On Sikkim’s statehood day, we bring to you the history of Sikkim’s merger with India

On Sikkim’s statehood day, we bring to you the history of Sikkim’s merger with India

TNT Desk | May 16, 2018

Though the state of Sikkim became the 22nd Indian State on 26 April 1975, it was only on 16th May, 1975 that Sikkim officially merged with the Indian union and became the 22nd state of the country. Commemorating the same, a mega state level function was held in Gangtok today. Various achievers of the state were honored with state awards during the occasion.

On this day, we bring to you the history of Sikkim’s merger with India.

The history of Sikkim as a kingdom

The history of Sikkim began in 1642 as a kingdom established when India and Nepal were still princely states with many rulers at that time and had not unified to the present Union of India and present country of Nepal. At that time Sikkim had already solidified into country then with a king known as a Chogyal or dharma king, and till 16 May 1975 was an independent country ruled by the monarchs.

The Sikkimese National Flag

Sikkim had twelve kings; Palden Thondup Namgyal was the last king of Independent Sikkim. There was contacts between ancient Hindus and Tibetans, followed by the establishment of a Buddhist kingdom or Chogyal in the 17th century. Sikkim emerged as a polity in its own right against a backdrop of incursions from Tibet and Bhutan, during which the kingdom enjoyed varying degrees of independence.

Tashi Namgyal, Chogyal of Sikkim. 1938.

In the early 18th century, the British Empire sought to establish trade routes with Tibet, leading Sikkim to fall under British suzerainty until independence in 1947. Initially, Sikkim remained an independent country, until it merged with India in 1975 after a decisive referendum. Many provisions of the Indian constitution had to be altered to accommodate the international treaties between Sikkim and India.

Merger with India

Sikkim had retained guarantees of independence from Britain when it became independent, and such guarantees were transferred to the Indian government when it gained independence in 1947. A popular vote for Sikkim to join the Indian Union failed and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru agreed to a special protectorate status for Sikkim. Sikkim was to be a tributary of India, in which India controlled its external defence, diplomacy and communication. A state council was established in 1953 to allow for constitutional government for the Chogyal, which was sustained until 1973.

In 1962, India and the People’s Republic of China went to war. Although Sikkim was an independent country, skirmishes occurred at the Nathula Pass between Indian border guards and the Chinese soldiers. After the war, the ancient pass was shut down (it reopened 6 July 2006).

The old ruler Tashi Namgyal died in 1963 after suffering from cancer. The last hereditary ruler, the Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal, ascended to the throne in 1965. Trouble began to brew for the crown even before the Chogyal assumed the throne, as Indian Prime Minister Nehru, who had carefully preserved Sikkim’s status as an independent protectorate, died in 1964. His daughter Indira Gandhi, who became Prime Minister in 1966, would have little patience for maintaining an independent Sikkim or its monarchy. The chogyal, who responded to the increased pressure by drinking, was viewed by India as politically dangerous, especially after his wife, the American socialite Hope Cooke, published a journal article advocating a return of certain former Sikkimese properties.

Indian Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi with the King of Sikkim, Early 1970’s

In early 1970 the anti-monarchy Sikkim National Congress Party demanded fresh elections and greater representation for the Nepalese.

In 1973, anti-royalty riots in front of the palace led to a formal request for protection from India. India worried that an unstable Sikkim would invite China to act on its claims that Sikkim was part of Tibet, and therefore part of China. The Indian government appointed a Chief administrator, Mr. B. S. Das, who effectively wrested control of the country away from the Chogyal.

Frosty relations between the Chogyal and the elected Kazi (Prime Minister) Lhendup Dorji resulted in an attempt to block the meeting of the legislature. The Kazi was elected by the Council of Ministers which was unanimous in its opposition to the retention of the Monarchy.

Prime Minister Dorji appealed to the Indian Parliament for representation and change of status to statehood. On 14 April 1975, a referendum was held, in which Sikkim voted to merge with the union of India. Sikkim became the 22nd Indian State on 26 April 1975. On 16 May 1975, Sikkim officially became a state of the Indian Union and Lhendup Dorji became head of State (chief minister).

The position of Chogyal was thus abolished, ending the monarchy. In 1982, Palden Thondup died of cancer in the United States.

The 1979 assembly election saw Nar Bahadur Bhandari elected Chief Minister of Sikkim. Bhandhari held on to win again in 1984 and 1989. In 1994, Assembly politician Pawan Kumar Chamling became the Chief Minister of Sikkim. In 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014 Chamling consolidated his position to sweep the polls and is now the longest serving Chief Minister in India.


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