Known for its pristine natural beauty that attracts tourists, Sikkim hogged the limelight in 2017 due to the prolonged Doklam standoff as well as the Gorkhaland agitation. The 73-day-long Doklam standoff apparently did not have a direct bearing on Sikkim, but the flare up between powerful neighbours India and China, had left the people of the tiny Himalayan state worried about its impact on them. Nonetheless, Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat visited Sikkim in last week of June and went to forward post of the army in North Sikkim to take stock of security on the Sino-Indian border. His visit had morale boosting impact on the local people too. More than a month after the Doklam standoff, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharamam also paid a two-day visit to Sikkim in October and went to forward post at Nathu La where she interacted with the troops of the two neighbouring countries, the video of which went viral on social media.
More than the Doklam standoff, Sikkim was gravely affected by the 104-day-long Gorkhaland agitation in Darjeeling Hills of West Bengal over separate statehood issue. The agitators, led by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), had shutdown the NH 10, the lone highway connecting Sikkim with the rest of country, paralysing vehicular movement between the border state and Siliguri. Supply of essential commodities to Sikkim was badly hit so was tourist footfall in the picturesque state. Perturbed by the implications of the Gorkhaland agitation on his state’s economy and polity as the Sikkimese people, mostly of Nepalese origin, backed the separate state demand, Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling came out in open to justify demand for creation of Gorkhaland. But he also urged the West Bengal government and the Centre to take appropriate measures to keep NH-10 open at all costs in the interests of the people of his state.
The Centre later sent paramilitary forces which were tasked with among other things to ensure unhindered movement of vehicular traffic between Sikkim and Siliguri. However, the Gorkhaland agitation did considerable damage to the booming tourism industry of Sikkim. Tourist footfall, which stood at nearly two lakh per month till June, 2017, registered a sudden drop with the prospective visitors cancelling their hotel bookings at last minute. The winter months, which should have otherwise buzzed with tourists, saw fewer number of tourists much to the consternation of various stakeholders of the tourism industry like hotels, travel agents, tour guides and luxury vehicle owners etc.
On the economic front, Sikkim – India’s first organic state – registered 80,000 tonnes of various organic produces in 2016-17 which egged on Chief Minister Chamling to ban supply of inorganic produces comprising, fruits, vegetables, cereals (maize, millet) from March 31, 2018. It was a rewarding year for Chamling with Sikkim University and Shri Ramaswami Memorial University (SRM) awarding the long serving chief minister with honorary doctorate degrees in recognition of his exemplary success in public life. Chamling’s party – Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) – also completed 23 uninterrupted years in power under his chief ministership. In November, the SDF won over 90 per cent seats in panchayat polls to maintain its writ over local governance too.