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Sikkim govt to hold Lama Mela to appease influential monks, woo Buddhist voters

Though the Sikkim Democratic Front has been in power since 1994 and Pawan Chamling the longest serving CM in the country, the Lama Mela comes in the backdrop of growing popularity of opposition Sikkim Krantikari Morcha and Bhaichung Bhutia’s Hamro Sikkim Party.

india Updated: Jun 16, 2018 12:26 IST
Pramod Giri
Pramod Giri
Hindustan Times, Siliguri
Lama Mela,Buddhist,monks
Sikkim chief minister Pawan Chamling is the longest serving chief minister in the country. (AFP/File Photo)

Less than a year before the assembly polls, religion is occupying centre stage in the Himalayan state of Sikkim.

In an attempt to woo Buddhist voters, the Pawan Chamling government has decided to hold a Lama Mela to appease influential Buddhist monks.

According to the 2011 Census, Buddhists constitute 27.39% of the state’s population.

Of the 32 assembly seats in Sikkim, 12 are reserved for Bhutias and Lepchas, most of whom are Buddhists. One Sangha seat is reserved for Buddhist monks and only registered lamas are eligible to vote for this seat.

Though the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) has been in power since 1994 and Chamling, the longest serving chief minister in the country, the Lama Mela is a unique initiative that comes in the backdrop of the growing popularity of the opposition, the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) among Buddhist monks, and the newly formed Hamro Sikkim Party (HSP) set up by former Indian football team captain Bhaichung Bhutia, a Buddhist.

“The government may announce special packages for the Lamas during the fair, which would be attended by the chief minister,” SDF spokesperson Bhim Dahal said. The mela will be held at Rishithang in Gangtok.

The SKM and the HSP have described the mela as an effort to politicise religious leaders.

The ruling party has mobilised its social media cell to flood the cyber world with interviews of monks to make the fair a success. SKM has slammed the move as “dirty politics”.

“The SDF government is demeaning spiritual leaders by dragging them into politics. The worried chief minister is politicising monks and their issues in a desperate move to win the elections,” alleged Sonam Lama, one of the two MLAs of the SKM who represents Sangha.

“The decision to organise the Lama Mela is a blatant attempt to appease the monks who have been neglected for 24 years of SDF’s rule,” said RB Subba, vice-president, HSP.

SKM general secretary Jacob Khaling alleged, “We have demanded government’s support for the monasteries as well as financial help for the monks and monastic schools. But the administration did not pay any heed.”

First Published: Jun 16, 2018 07:10 IST