How Sikkim was won! Tryst with India

Posted on by tilakjha | Category: History Special Report | 4,341 views | 12 Comments

When India gained independence in 1947, the privileges that were enjoyed by the British Government in Sikkim passed over to the new independent regime of India. Sikkim, along with the other Princely states formed a great dilemma to the Indian leaders who had to bring in these states for the purpose of a united Indian Union. But compared to the other Princely states, the process applied for Sikkim was somewhat different and it was given up to gradual and slow assimilation in contrast to other Princley states such as Hyderabad and Kashmir.

During the time of independence, the then Chogyal Tashi Namgyal was successful in getting a special protectorate status for Sikkim. This was in face of stiff resistance from local parties like Sikkim State Congress who wanted a democratic setup and accession of Sikkim to the Union of India. These political parties which rose as a consequence of the rise of various political parties in India were to play a great role in Sikkim’s absorption into India. Most of these parties, like the Sikkim State Congress, were dominated by Nepali migrants who resented the domination of the Chogyal. And their best bet in this regard was the increasing Indian influence in the state machinery of Sikkim.

Sikkim had retained guarantees of independence from Britain when she became independent, and such guarantees were transferred to the Indian government when it gained independence in 1947. A popular vote for Sikkim to join the Indian Union failed and India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru agreed to a special protectorate status for Sikkim. Sikkim was to be a tributary of India, in which India controlled its external defence, diplomacy and communication. A state council was established in 1955 to allow for constitutional government for the Chogyal, which was sustained until 1973.

During the Sino-Indian War of 1962, Sikkim became one of the bones of contentions with the Chinese. As China regarded Sikkim as a part of Tibet because of its Buddhist affiliations, it refused to see it as a part of India or even status quo. Skirmishes occurred and this resulted in the old Nathula Pass being closed with it being finally reopened in 2006. Sikkim along with Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh form the trio who prefer Indian occupation to the Chinese after witnessing the Tibetan experience.

The old ruler Tashi Namgyal died in 1963 after suffering from cancer. The last hereditary ruler, the Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal, ascended the throne in 1965. Trouble began to brew for the Chogyal even before he assumed the throne, as Prime Minister Nehru, who had carefully preserved Sikkim’s status as an independent protectorate, died in 1964. His daughter Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister in 1966, and being the authoritarian that she was, she had little patience for maintaining an independent Sikkim or its monarchy. The reigning Chogyal was viewed by India as politically dangerous, especially after his American wife, Hope Cooke, published a journal article advocating a return of certain former Sikkimese properties.

By the beginning of 1970, there were tremors in the political ranks and file of the State, which demanded the removal of Monarchy and the establishment of a democratic setup. This finally culminated in wide spread agitation against Sikkim Durbar in 1973.There was a complete collapse in the administration. The Indian Government tried to bring about a semblence of order in the state by appointing a Chief administrator Mr. B. S. Das. Cold relations between the Chogyal and the Kazi (Prime Minister) Lendup Dorji saw further events which resulted in elections in the state which finally paved way for the weakening of the institution of monarchy and Sikkim transformed from a protectorate state to an associate State. On 4th September 1974, Kazi Lendup Dorji, who was also the leader of the Sikkim Congress, was elected as the Chief Minister of the state. The Chogyal however still remained as the constitutional figure head monarch in the new setup. Mr. B. B. Lal was the first Governor of Sikkim. In this, the Kazi played a pivotal role in Sikkim’s assimilation into India as a full-fledged state and bringing about democratic aspirations among the Sikkimese youth who began to view the Chogyal monarch as a symbol of tyranny.

Matters came to a head in 1975 when the Kazi appealed to the Indian Parliament for representation and a change of status to statehood. On April 14, 1975, a referendum was held, in which Sikkim voted to merge with the union of India. Sikkim became the 22nd Indian State on April 26, 1975. On May 16, 1975, Sikkim officially became a state of the Indian Union and Lendup Dorji became head of State (Chief Minister). This was promptly recognised by the United Nations and all countries except China.

The 1979 assembly election saw Nar Bahadur Bhandari elected as the Chief Minister of Sikkim. Bhandhari held on to win again in 1984 and 1989. In 1994, Assembly politician Pawan Kumar Chamling became the Chief Minister of Sikkim. In 1999 and 2004, Chamling consolidated his position to sweep the polls. China’s attitude on Sikkim also changed over the period. In 2003, with the thawing of ties between the two nations, Sikkim was finally recognised to be a part of India by China. The two governments also proposed to open the Nathula and Jelepla Passes in 2005.

Sikkim’s assimilation into India is a curious blend of politics and strategy. The end of monarchy and the augmentation of democratic setup heralded a new era for Sikkim from where today it is one of the most peaceful states in India. The policies that were advocated for Sikkim show as to how the institution of monarchy was gradually weakened and the democratic aspirations resulted in the concrete entry of Indian power into Sikkim’s state machinery. The fear psychosis against China was also a major factor here. Personal politics and cult domination have played their part as well. Nobody can refute the contribution of Kazi Lendup Dorji in Sikkim’s assimilation into India. Many intellectuals wonder if the strategy of Sikkim’s assimilation process could have been used in other princely states such as Kashmir for better results. Though that is highly debatable, the fact remains that in Sikkim’s case the right policies were used to make it an integral part of India.

(Joydeep Hazarika belongs from Guwahati, Assam. He is currently based in Delhi as an Associate Producer with Doordarshan. He is an aspiring writer and takes keen interest in photography and cartooning.)



    • rajen upadhyay

      Rajen Upadhyay

      Dear Sir,
      I have gone through your article which is really interesting. But, being a Sikkimese of Nepali origin I am not at all contented to be claimed as a drifter. The Nepalese of Sikkim are not at all the �migrants� as your article justifies, but they were the settlers who came to Sikkim after establishing their sway over it. To tell you more precisely, Gurkha was the only power in the entire Indian sub-continent, which remained successful in resisting the Britons. They had been able to establish their domain on the Himalayas which is an incredible achievement not only for the Gurkhas but for the natives of the whole Himalayan region. In their course of action of amalgamation, they had been able to hold back the principality of Sikkim which ultimately led for the growth of Gurkha population in Sikkim. It is to be noted here that the western part of Sikkim used to pay its revenue to the Royal Government of Nepal till to the conclusion of the Treaty of Sugauli in 1816. I even have the first hand evidence to confirm my statement. Therefore, the terminology of �migrant Nepalese� used in your article is not apposite as the Nepalese of Sikkim are concerned. To the degree that the political activities in Sikkim after the Indian independence is concerned the movement was headed by Kazi Lhendup Dorjee Khangsarpa who was not a Nepali. Therefore, to put a contention over the whole Nepali population of Sikkim for instigating against our Chogyal is totally an irresponsible logic. It was one Basanta Kumar Chettri who attended martyr while saving our last Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal when the Indian forces were in the process Sikkim�s annexation in 1975.
      Rajen Upadhyay

    • iSikkim

      Dear Rajen Upadhyaya,

      We believe that you have a valid point and hence we are forwarding your comment to the author Joydeep Hazarika for responding to your query. The views published in the article are of the author himself and hence he is the best person to reply. Hope that he comes with a satisfactory response.

      Thank You

    • Joydeep Hazarika

      Hello Rajen,

      First of all I am sorry if I’ve hurt anybody’s sentiments anywhere in this article even by mistake. But I would also point out that I have not used words such as “drifter” anywhere in this article. By using the word “migrant” I just wanted to point out the people of Nepali origins. But this is not used in any means to segregate them from the general Sikkimese populace. They are an integral part of Sikkim just as the other communities are. I am also aware of the might of the Gurkhas in the 19th century and in fact I’m an admirer of this community. Parts of Western Sikkim had been under Nepal for a long time due to which Nepalis have lived here for generations. It is for the better understanding of the non-Sikkimese readers that I used the word migrant. Maybe I should have termed them as “People of Nepali origin.” Sorry for my carelessness. And thank you for enlightening me on Basanta Kumar Chhetri. Wasn’t aware of him.

      Thank You,
      Joydeep Hazarika


      That’s was a great and benefitting conversation……….”Rajen logic” at the end Thankyou……he he he.

  1. Pingback: The Year at iSikkim | iSikkim

    • vickey palzor lepcha

      Mr. Rajen , the things that you’ve mentioned above, i know its not wrong, yet what i have always been observing is the cheerfulness with which a majority of nepali population in Sikkim and Darjeeling District orchestrates and glorifies Nepal History, i believe the Gokha Army were repelled back by Sikkimese Army, wasn’t that also a part of history?
      And talking about migration, i believe Mr. Rajen cannot deny the fact that migration never took place, the present generation was born here in Sikkim and so were most of the older generations, yet migration did take place, isn’t it?
      And what is so wrong in the word migration? Bhutias also migrated and so did Lepchas at some point of time.
      There is nothing wrong in the term migrant or Nepali community being termed as migrants.

    • Yap Kushyo

      Mr Hazarika, as an Associate Producer of an organisation non-lesser than Doordarshan, you must remeber that you are partial when oyu are glorifying one side of the coin. The so-called incorporation of Sikkim and the story at the otherside is something oyu are humbly allign with. It could be parallel with a Bririsher glorifying British takeover of India and praising Mir Zafar.

      You must remember that even Sikkim had its own Mir Zafar while the world is witness to the presence of humiliating number of people during the funeral of Kazi Lhendub Dorje which must be view in terms of the number of mourner on Feb 19, 1982 when the remains of Chogyal PT Namgyal was being cremated at Gangtok.
      This shows the real aspiration of the Sikkimese people hwile the Indian Government must realise the point that its security depends on the people and not the geography.

    • jcw

      Describing Kazi Lhendup Dorji’s desire to merge with India as an example of the ‘will of the people’ is hardly satisfactory. Is one man’s stupidity to give up his nation’s sovereignty really a good explanation? Certainly it cannot be used to justify India’s annexation of Sikkim. And why the hesitation to use this word, after all that’s what really happened. And in his latter years, KLD is known to have rued his part in the loss of Sikkim’s sovereignty.

      Indira’s imperialistic role in this matter has also not been described adequately. Annexation of neighbours would not have happened during her father’s time.

      While there were no doubt Sikkimese of Nepalese origin who were genuine citizens of this country, it is completely undeniable that illegal migration was an ongoing affair that remained a troubling factor in the minds of most Sikkimese, including the Chogyal’s. And lastly, there is no doubt the role played by non-Sikkimese nepalese in the game engineered by Indira that eventually led to an ‘uprising’ and India’s ‘humanitarian intervention’.

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