Can a person who served a year-long jail term be a chief minister in India? That is the question at the heart of a political drama unfolding in the Himalayan state of Sikkim, barely weeks after Pawan Chamling’s record run as chief minister was broken by his one-time protégée Prem Singh Tamang. Popularly known as P.S. Golay, Tamang became the chief minister after his party, the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM), managed a wafer-thin majority with 17 seats in the 32-member Sikkim assembly. The Chamling-led Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) managed to win 15.
Tamang, 51, was sent to jail in 2017 after he was found guilty of misappropriating government funds worth Rs 9.5 lakh in a milch cow distribution scheme. He was minister of animal husbandry in Chamling’s cabinet when the scam took place between 1994 and 1999. The case against Tamang was initiated by Chamling’s predecessor, Nar Bahadur Bhandari, who was the then opposition leader. The SDF pursued the case and Tamang was disqualified as member of the assembly after convicted by a trial court in 2016; in 2017 the Sikkim high court upheld the verdict. Tamang had held a grudge against Chamling since then for not protecting him. On his release from jail in August 2018, Tamang took Chamling head on.