Editorial: Playing Politics

The next Assembly elections are not far away

The next Assembly election is barely nine months away. The gestation period has begun since that is not very deep in the future. Nine months, after all, provide barely enough days to smoothen disgruntlement of five years [for the ruling party] or lead time to recover eroded voter base of 25 years [for the Opposition parties]. Yes, the SKM rode a strong anti-incumbency ripple and a wave of aspirations for change in 2014, but the political space has been drastically rearranged since then and the Opposition has lost its rhythm even as it is currently exploring a range of issues to leverage. The party in office, in the meanwhile, has moved from shock over the 2014 close shave to the ennui of having been in government for a record number of years and is only now returning rather awkwardly to public outreach so necessary for elections. The Opposition, on the other hand, is yet to change its approach. Criticism of the government and the ruling party, after all, even if much more aggressive, scathing and convincing, is not enough at this advanced stage to translate into meaningful votes because to make a serious play for things, it will have to expand its voter base beyond the already disaffected and disgruntled. That said, the ruling Front cannot afford to rest easy on its five terms in office because it did receive a scare in the last elections and saw its vote-share shrink the moment an organized and concerted challenge was mounted. It does not enjoy the luxury of going aggressive and belligerent like the Opposition because that would end up distracting voters from the achievements of the past 25 years and deliver Sikkim a stronger anti-incumbency factor. These confusions and conflicts will make for an interesting round of politicking which is already gathering steam and “politics” has begun happening in Sikkim. Unfortunately, no fireworks were delivered during the panchayat election which did not see any committed Opposition mobilization and that was a wasted opportunity. The mutual distrust between the ruling party and coalition of Opposition parties is well established and hardly surprising. As far as the voters are concerned, this requires no further reiteration. The criticisms and condemnations and denials and counter allegations that the two sides have remained obsessed with thus far were expected in the first four years of the present term as routine, predictable stances. For politics and the wooing of the voters, much more than press releases and press conferences are required. Maybe the voters don’t even expect it anymore, but would definitely be hoping that the level of political debate now improves at least a notch to become more about policies and visions. In Sikkim, politics traditionally picks up pace only when elections are a year away, and may be that is why there is too much clutter and deal-making instead of informed debates and sustained positions. Those with a stake in politics should now consider getting active much more in advance… but they didn’t. There is now no option left save the glass half-full approach. Here’s to hoping that from hereon at least, any party keen on making a contest of the next elections shares its plans for Sikkim if they were given a chance to run it for next five years. Their plans for their “enemies”, okay “opponents” to keep things politically correct, will only please individuals who share their hatreds; elections however are not won by individual dislikes. To win votes, one needs to speak to the people, about issues that concern the people and offering solutions to problems beings faced by the people. For that, a vision is required, not targets. The focus here is on what the Opposition needs to do because the odds still do not favour it. It would be wise on their part to stop believing that a “silent wave” is in the making – too many others have made that mistake in the past for there to be the need for a repeat. Look at things from the voter’s perspective, the Opposition is not even offering new faces yet. The political debate thus has to improve into becoming one about contesting ideologies, different plans of actions, differing courses for the State. Then the voter might think there is a choice, otherwise even a keen contest will be too much to expect.