Hidden in Sikkim’s hills, a virtual constituency | delhi | Hindustan Times
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Hidden in Sikkim’s hills, a virtual constituency

delhi Updated: Apr 29, 2009 01:09 IST
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Just where is the Sangha assembly constituency in Sikkim located?

The state, with one Lok Sabha seat and 32 assembly seats, goes to the polls on Thursday, to elect both its new MP and a new assembly. But however closely you look at a map of the constituencies of Sikkim, you won’t find Sangha. It is the only assembly seat in the country that has no geographical location!

How can that be?

Sangha is the constituency of all the Buddhist monks and nuns belonging to Sikkim, no matter where they reside in the state. They are all registered as voters of Sangha and not the area they live in.

“Sangha is not defined geographically,” said J.P. Prakash, newly appointed election commissioner. Around 75 per cent of Sikkim’s population comprises Nepalis, who are mostly Hindus.

The remaining 25 per cent, however, are Bhutias and Lepchas, primarily Buddhist. The monks and nuns from these communities have to frequently shift location from one monastery to another across the state. Instead of requiring them to register freshly at every new area they are sent to if they want to exercise their democratic right, they have all been made voters of Sangha!

Thus every polling booth in the state on Thursday will have three, not two electronic voting machines (EVMs). The first two are for the voters of that locality to elect their MP and their MLA.

The third EVM is kept for the exclusive use of the voters of Sangha – the monks and nuns who reside in that region. In this sparsely populated state – the 2001 census records just 5.4 lakh people – the average voter turnout at an assembly constituency in the 2004 assembly poll was between 5000 and 8000. In comparison, the turnout at Sangha – of 2088 voters – was respectable.

In the 2004 assembly polls, Sangha even saw the highest number of candidates among all Sikkim’s assembly seats – six. The Congress, the regional Sikkim Democratic Front and even the BJP, had put up their nominees alongside three independents.

It was the Congress candidate Tshering Lama who won, defeating his nearest rival, independent Palden Lama by 88 votes!