Gangtok, 16 Jul:

Former Chief Minister of Sikkim, Nar Bahadur Bhandari, passed away today in a Delhi hospital this afternoon. He was 77 and is survived by his wife, Dil Kumari Bhandari, two daughters and a son.

Mr Bhandari served Sikkim as its second Chief Minister from 1979 till 1994.

He had reportedly undergone a spinal cord surgery at Primus Super Speciality Hospital in New Delhi last Friday and succumbed today at around 4 PM. He had not been keeping well for the past month or so, it is informed.

Born in Malbasey in West Sikkim on 05 August 1940, Mr Bhandari started his career as a government school teacher before joining active politics in the mid-seventies and leading the Janta Parishad to office in 1979 in alliance with Congress (I).

Following the toppling of his government in 1984, he formed the Sikkim Sangram Parishad, since he had merged his earlier party with the Congress, and returned to office the same year and in the Assembly elections of 1989, led his party to a complete sweep of the Assembly with all the 32 MLAs of the State having been elected on an SSP ticket.

He sat in the Opposition bench for the next two terms and was also the State Congress President in the interim. He last contested the Assembly elections in Sikkim 2009.

Following his parting of ways with the Congress, he returned to a resuscitated Sikkim Sangram Parishad and was its president at the time of his passing away.

Mr Bhandari will be remembered for his role at the helm of affairs during Sikkim’s transition from a monarchy to a democracy, having been the CM of the State for 15 of Sikkim’s first twenty years as a part of India.

He did not always enjoy a good equation with the Centre, an equation which led to his being toppled from office twice – in 1984 and in 1994 - in his three terms as Chief Minister here. It was perhaps his ability to take on Delhi and bounce back that sustained his image as a potent political force despite his losses in elections.

He will probably be most remembered for his role in securing Constitutional recognition for Nepali language, a feat he accomplished in 1992 in collaboration with his wife, Dil Kumari Bhandari, who was the Lok Sabha MP from Sikkim at the time.

And while this was a significant and important achievement, he was also much more than that.

He was also the first tall leader of post-Merger Sikkim who, while he had run-ins with many and being hounded by controversies and despite being constantly under pressure from Delhi, managed to hold his own, and through that extension, carved a unique recognition and self-belief for Sikkim and its people in their new identity as a State of India and Indians.

His resolute, almost stubborn, refusal to be cowed down by Delhi’s mechanizations ensured that Sikkim held its own through the early years of the Merger when things could have swung either way. In a way, he was instrumental in seeding Sikkim’s unique identity within the Indian Union, an attitude which Sikkim continues to carry to this day.

Even his detractors, and there were many, will recognize that this was an important contribution Mr Bhandari made towards easing Sikkim into its new innings.

There are very few instances when the passing away genuinely causes an irreparable loss, in Sikkim’s context, this is one of them.

Mr Bhandari’s mortal remains are scheduled to arrive at his Gangtok home on Monday evening, escorted from Bagdogra airport with full state honours including a ceremonial guard.