“There is a sacred veil to be thrown over the beginnings of all government.”
~ quoted in an article about Sunanda Datta-Ray’s book Smash & Grab: Annexation of Sikkim, in the Business Standard magazine.
Originally quoted by Edmund Burke on the trial of Warren Hastings, this quotation brings forth a harsh reality about the documented history of a nation. The same holds true when a particular land or ‘kingdom’ is annexed. Sikkim’s annexation is believed to be a turning point in the history of the tiny Himalayan state, as well as of India. 16 May 1975, is considered as the official date of annexation of Sikkim to India. Although, the process started way early, and there were several internal and external factors that decided Sikkim’s history to be one with that of the Indian nation.
During the British rule in India, the kingdom of Sikkim enjoyed a ‘sovereign’ status with “British protectorate” against the neighbouring Nepal and China. This ‘subordinate alliance’ with the British was carried on by the newly formed Indian government after 1947. The then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, signed an agreement with Sikkim's ruler, Chogyal Tashi Namgyal, after conducting a poll in the kingdom asking for public opinion about Sikkim’s relation with India. According to the agreement, Sikkim was to be treated as a “tributary of India,” in which India would manage its foreign affairs, communication and defense, while it remained an independent monarchy. This arrangement worked well, until the Indo-China War in 1962.
Indo-China War, Indira Gandhi, and the new Chogyal
India’s stance regarding Sikkim started to change after the Indo-China war in 1962. The Nathula Pass between Tibet and Sikkim, became a temporary battleground between the Indian and Chinese military troops. This prompted the complete shut-down of the Nathula Pass as soon as the war ended. Events that occurred in the Nathula Pass generated a sense of fear among the Indian government. They considered Sikkim to be a security problem.
After Jawaharlal Nehru’s death, his daughter Indira Gandhi came to power. The fear of Sikkim being a ‘weak link’ was already set in her mind. Along with this, in Sikkim, Palden Thondup Namgyal ascended the throne and became the new Chogyal (king) after his father, Chogyal Tashi Namgyal’s demise due to cancer.
In 1972, India suggested modifying Sikkim’s position from “special protectorate” to “permanent association.” The new Chogyal suggested Sikkim to have “full sovereign rights [entering] into a permanent association.” Historians believe this was the beginning of India’s covert efforts to annex the “tiny Himalayan kingdom.”
Elections and Subsequent Changes in Sikkim’s Administration
In addition to the changes in both the governments, a change in the public’s mindset was noticed. Even though, there was a section of the society in Sikkim who wanted the kingdom to be a part of the Indian democracy since 1947, it was during Chogyal Palden’s accession that the sentiments became more prominent. According to historians, this prominence was mainly due to Sikkim’s complicated electoral processes started by Tashi Namgyal. The electoral system for the selection of the council of ministers was such that the Nepalis living in Sikkim, who actually represented 75% of the population, were recognised to have only 25% weightage in context with the voting rights of the kingdom. It was called the “Parity Formulae.” During Palden’s time, this Parity Formulae became even more intricate, and this increased the Chogyal’s unpopularity among his subjects.
In 1960, the Sikkim National Congress Party was formed by Kazi Lhendup Dorjee, who wished to use a “non-communal party” approach to “give the Sikkimese peace, prosperity and progress.” This party had more Nepalese members.
During the 1973 General Election of Sikkim, there was unrest among the public due to unsatisfactory election results. The Chogyal asked help from Indian troops to control the riots in Gangtok. According to a section of historians, the unrest was instigated by the Indian government to weaken the kingdom’s machinery. Eventually, the Chogyal had to concede to have an administrator from India to control the affairs of the kingdom. The subsequent election next year, made Lhendup Dorjee the Prime Minister by a huge majority. He played a key role in merging Sikkim with India.
End of Monarchy
Between 1973 and 1975, the “anti-monarchical voice” became stronger not only in Sikkim but even internationally, courtesy Lhendup Dorjee’s wife, journalist Elisha Marie. Owing to protests and demonstrations, the anti-Chogyal government led by Lhendup Dorjee, sought India for a ‘deeper’ democratic association. India, who was ready for the new association, rushed into organising a referendum to ‘absorb’ Sikkim. This referendum found about 97.5% supporters, who were eager to end the monarchical administration. Thereafter, the Chogyal dynasty was abolished and Sikkim became the 22nd state of India with complete democratic rights and privileges. Kazi Lhendup Dorjee became the first Chief Minister of the newly formed Himalayan state of India.
In conclusion, historians believe that even though “Sikkim lost its identity as a tiny Himalayan Kingdom,” the people finally got their “democratic rights,” for which they fought for so long.
Also on this day:
1931 – K Natwar Singh, former Minister of External Affairs for India, was born
- History, Culture and Customs of Sikkim by J R Subba.
- Lifting the ‘sacred veil’ on Sikkim, article by Srinath Raghavan in Business Standard Magazine.
- Monarchy and Democracy in Sikkim and the Contribution of Kazi Lhendup Dorjee Khansherpa, research paper by Dhanraj Rai.