He has hosted many events to connect with people who saw Gangtok as more than just a backwater. The café culture that first began in Kathmandu has spread to the other Himalayan towns and cities today, perhaps announcing the beginning of a vibrant new Himalayan cultural cross-pollination.
In Kathmandu, the state has decided to celebrate Indra Jatra by showcasing festivals identified with the Newas and the Kathmandu Valley only. But Sikkim is more inclined to promote diversity, as it is now going to have a Newa Center, established to begin serious work on learning the culture of the ethnic group from Kathmandu. While Nepalis are trying to see what differentiates them, the people of Sikkim are focusing on what unites them.
The Indian state is in a hurry to lift its population from poverty, and by all accounts is doing a good job. Plans are on to ensure that there are no people below the poverty line by the year 2013. Some, who have received state-sponsored protection through reservations since the annexation of Sikkim, want to use the poverty status to receive subsidies similar to the Schedule Tribe reservations.
The challenge would be for Sikkim to ensure that the perceived development is sustainable. Every toilet the government builds for its citizens should have the capacity for maintenance too. Like the donor doles in Nepal, it is the federal government's grants that allows the state government to build new roads, schools and health centers. Making these activities sustainable will be one of the biggest challenges for Sikkim.
Regular readers will have noticed that The Beed never tires from talking about the rent-seeking mentality in Nepal. There are parallels in Sikkim, too. Subjects of the earlier Sikkim kingdom enjoy preferential treatment in terms of ownership of land as well as other benefits, like not having to follow the federal tax laws. Apart from some enterprising people, many make the most out of the legal status rather than taking advantage and fostering entrepreneurship. The preferential status, however, will never be permanent, so it will be interesting to see how the people will adapt to Sikkim nationals being treated at par with nationals of other Indian states.
Leveraging privileged status means people tend to focus too much on their own confined territory and not care about the larger economic system. Next door, the Nepali-speaking state of Darjeeling continues to reel in its battle for identity and state intervention for economic development. Therefore, the challenge for Sikkim will be to see how it starts helping stabilise the economic vicinity it is located in.
There is talk in Gangtok of a Himalayan Bajar, which could be a common market like the EU. Surely, for the future of the Himalayan economies, it will be important to start re-exploring this concept of a pan-Himalayan economic zone. In the future of economic growth, political boundaries will start losing relevance. The sooner the Himalayan states realise this and look at working together, the better will the interest of the Himalayan people be served.