim Sangram Parishad (SSP) won 30 of the 32 Assembly seats leaving one to the Congress party (Late Kalzang Gyatso won from the reserved Bhutia-Lepcha constituency of Kabi-Tingda in North Sikkim) and the other to Balchand Sarda, who, though he was a senior Congress leader, contested as an independent candidate and won from the prestigious Gangtok constituency. His poll victory was hailed as victory of the people.
Balchand Sarda was not exactly my friend. He was my late father Rinzing Namgyal Kazi (Lachen Yapla) and my uncle, Ugen Paljor’s, very good friend. But when I stepped into politics in 2001, when I and many of us felt helpless and betrayed by those who promised great things, it was Balchand Sarda who was my constant companion and guide and shielded me through perilous times which are recorded in my latest book, The Lone Warrior: Exiled In My Homeland.
In the course of time we became intimate friends and shared many things, including a few pegs of whisky when he lived at Gangtok’s posh MG Marg. After I quit politics in the summer of 2004 Balchand daju, too, kept himself away from active politics. Gradually his health deteriorated and finally he couldn't even talk.
Balchand daju often used to tell me, “Jigme, God is great”. God took him away from us early on the morning of 18 April and gave him peace. On his funeral, held on 19 April, Gangtokians gave a tearful and befitting farewell to their first Mayor and former MLA.
But more than anything else, for those who knew him well, Balchand Sarda, was a man who had a big heart. He was generous, defiant, principled and dependable. Sikkim has lost a great son. The void - in our society and heart - will be difficult to fill.
I planted a Rhododendron sapling in his memory at a prominent place above Kazi Road, Gangtok, on April 20. I have named it "Balchandron".
Son of Het Ram Sarda, who settled in Sang basti in East Sikkim in 1929 under the patronage of Sang Kazi, the Sarda family first came to Sikkim from Hissar in Haryana in the 1920s and lived in Singtam, a commercial centre for south and east Sikkim. It was the period when full power was restored to the 11th Chogyal Tashi Namgyal after the British, under Sikkim’s first Political Officer John Claude White, had forcefully taken charge of Sikkim around 1890 when Sikkim became a British Protectorate.
Balchand Sarda was a great friend and well-wisher of the indigenous Bhutia-Lepcha tribals of Sikkim and it is, therefore, fitting that the Sikkim Bhutia Lepcha Apex Committee (SIBLAC) held a meeting to mourn his passing away. In a statement, SIBLAC said, “Sikkim has become poorer and lost a great son of Sikkim.”
As Chairman (Mayor) of Gangtok Municipal Corporation, Balchad Sarda allotted shopping premises to small traders in Lal Bazar at minimum rates. The prestigious Hotel Tibet site was also allotted during his tenure as Mayor. To show respect to the lowest members of government employees, monthly salaries were first paid to safai karmacharis and then to other GMC employees.
Under his chairmanship, GMC won the first Governor's Gold Cup Football Tournament. The first garbage collection and disposal system in and around Gangtok was started by GMC under Balchand Sarda’s leadership. The first Municipal Corporation School was built at Old Children’s Park in Gangtok on his initiative as GMC chairman. Along with Ugyen Paljor, Balchand Sarda formed the All Sikkim Contractors Association for the benefit of local contractors after Bhandari’s Sikkim Janta Parishad formed the government in October 1979.
70 is not age to die and particularly for a man like Balchand Sarda, who unlike most old settlers who are involved in trade and business, moved around with the locals – small and big – with grace and ease. He dined and wined with some of the most colourful characters of Sikkim’s political and social circiles. Men like former chief ministers LD Kazi and BB Gurung and former minister KC Pradhan, R. Wangdi (Sosing Yapla), Ragasha  Kungo etc. were his very close friends.
I will remember Balchand daju mainly because when we were tested and tried in the furnace of affliction, he stood firmly by my side and in the interest of Sikkim and Sikkimese and refused to be cowed down. When others bowed down, got bought over and betrayed us Balchand Sarda stood like a rock and refused to yield till his last breath. I salute him and will remember him till my last breath.

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