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How Sikkim Became a Part of India

Context:

It was on May 16, 1975 that Sikkim became 22nd state of the Union of India.

Relevance:

GS II- Polity and Governance (Federalism)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Attacks during Namgyal Rule
  2. British Expansion
  3. Scenario after 1947
  4. 1974 Elections
  5. Decision to join India

Attacks during Namgyal Rule

  • Beginning with Phuntsog Namgyal, the first chogyal (monarch), the Namgyal dynasty ruled Sikkim until 1975. At one point, the kingdom of Sikkim included the Chumbi valley and Darjeeling; the former being part of China now.
  • In the early 1700s, the region saw a series of conflicts between Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet, which resulted in a shrinking of Sikkim’s territorial boundaries.

British Expansion

  • When the British arrived, their expansion plans in the Indian subcontinent included controlling the Himalayan states.
  • The kingdom of Nepal, meanwhile, continued with its attempts to expand its territory.
    • This resulted in the Anglo-Nepalese war (November, 1814 to March, 1816), also known as the Gorkha war, which was fought between the Gorkhali army and the East India Company.
    • Both sides had ambitious expansion plans for the strategically important mountainous north of the Indian subcontinent.
  • In 1814, Sikkim allied with the East India Company in the latter’s campaign against Nepal.
  • The Company won and restored to Sikkim some of the territories that Nepal had wrested from it in 1780.

The turning point

  • A turning point in the history of Sikkim involves the appointment of John Claude White, a civil servant in British India who in 1889 was appointed the Political Officer of Sikkim, which by then was a British Protectorate under the Treaty of Tumlong signed in March, 1861.
  • As with most of the Indian subcontinent that the British had under their administrative control, the kingdom of Sikkim, although a protectorate, had little choice in the administration of its own kingdom.
  • The British encouraged Nepali migration into Sikkim and it didn’t really happen with the monarch’s consent.
  • The Namgyal monarch could not criticise decisions made by the British, but the ruler did complain about this influx of Nepali migrants into the kingdom.

Scenario after 1947

  • Three years after India’s Independence in 1947, Sikkim became a protectorate of India.
  • In 1950, a treaty was signed between the then Sikkim monarch Tashi Namgyal and India’s then Political Officer in Sikkim, Harishwar Dayal.
    • A clause in the treaty read: “Sikkim shall continue to be a Protectorate of India and, subject to the provisions of this Treaty, shall enjoy autonomy in regard to its internal affairs.”
  • Geopolitical changes during that time put Sikkim in a delicate position.
  • China’s invasion of Tibet in 1949 and Nepal’s attacks on Sikkim throughout the kingdom’s history were cited as reasons why the kingdom needed the support and protection of a powerful ally.
  • Further, the talk of persecution of Tibetans after China’s arrival at the scene generated fear of the possibility of Sikkim suffering a similar fate.
Dalai Lama’s Arrival
  • In March 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama escaped from Tibet.
  • After the Dalai Lama reached Indian borders, he and his entourage settled at the Tawang monastery in Arunachal Pradesh.
  • A month later, he travelled to Mussoorie, where he met then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to discuss the future of the Tibetan refugees who had travelled with him.
  • The repercussions of India’s decision to welcome and give refuge to the Dalai Lama sent a message to some in Sikkim that unlike China, aligning with India would guarantee their protection and security, said Bhutia.
  • This was the perspective of the ruling elite in Sikkim.
Public discontent against monarchy
  • The period between the 1950s and the 1970s marked growing discontent in Sikkim.
  • Primarily, there was anger against the monarchy because of growing inequality and feudal control.
  • In December 1947, political groups came together and formed the Sikkim State Congress, a political party that supported the merging of Sikkim with the Union of India.
  • Three years later, the Sikkim National Party was formed that supported the monarchy and independence of the kingdom.
  • A democratic system would have meant a reduction in powers held by the monarch in Sikkim and some researchers believe that the last monarch, Palden Thondup Namgyal, attempted to reduce civil and political liberties.
  • Anti-monarchy protests grew in 1973, following which the royal palace was surrounded by thousands of protesters.
  • Indian troops arrived after the monarch was left with no choice but to ask New Delhi to send assistance.
  • Finally, a tripartite agreement was signed in the same year between the chogyal, the Indian government, and three major political parties, so that major political reforms could be introduced.

1974 Elections

  • A year later, in 1974, elections were held, where the Sikkim State Congress led by Kazi Lhendup Dorji won, defeating pro-independence parties.
  • That year, a new constitution was adopted, which restricted the role of the monarch to a titular post, which Palden Thondup Namgyal bitterly resented.
  • In the same year, India upgraded Sikkim’s status from protectorate to “associated state”, allotting to it one seat each in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
  • Opposed to the move, the monarch attempted to bring international attention to it soon after.

Decision to join India

  • referendum was held in 1975 where an overwhelming majority voted in favour of abolishing the monarchy and joining India.
  • A total 59,637 voted in favour of abolishing the monarchy and joining India, with only 1,496 voting against.
  • Sikkim’s new parliament, led by Kazi Lhendup Dorjee, proposed a bill for Sikkim to become an Indian state, which was accepted by the Indian government.

-Source: Indian Express

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October 2022
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