Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Story of Sikkim

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diocumentaryIntroduction

Sikkim is the second smallest state of the Indian Republic, after Goa. The state is Buddhist-majority and has been ruled by the same party for years, winning election after election. As much as Sikkim might seem as another vibrant state of India, its history is intriguing. From a small kingdom that made the mistake of supporting the English East India Company to being annexed by the mighty Independent India, Sikkim's story is fully of mystery and conspiracy.

 

In this documentary, we try to understand how the monarchy in Sikkim functioned, where it went terribly wrong and how Sikkim eventually became the 22nd state of India.

 

The Monarchy

Legend goes that one night, Prince Khye Bumsa of the Royal House of Kham of Eastern Tibet received a divine instruction in his sleep to travel southwards and seek his fortune. In 1642, his fifth generation descendant Phuntsog Namgyal became the first Chogyal, or King, of Sikkim. As a deeply religious Buddhist kingdom, the new King was consecrated by three revered Lamas.

 

However, over successive generations, the Kingdom faced many invasions. Starting with an invasion by Bhutan that was repelled with Tibetan aid to numerous invasions by the Nepalese, Sikkim began losing territory to Nepal, a process that ended only with the help of Chinese troops who could fight the fierce Gorkhas of Nepal.

 

When the East India Company seized control of a majority of neighbouring India, the rulers of Sikkim saw an opportunity. With the British looking to defeat the Nepalese, Sikkim allied itself with the British. This would prove to be an unwise decision, as the British began to illegally tax the Sikkimese region of Morang. In 1849, two British doctors, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker and Dr Archibald Campbell, began exploring Sikkim without permission and were arrested.

 

The arrests angered the British, who set forth to annex Sikkim's territory. Eventually, Darjeeling and Morang were annexed by British India in 1853 and, in 1890, all of Sikkim became a British protectorate with the Chogyal as the nominal head.

 

The Annexation

In 1947, after India attained Independence, a referendum held in Sikkim voted against joining the Indian Union. Subsequently, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru agreed to confer the status of a protectorate upon Sikkim. Under this special arrangement, matters such as foreign relations and defense were handled by India while Sikkim retained a great deal of autonomy. A state council was formed and a Government under the Chogyal was established.

 

The arrangement worked well under Nehru. However, things began to change when Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister. India was caught in the midst of the cold war: the mighty United States of America and the Soviet Union were at loggerheads. While India officially toed the line of Non-Alignment, it was all too clear that it was closer to the USSR than it was to the USA. At the height of Indira Gandhi's tenure, anti-Americanism peaked. Any American in India was considered a CIA agent; the Government was extremely weary of American influence, even as neighbouring Pakistan began to ally itself with the Americans.

 

In a strange turn of events, the Chogyal of Sikkim decided to marry for a second time. Only this time, his wife was American. This move angered Indira Gandhi and tensions began to rise. Meanwhile, the Sikkim National Congress, a powerful political party in Sikkim, started demanding greater representation for the Nepalese minority. Riots and clashes broke out in Sikkim and there was a deep sense of dislike towards the Chogyal. The Indian Government saw this as a move by the Americans to interfere in India's affairs.

 

Finally, in 1975, the Kazi (Prime Minister) of Sikkim went against the Chogyal and appealed to the Indian Parliament to change Sikkim's status to a full state of India. His appeal was approved. In April 1975, a 5,000-strong contingent of the Indian Army invaded Sikkim and surrounded the Chogyal's palace. His 300 bodyguards, who were themselves trained by the Indian Army, were caught and driven away, while one of them was shot. The Chogyal was arrested. In his last letter to Indira Gandhi, he wrote:

I have no words when the Indian army was sent today in a surprise attack on Sikkim Guards who are less than 300 strong and were trained, equipped and officered by the Indian army who looked upon each other as comrades. This is a most treacherous and black day in the history of democratic India in solving the survival of our little country by use of arms.

 

The Chogyal died under Indian surveillance, supposedly of a weak heart. The Sikkim National Flag was lowered and subsequently banned, being replaced by the Indian Tricolour. A referendum was held under which 59% of the electorate came out to vote. Of them, 97.5% approved a merger with India. However, historians strongly dispute the statistics provided by the Indian Government as well as the fairness of the referendum, which was conducted by the Indian Army. Nonetheless, Sikkim was merged with the Indian Union as its 22nd State.

 

Interestingly, the treaty which enabled the merger had a special clause inserted into it by India: the merger of Sikkim and India could never be disputed in any court of the land, including the Supreme Court. Of all the instruments of accession signed between various Princely States and the Indian Union, only this one contains this special clause. Details of what actions Indian Intelligence agencies took before the annexation, including the accession of Bhutan to the United Nations, remain sketchy, mostly because the Government classifies it as a state secret.

 

The Union

Today, Sikkim is like any other state of India. It is nominally headed by a Governor while executive power lies with the Chief Minister and his Cabinet, who belong to and are responsible to an elected unicameral State Legislative Assembly. Sikkim's flourishing economy is based on agriculture and tourism. Sikkim is one of the most peaceful states of India. It sends one member to each house of Parliament.

 

While the youth of Sikkim are firmly in favour of it remaining an Indian State, there is always the thought of how a quiet little Himalayan Kingdom turned into a battleground and was gobbled up by a much-larger country that had just freed itself from foreign rule. As they say, destiny plays strange games.

 

The Documentary series on OTFS returns with this enthralling narration. Keep watching this space for more thought-provoking stories.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi,
It is a wonderful suprise and a pleasure to find out that some one (and not a sikkimese I presume, beg your pardon) has written about our recent history as it actually happened.
I am an Indian sikkimese, born after the annexation and though I am happy to be an Indian, I can't help feeling nostalgic about our past. The ethnic sikkimese have become minority in our own land and with every passing day our history and culture are being deliberately and systematically distorted.
Today we are just 20% of the total population and the Sikkimese language is all but forgotten. India , to her credit has laid down certain rules and acts to protect the ethnic minority but with passing day loopholes and acts get passed to manipulate and bypass them.
It is our land, we are not immigrants , we are the sikkimese we haven't gone and settled in any alien land, all we want is to live and to be left alone.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect to all Sikkim brothers and sisters. We should all remember that all international boundaries are drawn ad changed again and again. To be a small state is always dangerous.

I frankly feel that Sikims annexation to India is the best thing which can happen to your state. Today Sikkim is a part of our nation and until this date I never knew that it was a state outside India prior to independence. Furthermore as far as ethnic minority in your state is concerned I feel every individual has his own culture and identity. It is upto us to strengthen the same.

Anonymous said...

There is something to say about India, the world's largest democracy. India is an expansionist in the classicist sense. India's territory has been expanding ever since her independence in August 1947.

First India expanded into Kashmir, sending troops into Kashmir literally days after her independence. Despite there is an United Nation resolution calling for Kashmir to have a plebiscite which India never agree to participate.

Please read this:

http://hellinparadise.150m.com/dralistairlamb.htm

Then in 1951, India expanded into Tibetan territories BEYOND the territories controlled by British India.

From pg 7 of Oxford historian Neville Maxwell's 'India's China War':

"The Tibetans hoped that the transfer of British power to the Indians would give them an opportunity to regain the territory that British took from them a century before. In October 1947 [two months after India got her independence], they formally requested India to return their territory from Ladakh to Assam, and including Sikkim. The Indians in return simply asked Tibet to continue the relationship on the basis of the previous British Government."

But the newly independent India simply wasn't content with what they got from their colonial master. They want more. Specifically to seize the town of Tawang, the birthplace of the Sixth Dalai Lama some three hundred years ago.

From pg 8 of Neville Maxwell's 'India's China War':

"[In 1951] In response to the protests of the Tibetan authorities in Lhasa, the Indian officials stated that India was taking over Tawang. The Tibetans protested again that they "deeply regret and absolutely cannot accept” what the Indian government "seizing as its own what did not belong to it." The Indian government ignored the protests, forced the Tibetan administration out, and stayed on in Tawang, as the British did in Dirang Dzong in 1944."

India still stayed on in Tawang to this day, with a heavy troops presence of over 100,000 strong. In a heroic attempt to resist the occupier, the local Tibetans decided to take matters into their own hand.

Again, from pg 8 of Neville Maxwell's 'India's China War':

"Having their verbal resistance ignored, the Tibetans took a toll in blood the Indian extension. One of the Tibetan tribes warmly welcomed a strong patrol comprising seventy-four riflemen and civilians from Assam. The Tibetans feasted and gave them shelter, and then massacred all but one. Nehru ordered an overwhelming show of force,..."

To read Neville Maxwell's 'India's China War' in its entirety, please go to:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/12249475/Indias-China-War-Neville-Maxwell

Then in 1961 India expanded into Goa, a Portuguese colony that explicitly refused to join the Indian Union in 1947. The United States' official reaction to the invasion of Goa was delivered by Adlai Stevenson in the UN Security Council, where he condemned the armed action of the Indian government and demanded that all Indian forces be unconditionally withdrawn from Goan soil.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1961_Indian_Annexation_of_Goa

Then in 1962 India continue its push northward, invading territories that even Britian explicitly recognized as Chinese. Specifically territories north of the so-called MaMahon line, which is unilaterally imposed by Britain on China and no Chinese governments, be it the Nationalist or the Communist, ever recognized. Please read this:

http://www.gregoryclark.net/redif.html

Then in 1975 India turned her attention to Sikkim, a Himalayan kingdom with a 300 years old monarchy and annexed the country by force under the guise of democracy:

Please read this:

http://www.nepalitimes.com.np/issue/35/Nation/9621

Putting the Sikkim king under house arrest until his death:

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,913029,00.html

and this:

http://sikhim.blogspot.com/2009/07/chogyal-palden-thondup-namgyal-with.html

Anonymous said...

There is something to say about India, the world's largest democracy. India is an expansionist in the classicist sense. India's territory has been expanding ever since her independence in August 1947.

First India expanded into Kashmir, sending troops into Kashmir literally days after her independence. Despite there is an United Nation resolution calling for Kashmir to have a plebiscite which India never agree to participate.

Please read this:

http://hellinparadise.150m.com/dralistairlamb.htm

Then in 1951, India expanded into Tibetan territories BEYOND the territories controlled by British India.

From pg 7 of Oxford historian Neville Maxwell's 'India's China War':

"The Tibetans hoped that the transfer of British power to the Indians would give them an opportunity to regain the territory that British took from them a century before. In October 1947 [two months after India got her independence], they formally requested India to return their territory from Ladakh to Assam, and including Sikkim. The Indians in return simply asked Tibet to continue the relationship on the basis of the previous British Government."

isasank said...

"First India expanded into Kashmir, sending troops into Kashmir literally days after her independence. Despite there is an United Nation resolution calling for Kashmir to have a plebiscite which India never agree to participate."

False. UN Security Council Resolution 47 says "Noting with satisfaction that both India and Pakistan desire that the question of the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan would be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite" meaning that it acknowledges that both sides want to settle the issue via plebiscite.

However, as the resolution states, a plebiscite cannot be conducted until BOTH India and Pakistan withdraw from the portions of Kashmir controlled by them. Also, since the Indo Chinese War of 1962, China controls the Aksai Chin region of the state, which must also be taken into consideration. Also, as a result of the ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Pandits from the state, as well as the continued cross border terrorism and insurgency backed by the ISI, there is too much demographic change, extremism, and hate in the state for a plebiscite to be fairly held.

In any case, the UN Resolution was passed under Chapter VI of the UN Charter, making it non binding. That's why the resolution specifically uses the word "recommends"; it can't order anyone to do anything.

Further, India invaded the state of Kashmir at the behest of the King of the state after he signed the Instrument of Accession that all other Princely States that acceded to India signed. Alastair Lamb asserts that the Accession was not yet signed when the Indian army invaded, but that makes little difference to the situation, as the king had come to meet with Indian diplomats specifically to accede to India so that India could save the kingdom from Pakistan. So even if India was indeed invading another country, they were doing it at the urging of its king, and to drive out Pakistani invaders. This is, at worst, a legal technicality, and hardly the imperialism you make it out to be.

"The Tibetans hoped that the transfer of British power to the Indians would give them an opportunity to regain the territory that British took from them a century before. In October 1947 [two months after India got her independence], they formally requested India to return their territory from Ladakh to Assam, and including Sikkim. The Indians in return simply asked Tibet to continue the relationship on the basis of the previous British Government."

Tibet may have asked India to return the territory that the British took, but India was under no obligation to hand it over. It is important to note that Ladakh became an independent kingdom after the Tibetan Empire broke up, under the Namegyal dynasty, though it was eventually taken over by the King of Jammu and Kashmir, who acceded to India. So Tibet lost its claim to the area.

Incidentally, the people of Ladakh are not protesting against Indian rule; they have democracy under India and like being part of it, especially seeing as the Communist Chinese dictatorship is close by.

isasank said...

As far as Sikkim is concerned, it became a British protectorate in 1890, after the British repulsed a Tibetan invasion. So Tibet renounced its claim to Sikkim in the peace treaty.

Tawang, though originally under the control of the Mon people, became part of British India as a result of the Simla Agreement, so Tibet renounced its claim there too. Tibet may have complained that Tawang did not belong to India, but did it really belong to Tibet given that the Mon people originally ruled there, and that Tibet had given it up to the British? And doesn't the fact that the people of Arunachal Pradesh regularly vote in Indian elections and openly reject the claim of the Chinese dictatorship over Arunachal Pradesh indicate that they like being part of India?

In fact, Ranjit Singh, the first ruler of the Sikh Empire, took over part of Tibet during his conquests. Would you consider it okay for India to demand this territory on that basis, given that you're endorsing Tibet's similar claim against India? Where do you draw the line?

"Then in 1961 India expanded into Goa, a Portuguese colony that explicitly refused to join the Indian Union in 1947. The United States' official reaction to the invasion of Goa was delivered by Adlai Stevenson in the UN Security Council, where he condemned the armed action of the Indian government and demanded that all Indian forces be unconditionally withdrawn from Goan soil."

Goa was chafing under Portuguese imperialism just as much as India was chafing under British imperialism, and had just as much of a right to be free as the latter did. If the Indian independence movement was not imperialist, how could securing the independence of Goa be? In fact, India asked Portugal to hand over Goa several times but the Portuguese refused. India was liberating Goa, so this is, again, hardly the imperialism you say it is.

Adlai Stevenson may have whined about India's invasion but what of it? Stevenson's own country, the US, had made Hawaii a state in 1959 (just two years before India's takeover of Goa) after overthrowing the monarchy in 1893 and making it a territory of the US in 1898. One might argue saying that the Hawaiians wanted to be part of the US, but surely the same could be said of Goa, since the people of Goa welcomed the Indian army?

isasank said...

"Then in 1962 India continue its push northward, invading territories that even Britian explicitly recognized as Chinese. Specifically territories north of the so-called MaMahon line, which is unilaterally imposed by Britain on China and no Chinese governments, be it the Nationalist or the Communist, ever recognized. Please read this:"

As Clark himself points out, it was China that built a road in the Aksai Chin region. Though Clark only briefly mentions this, this was most definitely a violation of Indian sovereignty, as Aksai Chin was definitely part of Ladakh, as acceded to India by the King of Jammu and Kashmir. India may have been the aggressor, but it was in response to China treating Indian territory as if it were theirs. India's forward policy, which involved creating some outposts north of the McMahon Line, was a response to this, given that China refused to drop its claim to Aksai Chin. Clark claims that China had a claim to Aksai Chin because of its Mongoloid, Buddhist population, and because China had built a road connecting Sianking to Tibet. The road is irrelevant; if India had built a road up there as well, would Clark change his view? Does the fact that the British built plenty of roads in India somehow make their colonization somehow legitimate? And if India built roads in Ladakh, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh, would that make India's claim somehow legitimate in your own eyes? As far as having a Mongoloid Buddhist population, recall that the rest of Ladakh, under Indian control, is also Mongoloid and Buddhist, and Ladakh, again, became independent of Tibet when the Tibetan empire collapsed. So even if we regard Clark's viewpoint that territorial claims are based on race and religion, India's claim is still stronger. Even if we ignore Arunachal Pradesh, India does have a significant number of Mongoloid Buddhists in its Northeast as well.

As far as the McMahon Line is concerned, what is ignored here is that the Chinese accepted the McMahon line as their border with Burma, so it is hypocritical of them not to do so with India. Plus, all of this becomes moot unless you accept China's invasion of Tibet in 1950 as being legitimate.

isasank said...

"Then in 1975 India turned her attention to Sikkim, a Himalayan kingdom with a 300 years old monarchy and annexed the country by force under the guise of democracy"

Ironically, the Nepal Times link that you provided very clearly states that the "Sikkim State Congress started an anti-monarchist movement to introduce democracy, end feudalism and merge with India" and also says that "The key here was to use the predominantly-Hindu Sikkimese of Nepali origin who complained of discrimination from the Buddhist king and elite to rise up. "What we felt then was that the Chogyal was unjust to us," says CD Rai, editor of Gangtok Times and ex-minister. "We thought it may be better to be Indian than to be oppressed by the king." So, when the Indian troops moved in there was general jubilation on the streets of Gangtok."

So there was an entire political party devoted to overthrowing the king, ending feudalism, and merging with India. Not only that, but the majority Nepalese Hindus felt discriminated against by the Buddhist monarch and wanted more representation, and there was even celebration in the streets of the capital when India took over. In fact, the article doesn't mention that there were anti monarchy protests in 1973 and a formal request for protection from India. The Chogyal himself was forced by popular protest to make Sikkim an Indian protectorate. So what exactly are you complaining about? Sure there was opposition, for example from the royalist Sikkim National Party, but why wouldn't there be opposition from the elites who supported the king and would not want the common people to have more power and freedom? The article says that India rigged the referendum to join India, but simultaneously says that the pro India, anti monarchy Sikkim National Congress won the parliamentary elections with a resounding majority. So, again, this was not the imperialism that you say it was. There was indeed significant support for Indian annexation, enough to force pro democracy reforms, win elections, and influence common people into celebrating the Indian annexation. Given the amount of opposition to the Chogyal, I'm not surprised that India would place him under house arrest, probably to prevent his attempting to take control over Sikkim again.

What's even more ironic is that the blogpost that we are both commenting on says that most people of Sikkim want to remain part of India. Not only that, but both bloggers who posted before you, both Sikkimese say that Sikkim should remain part of India. That's why Sikkim is "one of the most peaceful states in India"; the people who live there aren't revolting against the government, because they like India's freedom and democracy.