Sikkim Buddhist monks add colour to polls

PTI | ByIndo-Asian News Service, Gangtok
May 08, 2004 05:39 PM IST

Come elections and Buddhist monks in Sikkim take time off from their spiritual discourses to engage themselves in politics.

Come elections and Buddhist monks in the Himalayan state of Sikkim take time off from their spiritual discourses to engage themselves in politics.

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They don't just exercise their franchise, but monks in Sikkim contest elections too. The state Assembly has a reserved seat for the clergy.

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The reserved constituency, called 'Sangha', is spread over 51 monasteries and has 3,096 monks as voters, including 34 women.

"This constituency is perhaps the most unique one in the country where voters are spread all over the state but can vote for candidates contesting from this reserved seat," an election official said.

The rules for contesting the polls are made simple - contestants can belong to any monastery and fight under the banner of any political party they like.

"There would be special polling booths for the women in the vicinity of the monasteries so that the religious sanctity is maintained," the official said.

Sikkim goes to the polls in the final phase of elections Monday to elect a 32-member legislature, besides a lone member to the Lok Sabha.

As political parties busy themselves in a last ditch effort to woo voters, monks draped in maroon robes briskly campaign in the 51 monasteries to garner support.

"We want that whoever wins the polls should work for the development of the monasteries," said Tenzin Chopel, a Buddhist monk.

"Most monasteries are in a bad shape and we want the elected representative to fight for more funds for the upkeep of our religious institutions."

But some within the monasteries are opposed to mixing religion with politics.

"We should vote in elections and that is our democratic right. But to have a separate constituency where monks are allowed to contest the polls is not right," argued N Namgyal, a senior monk.

But the senior monk's idea clearly has no takers.

Today the monasteries are turning out to be hotbeds of politics, with both the old and young talking of whom to vote for. "It is like taking a little break from the daily routine of life," remarked a young monk.

But when it is time for prayers, political discourses come to an end.

"It is a modern world and although we are monks we need to change," another young monk said.

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