As many as 10 MLAs of the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Tuesday in presence of party’s working president JP Nadda and general secretary Ram Madhav. The move has accorded the saffron party with the status of the main opposition in a state where it had not won a single seat in the recent assembly polls.
Madhav told reporters that the SDF had a strength of 13 MLAs and its legislature party decided to merge with the BJP. Two-thirds or more numbers of the MLAs of a party can join a new party without violating the anti-defection law. The BJP will play the role of a constructive opposition in the state, Madhav added.
The MLAs who joined the BJP include Dorjee Tshering Lepcha, who served as a minister in the Chamling government for three times and is a five-term MLA, and three-term MLA Ugen Gyatso.
Lepcha said they were impressed with the "look east" of the Narendra Modi government, as he highlighted that his state is bounded by China, Bhutan and Nepal.
This is the first time that MLAs of a regional party in Sikkim has joined a national party "en bloc", he said. "We want lotus to bloom in Sikkim," he said, referring to the BJP's election symbol.
The BJP's immediate challenge in the state will be the byelections to three seats.
There are 32 Assembly seats and the one Lok Sabha seat in the state. While SKM won 17 Assembly seats, the SDF won 15 seats. However, Pawan Chamling won from two seats which effectively reduced the number of elected party MLAs to 14.
Former chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling-led SDF ruled the state for over 25 years, making him the longest-serving chief minister of the country but he lost power in the recent elections.
In the 2014 Assembly election, the SKM had won 10 seats but seven of the legislators had defected to the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) in 2015.