How Sikkim merged with INDIA
In 1975, famous filmmaker Satyajit Ray made this documentary which tells us about the landscape, culture and monuments of Sikkim. Nothing appears to be controversial with this as most states use such documentaries to promote tourism. But on the contrary this documentary was banned for almost forty years.
Another such example is a book written by Sunanda K Datta Ray, ‘Smash & Grab’ about the annexation of Sikkim. Unlike the documentary, the book wasn’t completely banned but a defamation case was filed against it and its publication was suppressed.
The story of Sikkim
Sikkim has remained a Buddhist dominated region since centuries. It was formed in the year 1642 when Chogyal Phuntsog Namgyal was made Sikkim’s ruler by the three great lamas. The state remained independent for almost five hundred years.
Britishers came to Sikkim in the eighteenth century and were in good terms. As a consequence of events Sikkim signed a treaty with Britishers in 1817 according to which Sikkim accepted British superiority with some independence and protection. With this Darjeeling, which was a part of the Sikkim kingdom was taken up by British.
Till 1947 the relationship between British and Sikkim remained unchanged. Thus when India got independence the relationship of Sikkim with India wasn’t clear. The monarch of Sikkim denied to become a part of the Indian union and thus India gave it a special status under the India and Sikkim treaty of 1950. This treaty was opposed by major leaders like BN Rao and Sardar Patel. Under this treaty Sikkim entertained much independence but India was responsible for its security and India had the right to station its armed forces in Sikkim.
After the 1962 India-China war and the 1965 India-Pakistan war, the monarch of Sikkim started to demand more internal and external autonomy. The reason was the increased Indian-military presence in Sikkim post both the wars which made the monarch nervous. These demands further increased when the crown prince Palden Thondup Namgyal became the Chogyal(king) and the monarch started to demand autonomy in trade and defence.
But the chances of these demands being fulfilled declined when Indira Gandhi was elected as the Prime Minister of India. She believed in respecting the wishes of the majority population of Sikkim who wanted merger with India.
Sikkim was resided by Lepchas, Bhutias and Limbus originally. But as a result of population shift in the British era Nepalis migrated to Sikkim became the majority towards the early twentieth century. The majority Nepalese population were labors whereas the monarch made decisions in favor of the elites hence while the monarch wished to keep Sikkim independent, the majority population led by the opposition leader Tashi Tshering and other like minded political parties wanted to abolish the monarch, introduce land reforms and instill democracy by merging with India.
Execution of the Plan
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi showed concerns about the increasing demands of Chogyal and called Rameshwar Nath Kao for a solution. He is the same person who set up RAW.
Another reason that made India upset with the monarch of Sikkim was Chogyal’s second wife Hope Cook. Her American passport gave her attention in the international media. And the monarch used this media to secure complete independence.
R N Kao along with two other diplomats GBS Sidhu and PN Banerjee made and executed a plan to merge Sikkim with India while maintaining that it was a natural consequence of people’s desire. The plan was such that protests for democracy by the opposition political parties would lead the Chogyal to seek help from India to instill law and order in the state and this would be a perfect chance for Sikkim’s merger with India. And this plan succeeded.
On 4 April 1973 protesters gathered outside the Chogyal palace and the protest suddenly got violent. The same year an agreement was signed by the Indian government, Chogyal and the political parties of Sikkim, and next year Kaazi Doorji was elected as the first chief minister of Sikkim. But Chogyal was still sovereign until 7 April 1975 when the Indian government put them under house arrest. Thirty-sixth amendment was introduced in the Indian constitution to facilitate merger with Sikkim and also conducted a referendum where the majority voted in favor to merge with India. And finally on 16 May 1975, Sikkim formally became the twenty-second state of India with the position of Chogyal being abolished.
Afterwards the royal family of Sikkim stayed away from active politics. The people of Sikkim have largely accepted Indian sovereignty. Tourism helped Sikkim’s economy to flourish and other social problems of the state such as discrimination against women are being dealt with under democratic rule.
The Indian government banned the documentary and other such decisions were taken to suppress the popularity of the monarch which shows that governments always try to control the narrative in their favor.