Sikkim Day: The story of Sikkim’s integration with India
Context- Sikkim day is annually celebrated on May 16, recalling the history of the former kingdom’s integration with India in 1975. This year too, political leaders such as Congress party chief Mallikarjun Kharge, party leader Rahul Gandhi and Home Minister Amit Shah conveyed their messages, marking the day India’s the 22nd state joined the union.
Sikkim’s history with the Chogyal royals
- The kingdom of Sikkim was established in 1642, when, according to one account, three Tibetan lamas consecrated Phuntsong Namgyal as the first ruler or Chogyal of Sikkim. The monarchy of the Namgyal dynasty was maintained for the next 333 years, until its integration with India in 1975.
- Sikkim’s Chogyal dynasty was of Tibetan origin. Sandwiched between India and China, and often party to conflicts over land with Bhutan and Nepal, the British colonisation of India first led to a kind of formal relationship developing between the two states.
- The British saw Sikkim as a buffer state against China and against Nepal, with whom they fought in the Anglo-Gorkha war of 1814-16, helping Sikkim secure a number of territories that Nepal had previously captured.
- A formal protectorate was established over Sikkim through the Treaty of Tumlong in 1861, meaning the British had control over it but it was not officially under their rule and the Chogyals could continue holding onto power.
Independent India and Sikkim
- After India’s independence, princely states had the option to accede to India or Pakistan, and certain cases – like of Hyderabad Junagadh and Kashmir – where a decision was not immediate, led to greater confusion. Such was the case with Sikkim, thanks to a unique relationship with British rule.
- India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, noted the unique situation in Sikkim. India was, during meetings with representatives between the two, of the view that it should take control of defence, external affairs and communication subjects for Sikkim. Until this was finalised, it was to sign a Standstill Agreement, keeping things as they were for the time being.
- Meanwhile, there was at least some demand within Sikkim to develop closer ties with India. Srinivasan’s book says that ethnically, Sikkim consisted of three communities, the Bhutias, Lepchas and Nepalis, of which the Nepalis formed the largest group.
- Three political parties, the Sikkim State Congress (SSC) led by a Bhutia man, the Praja Mandal (PM) that had Lepcha leadership and Praja Sudharak Samaj (PSS) was led by a Nepali, passed a resolution in December 1947 demanding a popular government, abolition of landlordism and accession to India.
- In 1950, the Indo-Sikkim Treaty was signed, making Sikkim an Indian protectorate. It would not be sovereign, as India controlled its defence, external affairs and strategic communications. It also secured exclusive rights to build infrastructure there and Sikkimese people would travel abroad with Indian passports.
How Sikkim joined India
- The 1960s and 1970s would see several events change the course of Sikkim’s status.
- First, a split in the SSC led to the formation of the Sikkim National Congress (SNC) in 1960. The party would go on to play a crucial role in accession.
- For new Indian PM Indira Gandhi, her position weakened after the 1967 general elections that saw her return to power with a reduced majority in the Lok Sabha. This was following the India-China war of 1962, where India lost. It made it all the more important to contain skirmishes between Indian and Chinese troops on the Sikkim border.
- Anti-monarchy protests grew in Sikkim 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.
- A year later, in 1974, elections were held, where the Sikkim Congress led by Kazi Dorji won. That year, a new constitution was adopted, which restricted the role of the monarch to a titular post.
- A referendum was held in Sikkim in 1975, where two-thirds of eligible voters took part. Here, 59,637 votes were cast in favour of abolishing the monarchy and joining India, with 1,496 voting against.
- Within a week, India’s Ministry of External Affairs introduced the Constitution (Thirty-Sixth Amendment) Bill in the Lok Sabha to recognise Sikkim as a state in the Union of India. This was passed in the Parliament and assented to by President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, coming into effect on May 16, 1975.
Syllabus- Current Affairs; Prelims
Source- Indian Express