Thursday, 10 November 2011

Political Transition of Demashong (Sikkim) Part I


Sikkim became an integral part of the union of India in the year 1975. Before becoming the 22nd state of the union of India, Sikkim was a Kingdom. The Kingdom was established by the three holy monks in the year 1641.[1] Phuntsok Namgyal was the first Chogyal[2] from the Namgyal Dynasty and twelve other Chogyals from the same dynasty ruled over the Kingdom for over 330 years. Chogyal was the supreme authority assisted by a team of twelve Dzongpens[3]at the initial period. It was a centralised system of administration based on Tibetan Buddhist tradition. In 1861, Sikkim acquired the status of protectorate under the British.[4] It was decided by a treaty signed between the British India and the Chogyal that the Chogyal will continue to remain supreme in all aspects of administration except external affairs. This treaty was a part of British expansionist policy which provided the British a wider control over the sub-continent. In the words of Leo E. Rose,[5] to the British it became a political and military necessity, as Sikkim was strategically located. Not only Sikkim was the major channel of communication between India and Tibet, it was also the connecting link between the predominantly Hindu culture of the central Himalaya and the Buddhist and animist communities in the eastern Himalaya.
With the British withdrawal from the subcontinent, a standstill agreement was signed between Indian Prime Minister Pt Jawaharlal Nehru and the Chogyal of Sikkim in 1947 which was followed by the signing of another treaty in 1950.The treaty of 1950 accorded a special status to Sikkim.[6] From 1950 to the beginning of 1975, Sikkim remained a kingdom under the provision of the same treaty. In 1975, Sikkim was merged to the union of India as its constituent State. The merger of Sikkim to India led to a political transition in Sikkim which paved the way for a new democratic set up. By giving up the three hundred years old traditional system of administration, Sikkim became a full-fledged State[7] of union of India. Article (371f) of constitution of India provided for democratic form of government with an elected legislative assembly on the basis of adult franchise.[8]
Political transition in Sikkim was a culmination of a long drawn process of movement in favour of democratisation of Sikkim which started during the later half of the 1946. The movement began with the demands of abolition of slavery, protection from forced labour, abolition of landlordism and formation of democratic form of government.[9] The movement for democratisation of Sikkim and particularly its merger with India is largely believed to have been orchestrated by India, but upholding of events in Sikkim that led to Sikkim’s merger to India indicates that it was a popular uprising against the rule of Chogyal in which various ethnic communities, their organisations and political parties took active part.
Sikkim is a home to three main different ethnic groups namely, the Lepchas, the Bhutias, and the Nepalese. The Lepchas[10] and the Bhutias[11], the followers of the Buddhist religion are considered to be the earlier settlers of Sikkim. The invasion of Sikkim by Nepal during 1774-1775 and further British Policy of immigration led to a substantial settlement of Nepalese in Sikkim.[12] Nepalese settlement in Sikkim was also encouraged by the British in the sparsely populated southern and western tracts of Sikkim. British launched an immigration policy which radically altered the ethnic composition of the kingdom and generated a ripple effect extending far into the future. This strategy was driven by the British to balance the pro-Tibetan Bhutias or Sikkimese of Tibetan descent, with pro-British Nepalese. Despite protests from Chogyal Thutob Namgyal (the Ninth Chogyal) and some of the powerful Bhutia-Lepcha kazis (or landlords), this extensive migration persisted virtually unchecked until the last part of the nineteenth century. By 1890, ‘Nepalese Sikkimese’ outnumbered the earliest Sikkimese subjects, i.e. the Lepchas and the Bhutias.[13] With the Nepalese increasing in number, the Lepchas and Bhutias stood together because of the blood brotherhood treaty and the religious solidarity they found in Buddhism.[14] Among these three major ethnic communities of Sikkim, the Nepalese were seen as more in favour of integration to India. Minority Bhutias and Lepchas, particularly the elites of these communities were more on the sides of Chogyals, and were determined to preserve Sikkim as a Buddhist kingdom with its own traditions and institution.
The discontentment among the masses and the conflicting stands on the issue of Sikkim’s merger to India created an impasse. A referendum took place on April 14, 1975 different sections of people forcefully voted in favour of Sikkim becoming part of India. Following the verdict of people in the referendum, the India amended the constitution to admit Sikkim as its 22nd state, with Kazi Lhendup Dorjee as the first chief minister and B. B. Lal as first governor.
Part II Shall be followed soon.
Thujeche Thokus


[1] The Seventeenth century was a turning point in the political history of Sikkim because in the first half of the same century, three holy monks of the Nyingmapa the major and the oldest sect of Tibetan Buddhism from Tibet came to Sikkim with a view of converting the country to their faith. They then found the young men at Gangtok, Phuntsok Namgyal, the son of Guru Tenzing who was a great grandson of Khye Bumsa the Bhutia Legend. The lamas then selected and coroneted the young man as the first Chogyal or Gyalpo or the King of Sikkim with Buddhism as the state religion. This event took place in 1641 at a place called Yuksam in West Sikkim. Succession of Chogyal was based on hereditary principle. See. Lal Bahadur Basnet, Short Political History of Sikkim, New Delhi, S. Chand and Company Ltd., 1974, p.13.
[2] Chogyal is a religious King, the protector of religion is equivalent to the Sanskrit word dharmaraja. It is a Tibetan title conferred to the king which indicates ruler’s supremacy over administrative and religious matters.
[3] Dzongpons means district administrator later popularly known as Kazis. Under the feudalistic system of administration, the Kazis exercised civil and criminal jurisdiction over the areas in which they were responsible for the collection of revenue. See. R. Rahul, The System of Administration in the Himalaya, Asian Survey, Vol. 9, No. 9 September 1969, pp. 694-702.
[4] P.R. Rao, Sikkim: The Story of Integration with India, Cosmo Publications, New Delhi, 1978. p. 5.
[5] Leo E. Rose, “India and Sikkim: Redefining the Relationship”, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 42, No. 1, Spring 1969,
   pp. 32-46.
[6]Under the treaty of 1950 article 2, Sikkim continued to enjoy the same protectorate status. It was decided by the treaty Sikkim will remain a kingdom but the defence and military affairs of Sikkim will be looked after by India and Sikkim will not be allowed to have contact with any foreign country or maintain its own army except few palace guards. See. N. Ram, Sikkim Story: Protection to Absorption: Social Scientist, Vol. 3, No. 2, September 1974, pp. 57-71.
[7] Protected under the article 371f of the constitution, Sikkim today is an organized political community or area forming part of a federal republic of India. On April 26 1975 both the houses of Indian parliament passed the constitutional thirty eight amendment making Sikkim (371f) a full-fledged constituent unit of India. See. P.R. Rao, Sikkim: The Story of Integration with India, Cosmo Publications, New Delhi, 1978, pp.73-74.
[8] Sikkim has legislative assembly consisting of 32 members and it has one representative each house of Indian parliament.
[9] Narendra Goyal, Prelude to India-a study of India’s relations with Himalayan States, Sterling Publications, New Delhi, 1964, pp. 140-141.
[10] The Lepchas also known as the Rongs or the Rongpas are considered to be the early settlers and are believed to have entered from the east, along the foothills, from the direction of Assam and Burma. The original religion of Lepchas of Sikkim was a form of nature worshiping variously considered to as Bon or Shamanism’. See. V.H. Coelho, Sikkim and Bhutan, Vikas Publications, Delhi, 1970, p.2.
[11] Bhutias who are also called ‘Lhopos’ and are the descendants of the Tibetan immigrants who came to Sikkim in different waves from the 13th century onwards and established the Kingdom in the 17th century. They call Bhutias who are also called ‘Lhopos’ and are the descendants of the Tibetan immigrants who came to Sikkim in different waves from the 13th century onwards and established the Kingdom in the 17th century. They call themselves lhopo (Lho-pa people from south) but are generally referred to as Bhutia, Sikkimese or even Denzongpa.themselves lhopo (Lho-pa people from south) but are generally referred to as Bhutia, Sikkimese or even Denzongpa. See. Anna Balikci Denjongpa, “Kangchendzonga: Secular and Buddhist Perceptions of the Mountain Deity of Sikkim among Lhopos”, Bulletin of Tibetology, Gangtok, Vol.38, No.2, 2002, p.5.
[12] B. S Das, The Sikkim Saga, Delhi, Vikas Publishing House, 1983, p.6.
[13] Leo E. Rose, “India and Sikkim: Redefining the Relationship”, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 42, No. 1, Spring 1969, pp. 32-46.
[14]It was the early migrant group of Bhutias that, by providing the Lepchas with a new religion and a ruler, made a deep imprint on their social organization. Thus, alongside the conversion of the Lepchas to the Lamaist Buddhism of Tibet and the ritual bond of ‘blood-brotherhood’ with the Bhutias, the polyandrous character of both groups paved the way for social intercourse among them, particularly at the higher level. See Urmila Phadnis, “Ethnic Dimensions of Sikkimese Politics: The 1979 Elections”, Asian Survey, Vol.20, No.12, December 1980, pp.1236-1252. 

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