A Brief History of Sikkim on its 46th Statehood Day

The quaint state of Sikkim which was once ruled by a monarchy, merged with the Indian Union on 16th May 1975 to become the 22nd state of India. Today the state commemorates its 46th Statehood Day.

The state surrounded by the Tibetan Plateaus in the north, the Kingdom of Bhutan in the east, the Kingdom of Nepal and the Indian state of West Bengal to the south is home to the world’s third highest peak Kanchenjunga, and attracts a large number of tourists from across the globe. From being an ecological hotspot that exhibits a diverse range of flora and fauna, Sikkim has also done well on the sanitation front and is India’s first fully organic state. The state topped among the northeastern states in per capita income with Rs 3.17 lakh. The state has garnered a range of titles which makes it distinct. Today, Sikkim remains significant from a strategic point of view, given its proximity to Tibet and the crucial Siliguri Corridor that connects India’s Northeastern states with the rest of the country.

Let’s have a look at how the small Northeastern state of India achieved its recognition from a protectorate to a full state.

In 1642, the Himalayan Kingdom of Sikkim was ruled by the Chogyals or the kings of the Namgyal Dynasty of Tibet descent. Owing to its geographical location a series of conflicts emerged between the powers of the region, which included Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet. Eventually, the conflicts led to the diminishing of territories in Sikkim. During the 1780s Nepal has wrested some of the territories from Sikkim.

Later with the intervention of the East India Company, the Himalayan state gained control over some of its territories. Sikkim allied itself with the British against the Gorkha Kingdom of Nepal, which resulted in the Anglo-Nepalese War, of 1814. Treaties signed between the British and Nepal – the Sugauli Treaty and Sikkim and British India – Treaty of Titalia, returned the territory annexed by the Nepalese to Sikkim in 1817.

Kanchenjunga

Initially, the British establishment in India had good relations with Sikkim, however, it deteriorated and finally in 1861, the British acquired the regions of Darjeeling and the Terai.

In the same year, Sikkim became a protectorate state under British India after the Treaty of Tumlong was signed in March 1861 between Great Britain and the Kingdom of Sikkim. The treaty was signed by Sir Ashley Eden on behalf of the British and Sikkimese Chogyal, Sidkeong Namgyal, the treaty secured protection for travellers to Sikkim and guaranteed free trade, thereby making the state a de facto British protectorate. It means that the state came under the jurisdiction of the British who used it as a buffer state between China and British India.

After India attend independence in 1947, Sikkim became a part of India and the guarantees of independence that Sikkim had acquired from the British were transferred to the new Indian government. This meant that India had control over Sikkim’s external defence, communications and diplomacy as it came under the realm of India while maintaining its independence at the same time.

The then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru gave special protectorate status for Sikkim, which was to be a ‘tributary’ of India.

During the 1962 Sino-Indian war, Sikkim was seen as a crucial region for India as skirmishes occurred in the Nathu La pass which connects Sikkim with Tibet. Meanwhile, the ruling Chogyal, an otherwise absolute monarch established a constitutional government. During that time, it also saw the emergence of political parties in Sikkim including Sikkim State Congress, Sikkim National Party, Sikkim Swatantra Dal, Sikkim Janata Party and Sikkim National Congress. However, trouble started brewing in 1970 as the political parties were discontent with the Choygal rulers. There were anti-monarchy demonstrations led by the Sikkim National Congress Party. India was worried that China would use this situation and claim the tiny country as part of Tibet.

Unable to handle the crisis the Choygal asked India to take over and requested for military help to quell the uprising against the royalists. The Indian Army took over the city of Gangtok and disarmed the Chogyal’s palace guards.  Finally, a tripartite agreement was signed between the Chogyal, the Indian government, and three major political parties, so that major political reforms could be introduced.

As Sikkim waged a rebellion against the monarch, elections were held in 1974, following which the Congress led by Kazi Lhendup Dorji an anti-monarchist emerged victoriously and was elected as the first Chief Minister of Sikkim.

Dorji who was elected by the Council of Ministers opposed the continuance of the monarchy in Sikkim. He asked the Indian Parliament to change the status of Sikkim to that of statehood. Accordingly, a referendum was conducted on 14th April, 1975 in which about 97% of the population voted for a merger with India.

On 26th April, the Indian Parliament approved the constitutional amendment making Sikkim a state of India. The amendment was ratified by the President on 15 May and Sikkim was finally admitted to the Union of India on 16th May 1975 as the country’s 22nd state.

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