How Sikkim became India’s 22nd state

0
47

Former diplomat Preet Mohan Singh Malik combines insights into the unique history of the erstwhile kingdom of Sikkim with the intriguing story of how it became India’s 22nd state in his new book.

The book ‘Sikkim: A History of Intrigue and Alliance’, published by HarperCollins India, released on May 16, which is celebrated as Sikkim Day.

For India today, Sikkim remains significant from a strategic point of view, given its proximity to Tibet and the crucial Siliguri Corridor that connects India’s north-eastern states with the rest of the country.

Sikkim also remains an enigma for most, with many misconceptions about its history and its merger with India in 1975.

Among the many things, Malik examines the often-fraught relationship between the Lepchas (Rongpas) – the original inhabitants – and the Bhutias – people of Tibetan origin who established institutions of religion and governance, and founded the Namgyal dynasty that ruled the kingdom until it became a part of the Indian Union.

India’s historical relationships with Tibet and China also form a part of this narrative covering, in particular, the many facets of British involvement in the Himalayan region during the colonial period, and strategic failures that were compounded by Jawaharlal Nehru’s Tibet policy, which was termed by some as flawed.

Malik claims that Nehru’s ‘Vision of Asia’ policy was dominated by the idea of India and China becoming the pivots of a rising Asia, and resulted in his failure to attach an appropriate value to the extraterritorial rights that India had in Tibet.

“The mischief that China came to play, particularly in the Chumbi Valley, led to the exchanges of 1967 when the importance of retaining India’s geostrategic positions in Sikkim was driven home to Delhi,” he writes.

According to Malik, it was Sikkim’s geographical location and the ease of connectivity that it provided to Tibet that led the British to attach increasing importance to Sikkim.

“Eventually, the British ended up treating Sikkim as a ‘federated princely state of India’, encouraging its membership to the Indian Chamber of Princes in 1922. Nehru came to treat Sikkim as a state in a special relationship with India, turning down the demand of the popular movement that sought it to be treated on par with other Indian princely states,” he writes.

The objective of the book, he says, is to clarify and establish the primacy of strategic issues that lay behind India’s decision to accept the demand that Sikkim be merged with India.

“The compelling security factors behind this merger included the presence of Indian troops at the commanding heights of Sikkim to neutralise the threat that the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) occupation of the Chumbi Valley posed to the ‘chicken’s neck’, the only land link that connects north-east India to the rest of the country,” he argues.

“The military exchanges between the Chinese and Indian forces in the autumn of 1967 along the Sikkim border with Tibet overlooking the Chumbi Valley, and more recently the standoff between the two forces at the Doklam plateau, once again reinforced the strategic importance of Sikkim, and its geographical location, to the defence of India, to counter any threat posed by China to the vulnerable Siliguri Corridor,” he says.

Malik draws from extensive sources, including hitherto unknown archival material that he had access to while serving at India’s political office to Sikkim and Bhutan in Gangtok in the late 1960s.

Malik, who joined the IFS in 1962, served as India’s ambassador to Bahrain, Cuba and Myanmar, and as high commissioner to Tanzania with concurrent accreditation to the Seychelles and Malaysia, with concurrent accreditation to Brunei, among other assignments. (PTI)