An advertisement for recruitment of civil defence volunteers by the Delhi government stoked a controversy on Saturday after it referred the people of Sikkim as "subject" along with those from Bhutan and Nepal, prompting the BJP and the Congress to launch a scathing attack on the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) dispensation.
Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal suspended a senior official responsible for the "error" in the advertisement.
The Sikkim government wrote to Delhi Chief Secretary Vijay Kumar Dev expressing its disappointment over the advertisement where Sikkim was mentioned as a different country along with Bhutan and Nepal. The Delhi government mistakenly identified Sikkim as a separate country and placed it alongside other nations like Bhutan and Nepal.
The advertisement by Delhi government:
The letter, written by Sikkim Chief Secretary SC Gupta, said the people of the state have been "immensely" hurt as they take pride in being a part of India ever since Sikkim became a separate state in 1975.
"This is immensely hurtful to the people of Sikkim who take pride in being the citizens of our great country ever since it became the 22nd state of the Indian Union on May 16, 1975," he wrote.
Gupta requested the Delhi government to withdraw the offensive advertisement with immediate effect.
Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal said a senior officer of the Directorate of Civil Defence has been suspended with immediate effect for publishing the advertisement "which disrespects the territorial integrity of India by making incorrect reference to Sikkim on the same lines as some neighbouring countries".
Baijal said authorities have been directed to immediately withdraw the "offensive advertisement".
"The official in-charge for the advertisement without applying his mind copy-pasted the eligibility criterion from the Civil Defence Regulations, 1968 (amended in 1971 and 1973) issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs, for recruitment to the Civil Defence Corps," said a Delhi government official.
A home ministry official later said that after Sikkim's merger with India, a gazette notification was issued on September 8, 1975, for application of the Civil Defence Regulations, 1968, in Sikkim.
"In exercise of the powers conferred by Section 9 of the Civil Defence Act 1968, (27 of 1968), the central government hereby directs that the Civil Defence Regulations, 1968 shall extend to and come into force in the state of Sikkim with effect on and from the 1st day of October 1975," the home ministry notification signed by the then joint secretary CG Somiah said.
Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang said it was "regrettable, objectionable and harmful" to the federal structure of India.
"I am deeply hurt by an advertisement published by the Government of Delhi terming the people of Sikkim as different citizen equated with Nepal and Bhutan," he said in a Facebook post.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal later in a tweet said Sikkim is an integral part of India and such errors cannot be tolerated.
Sikkim is an integral part of India. Such errors also cannot be tolerated. Advertisement has been withdrawn and action taken against the officer concerned. https://t.co/BgTcjJF4MF— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) May 23, 2020
Opposition slams AAP
Meanwhile, the opposition tore into the AAP-led city government for calling Sikkim "an independent country".
Delhi BJP president Manoj slammed the government for the "serious lapse".
"The Delhi government advertisement shows Sikkim as a country. Can a state government be so ignorant that it shows a state of India as another country? Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal should answer to the people for this serious lapse," he said.
Delhi Congress president Anil Kumar also took a dig at the dispensation over the issue.
"Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is so busy in publicity that he does not know if Sikkim is a part of India. Let me remind him, Sikkim is a part of India," he tweeted.
The ruling AAP, however, hit out at the opposition by accusing the BJP and Congress leaders of doing "petty politics", saying the advertisement followed MHA guidelines.
"At this difficult time when the Delhi government is trying to work together with other governments, the BJP and Congress leaders are busy in petty politics. The Delhi government advertisement clearly follows the MHA guidelines. AAP appeals to rise above the politics and work for the people," the party tweeted.
BJP's Leader of the Opposition in Delhi Assembly Ramvir Singh Bidhuri too demanded a reply from Kejriwal regarding the advertisement. Bidhuri, in a letter to Kejriwal, said he was saddened to see the advertisement issued by the Delhi government in various newspapers in which Sikkim was presented as a "separate country" along with Nepal and Bhutan.
Delhi BJP spokesperson Praveen Shankar Kapoor demanded an apology from Kejriwal over the issue.
"My father Shankar Kapoor, Joint Secretary MHA, on behalf of the Government of India had signed the document of Sikkim's merger into India," he said. "Arvind Kejriwal should apologise to the people of the country, especially of Sikkim, whom his government has hurt."
(With inputs from PTI)