The Ghost of Sikkimization

Ignorance leads to irrational and unfounded fear. Whenever the problem of citizenship or other social-justice agenda for Madhes is raised, a certain group actively start pandering the fear of ‘Sikkimization of Nepal,’ changing the public discourse from legitimate demands of the oppressed to a paranoia of threat to national existence. These people often sideline the historic fact that when King Tribhuwan requested Pandit Nehru to assimilate Nepal as a state in India, Nehru politely declined the offer. When Prof. S. D. Muni spoke about this historic fact, his effigies were burnt in protest. Recently, when India’s Prime Minister addressed the parliament of Nepal, he reinforced that India respects Nepal’s sovereignty. Although there is no way to fully debunk India or China’s diplomatic position on Nepal, we should base our fears on the grounds of facts, reality and rationality as ignorance leads to irrational fear.

Articles feeding the paranoia of “Sikkimization of Nepal” ignore the whys & hows of the merger of Sikkim into India.

This article attempts to debug the reality of the parallels drawn between the Sikkim annexation and the current state of Nepal. Sikkim constitutes of three ethnicities: aboriginal Lepcha, Bhutiya and Nepali speaking people. The aboriginal Lepcha and Bhutiya were the Permanent Establishment of Sikkim and ruled over the Nepali speaking diaspora without giving them proper representation in the state mechanism. The social-injustice and discrimination was the Achilles’ heel through which the 12th King (Chogyal), Palden Thondup Namgyal, was brought down by the oppressed Nepali speaking people.

Chogyal wrote anxiously to Sir Basil Gaud, a British Political Officer, regarding the migrants and Nepali speakers who were pushing Sikkim to a conflict. Sir Basil replied that he was aware of the veritable threat to Sikkim and had also warned Raja Sonam Topgye, King of Bhutan. The Bhutanese king said that since the Nepali settlers were not citizens, they could be evicted if need be. Today what we see as Bhutanese Refugee in Nepal could be a manifestation of those insecurities and hostilities towards Nepali speaking diaspora. The Sikkim durbar also knew its own inherent weakness: it represented the ‘minority’ ethic, in a majority Hindu Nepalese country. Sikkim’s conventional nationalism was defined such that the Nepali speakers could not fit in that definition. This issue itself should teach us to build an inclusive Nepal.

Historically, Sikkim was under constant threats from Nepal, Bhutan and British India. The Deb Raja of Bhutan usurped south-east Sikkim, while King Prithivi Narayan Shah annexed Limbuwan, Ilam and Taplejung. Gurkha armies constantly harried the peaceful Buddhist kingdom of Sikkim to seize slaves and cattle. Unable to resist, Sikkim requested the British to intervene the expansionist aggression of Nepal. The British saw this as an opportunity to open trade route to Tibet. Hence, the Treaty of Titalya was signed in 1817 after the conclusion of 1814-16 Anglo-Gurkha war which made Sikkim a protectorate of British. Sikkim remained crushed between the resolve of British to open a trade route to Tibet and China’s stern warning against it. This led to another Anglo-Sikkim war of 1861 resulting in a new treaty of Friendship and Alliance with the British Government. This treaty cunningly transformed Sikkim into a client state of the British, reducing it to a princely state of British-India. A political officer was deputed in Sikkim by the British Raj to guide the government of Sikkim. The nature of relationship between Independent India and Sikkim remained the same, even after the British left.

After India got independence, Nehru said that a committee would examine the problems of Bhutan and Sikkim and report to the assembly. It should be noted that Nepal was not mentioned. Neither the constituent assembly nor the cabinet of India officially discussed any possibility of merging Nepal, which is misquoted in this Pahilopost article, “सन् १९४७ मा स्वतन्त्र भारतका प्रथम प्रधानमन्त्री जवाहरलाल नेहरू नेतृत्वको मन्त्रिमण्डलको बैठकमा तत्कालीन गृह मन्त्री सरदार बल्लभभाइ पटेलले राजा रजौटाहरूको उन्मुलन गरी भारतमा विलय गर्ने सिलसिलामा हिमाली स्वतन्त्र राष्ट्रहरू नेपाल, सिक्किम र भुटानसमेत भारतमा गाभ्ने प्रस्ताव पेश गरेका थिए।” The reeking generalization and distortion of facts to justify irrational fear is simply propagandist.

After Independence, India helped Sikkim economically, increasing its revenue from Rs. 600,000 in 1950 to Rs. 4.1 million in 1954. In fact, Chogyal himself acknowledged that the progress was a fruit of friendship and goodwill with India. India and Sikkim were enjoying their mutually respectful friendship until India and China went into war, and when Sikkim broke some rules laid down by its protector. The suspicion was set when Chogyal mooted the idea of ‘The Himalayan federation’ of Sikkim, Bhutan, Tibet, and Nepal. The then PM of Nepal, Tanka Prasad Acharya, foreign minister of Tibet and King of Bhutan were enthusiastic about this proposal. India saw this federation problematic as it may inspire Buddhists of north-east frontier or Kashmir to demand separation from India and join the Himalayan Federation.

While tension between India and Sikkim was growing, Nepali speaker Lendup Dorji formed a political party called Praja Mandal. The party wanted to overthrow the traditional rulers (reduce the authority of Kazis and Bhutia-Lepchas) and ensure land reforms. Later, Praja Mandal merged with other parties to form State Congress (SC). Sir Tashi Namgyal, 11th Choygal, met with the parties and an agreement was reached on most demands. Tashi Tsering was sworn in as Sikkim’s first and only prime minster on 9th May, 1949. His inexperience in governance led to his dismissal 29 days after the ceremony. Then Sir Tashi Namgyal (Chogyal) and India came together to help Sikkim in controlling the public unrest and address people’s demand. The Indian officials started drafting a new treaty with Sikkim. This was also the time when India wanted its northern border completely secured.

The relationship of Nepalese community and Sikkim Durbar further worsened when in 1960s, Aap Pant built a temple on Lukshyama near royal cremation ground, gaining disapproval from the Buddhist denizens. These cultural clashes were fueling the communal fire between the Buddhist and Hindu Nepali ethnicities. While the public discourse was polarized, on 21st Independence of India, a group of children carrying placards with messages “We want independence” marched towards India House in Sikkim. In an article titled ‘Sikkim at the Crossroads’ the State National Congress (SNC) leaders accused the Chogyal of absolutism, warning that “there can be no king without a people”. SNC stressed on popular agendas such as written constitution, fundamental rights, independent judiciary and strengthening of friendly relations between Sikkim and India, and abolition of the prevailing communal election system. Nurtured with demagoguery, SNC was becoming an organization of rowdy young Nepalese which alienated Lepcha-Bhutia constituency.

Janata Congress, seen as the party of Lepcha-Bhutia, made conscious efforts to dilute its ethnic exclusivity and reach out to the Nepali community. Despite the efforts, Janata Congress suffered from Krishna Chandra’s vituperative demagoguery, which was considered extreme even by the Nepali speakers. We can compare present day anti-Madhesi remarks of Oli to that of Krishna Chandra’s. Unable to bring in Nepali speaking voters on board, Janata Congress only won two seats and lost its conventional Lepcha-Bhutia base. Instead, the National Party won securing 11 councilors’ vote. Netuk Tshring of the National Party then announced, “We look forward to this continued assistance and feel confident that the government of India will not lag behind in fulfilling the ambitions of our people in enabling us to enjoy the status like that of Nepal and Bhutan.”

Two weeks after swearing in of the elected members, tension broke out in Gangtok. The Janata Congress organized rally and petitioned Chogyal to set aside the recent elections because they claimed that it was unfair. A ten-member Joint Action Committee (JAC) was set up by the agitating parties who had lost election. On 4th April, 1973, the JAC incited mobs started attacking weak police forces with Khukuri and Lathi. On 9th April, JAC announced that the agitation was being called off since the Chogyal signed an agreement to convene an all party conference to discuss constitutional changes. In reformed electoral system under Lendup Dorji, Nepali were ensured majority in many of the electorate. The Sikkim Congress captured 31 out of 32 seats. This left many Sikkimese skeptical but they did not expect Lendup Dorji to erase Sikkim from the world map. Probably the electorate underestimated the power of demagogues which can lead to disintegration of any nation.

As per the agreement of May 8th, 1973, between the Chogyal and the agitating political parties, ‘Government of Sikkim bill’ was presented to the legislators of Sikkim. The most significant of which was section 30. (c) “…seek participation and representation for the people of Sikkim in the political institutions of India”. The Sikkim’s elected assembly further enlarged the scope of the clause by adding “… and parliamentary system of India”. On June 20th, 1974, all the MLAs signed it in less than a record time of 15 minutes without any detailed discussions. The 32 legislators, who signed the bill, were given the name Battise Chor (32 thieves) by the Sikkim public. With signing of the bill, Lendup Dorji became the chief minister.

Under crushing majority of Congress, Indira Gandhi silenced the dissent voice in Indian parliament against the merger of Sikkim and India. A new article was inserted in the constitution’s first part which enabled the merger. Indian’s parliament passed the Constitution (38th Amendment) Bill and adopted Sikkim as India’s 22nd state. The merger was criticized by China and Pakistan. Ironically, Pakistan had merged two principalities of Hunza and Swat and China had done the same with Tibet. To legitimize the merger of India and Sikkim, a referendum was conducted, the authenticity and legality of which is not above scrutiny. It was announced that out of 63% voter turnout, 97% supported the merger.

Note that there were many factors at play, which resulted in secession of Sikkim into India. The major factors being internal issues of social-injustice against Nepali speaking people, Lendup’s vengeance towards the Chogyal of Sikkim, suspicion set by India-China war and proposal of the Himalayan federation, India’s own geo-political concern and the lack of trust between Sikkim and Delhi.

Nepal registered a protest against the merger. There were public protests against ‘India’s policy of colonialism and imperialism’ in front of Indian embassy in Kathmandu. The rioters looted many Indian and Indian-looking-Nepali shops. When Delhi ignored the protest, the mood in Nepal slowly changed from anger to fear.

Coincidentally, this was also the time when the Nepali public was struggling for democracy so the monarchist nationalists utilized the Sikkim India merger as a propaganda to defame the people’s movement as India’s conspiracy to merge Nepal.

While the general public was disillusioned by the propaganda, the monarchists utilized it to counter the democratic movement in Nepal. Thus, the Ghost of Sikkimization was born in the minds of commoners of that era which has grown into youth now and may not die anytime soon.

The image featured was taken from