When the village elders in remote Chujachen, East Sikkim thought of lighting the first candles of progress in their village, they established a Primary School in 1953 and aptly named it as Chujachen School. Late D B Gurung, an Indian Army war veteran, deeply influenced by the recently won independence of India and its democratic ideals was brought to the hamlet to be the first teacher of the newly established school. His presence as a teacher had far reaching influences on one of his first student, Mr. Mohan Gurung, who later went on to represent the Regu Assembly Constituency in the First Legislative Assembly of Sikkim from 1974-1979.
Born on 17th October 1942 to late Shri Purandhoj Gurung and Late Smt. Pabitra Gurung, Mr. Mohan Gurung completed his primary education from Chujachen School. His family was involved in the vocation of sheep rearing and agricultural activities. During his childhood days, the socio-economic condition of villages across Sikkim was lamentable and so was also the condition in Chujachen.
Hailing from the family of farmers and having experienced life the hard way, Mr. Gurung’s inclination towards socialist and communist principles was shaped during his early years. The experience of his early years shaped his political dealings of later years with his politics and policies always aimed towards reaching out and solving the hardships faced by the man standing at the last mile.
Sikkim during the reign of the Chogyals was aristocratic where a handful of rich and affluent held control of most of the resources, while the poor suffered in silence. With experience and observance, the churn of socialist thinking engulfed the psyche of Mr. Gurung. Conditions in the kingdom of Sikkim and the recently won independence of India had deep impact in Sikkim, leading to the great movement of democracy in Sikkim.
It was during those days in 1958 that Kazi Lhendup Dorjee addressed a public meeting at Rongli Bazar. Mr Gurung was just 16 years old but remembers that speech and hails it as the turning point in his life. He says “Tyo din Ko Bhasan Lay Malai Rajniti ma Aunu Uksako Ho” (The speech of that day inspired me to join politics.)
He was actively involved in social works since his early years and an active member of a club formed by then Executive Councillor Mr. Narendra Narsingh at Rongli Bazar. As a contribution, they contributed 50 Paise each month to be used for Social activities, quite a princely sum during those days.
As he grew in age and his maturity evolved, he started advocating social reforms speaking openly against unnecessarily huge expenses made during weddings and the wastage of around 13 days in performing the last rites by the Hindus. He tried convincing the village elders and priests about reforming the Hindu/Brahmanical customs, but couldn’t convince the old guards against their age-old practices. He gave up Hinduism and turned into Buddhism and also tried to influence reforms in the new religious path he had taken including the engagements of the last rites to be shortened from 13 days to 7 days. As a well wisher of the society, he also raised his voice against card playing, gambling and other bad practices around his village.
His determination towards bringing political changes in Sikkim was not just his personal wish but the common belief of the youth of Chujachen, who used to follow him to political gatherings across the state. Though he could not have a structured formal education, his courage and determination helped him channelize mass support towards him and the cause he fought for. “Tetibela ta MLA Hunchu Bhanera Socheko Pani Thiyina.” (I had never imagined then that I would become an MLA)
His enthusiasm to contribute towards the betterment of the society and a firm resolve to bring about political changes in Sikkim coupled with an appeal to contest the election to the first Sikkim Legislative Assembly from his leader Kazi Lhendup Dorjee, brought Mohan Gurung actively in to the political spectrum.
“During the electioneering in 1974, I spent around 1500 rupees, managed from my savings and donations from his well-wishers and supporters. It was a huge sum of money during those days, when the bus fare from Rongli to Gangtok was just 5 rupees”, he fondly remembers.
He contested from Regu Constituency in 1974 and won the elections by a huge margin. As an MLA he served in the education board as a Chairman and during this period several schools were opened in the remote villages of his area. He put in his efforts for the up gradation of Chujachen junior High School to High School.
Also, influenced by his rural and agricultural background, his interventions in the Sikkim Legislative Assembly were more on farmer-centric issues. He emphasized promoting ginger and Amliso (Broom Grass) as cash-crops across the state. It was during his tenure as MLA, that ginger was distributed for cultivation to farmers by the government at a mass scale. Cultivation of Ginger and other cash crops in the state led to meaningful improvements in the socio economic conditions of the people of Sikkim. The far sightedness of the founder leaders of democracy in Sikkim like Mr. Gurung has today helped many a farmers to sustain their agricultural cultivation through cash crops. An enthusiastic people’s representative during his legislature days, he at times even walked out of the assembly to make his points heard.
He was interested to broaden his perspectives on several issues, so to have an in-depth understanding of Socialist and Communist ideologies and principles, he sorted out translated versions in Nepali of books by Karl Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevera, Mao-Tse-Tung, Maxim Gorky and many other philosophers, writers and thinkers. He also read books on Russian Agricultural System and was influenced by it.
His first trip to Delhi as an MLA is fondly remembered by him till date as it was his first flight experience and also met the tallest leaders of the Indian political establishment including Dr. Shanker Dayal Sharma and Shrimati Indira Gandhi.
Mr. Gurung also served as a member of the Panchayat and throughout his journey, he was always supported by his wife Mrs. Indira Gurung and the couple, encouraged by their children (two daughters and one son), are still enthusiastic to serve Sikkim as they served it through all these years.
Mr. Mohan Gurung always stood by his principles of communist thinking and is a living example of how a village youth from a remote corner of Sikkim could reach the corridors of power in Gangtok representing his people. This indeed was one greatest fruit of democracy that was envisioned by those who ignited the flames of the great revolution of 1973 in Sikkim.
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(Story by WSOS Bureau with inputs from Mohan Gurung, Indira Gurung, Dilli Prasad Adhikari, Dheraj Pradhan & Sikkim Legislative Assembly and an interview that WSOS Co-Founder Pranay Khatiwara held with Mr Gurung during March 2017 for a book titled “Champions of Democracy in Sikkim” published by Sikkim Legislative Assembly)