Smash and Grab by Sunanda K Datta-Ray provides the detail historical facts of how and what led to the annexation of Sikkim by India in 1975. Both during British India rule and post independence, Sikkim was an independent kingdom and had never been one of the princely states. During British India rule, the only document that governed the relation between the Sikkim and British India was the 1861 treaty, which referred Sikkim as an independent country.
Sikkim executed new treaty with the Republic of India in 1950 which superseded 1861 treaty with British India. 1950 treaty made Sikkim protectorate of India and all external affairs, defense and communication were under the control of Indian Government. The 1950 treaty granted Sikkim its internal autonomy, but that was taken away by Indian government, layer by layer. By 1973, all internal affairs of the Sikkim administration were under the control of the Indian government.
Nehru made several attempts to control the internal administration of Sikkim, especially through financing five-year plans. Chogyal wanted to promote small scale industries; Nehru wanted to promote agriculture for enabling the imposition of high tax to invoke the revolt against the Chogyal. Beggar has no choice but only to yield to the Indian government at the end.
The real Indian imperialism seemed to have started only after 1967 when Indira Gandhi took over the government from Nehru. Indira Gandhi seemed to have been not very happy with Chogyal's American consort, Hope Cook and Kazi's Belgian wife. Moreover, two ladies never came to terms. Hope Cook’s western connection and the visit of her western friends to Sikkim irked Indian government. Hope Cook’s nature of claiming Sikkim's long lost territory like Darjeeling from India also did not go well with the Indian government.
After 1967, under Indira Gandhi's reign, people of Sikkim demanded the revision of 1950 treaty to get rid of protectorate status. Through revision, people hoped for complete independence of Sikkim while India wanted more control. In the revision of treaty, Chogyal preferred to use the word 'protectorate' itself while Indira Gandhi proposed to use 'permanent association’. The word ‘protectorate’ bears some legal status for right to self-determination under the international law, but the phrase 'permanent association' has very vague legal status in the international law. Chogyal very well knew about the legal status of protectorate state. He requested financial assistance from India like Bhutan to join UN organizations like WHO, ILO, etc. Sadly, India never heeded such request nor agreed to revise the treaty without Sikkim agreeing to use the phrase 'permanent association' in the treaty.
India did not stop. On the 50th birth anniversary of Chogyal in 1973, in the name of demanding written constitution and democracy, Indian representatives in Sikkim swayed demonstrations in Sikkim to revolt against Chogyal's reign. When such demonstrations went extreme, in the pretext of claiming weak internal management and to restore peace and stability in Sikkim, India offered to take control of the Sikkim government. Chogyal was forced to signed an agreement with Indian in 1973 to hand over government to restore the peace and stability. Though India said temporary hand over but that was never meant to be temporary. After the handover, India deputed administrators in Sikkim and of all, Chief Executive was the most influential that led the Chogyal to yield the India’s demand.
Kazi Lhendup’s enmity with Chogyal also helped India to expand their control in Sikkim. Chogyal and Kazi never came to terms. Kazi was always against Chogyal’s rule. In 1972, Kazi openly wrote about Chogyal accusing of absolutism and corruption. Because of the fear of consequences, Kazi, and his wife absconded to Europe. Kazi was critical for 1973 Sikkim election, especially for India as he was like an agent of the Indian government. By any means, India could not have afforded to miss Kazi in 1973 election. The Political Officer who was the Indian representative in Sikkim influenced Chogyal to pardon Kazi for his sedition charges. Accordingly, Kazi received the royal pardon after he submitted written apology to the Chogyal. Kazi’s party could not get majority seats in 1973 election; he made allegations of vote-rigging against the winning parties and demanded re-election. The demonstrations followed which led to the signing of the tripartite agreement between Chogyal, Political parties in Sikkim and the Indian government. The agreement provided that a responsible government would be established under the supervision of Chief Executive-Indian representative in Sikkim. In accordance with the agreement, an election was held in 1974. Kazi Lhendup's party, Sikkim National Congress won majority seats, 31 of the total 32 seats.
With Kazi’s party majority in the assembly, it was never a difficult task for India to control the assembly to pass the Government of Sikkim Act,1974. According to the book, detail deliberation of the Act, provision by provision, never happened. Instead, Act was passed within 15 minutes without the members comprehending the actual content of the Act, as more than 80% of the members were not well versed with English.
Chogyal refused to grant assent to the Bill. He also went to Delhi to discuss with Indira Gandhi. But his visit could not make difference as the discussion in Delhi with Indira Gandhi was not successful. Instead, people accused him of abandoning his country. After returning to Sikkim, he was threatened with consequences if he refused to sign the bill. The author rightly described Chogyal's assent to the Bill as ‘Chogyal's death warrant’.
One of the provisions of the Act provides that the people of Sikkim can seek participation in the political institution of India. Kazi discreetly wrote to India requesting for participation in the political institution of India without Chogyal’s knowledge. A copy of the letter that was sent to Delhi was forwarded to Chogyal only about a week later. As per Kazi's discreet request, Indira Gandhi's government proposed 35th amendment of Indian Constitution to make Sikkim, an associate state of India and to provide two representatives from Sikkim in the Indian parliament.
Despite oppositions in the Indian Parliament, the 35th amendment was passed and Sikkim was already an associate state of India then.
The validity of the Government of Sikkim Act was questioned and challenged, and accordingly the court in Sikkim issued the injunction to stay the representation of two members from Sikkim in the Indian Parliament. The injunction proved to have been an obstruction for Indian to further their objective of smashing Sikkim. The Chief Judge who issued the injunction was lured away such a way to take leave from the office. Chief Executive knew that Chief Judge would not listen to his request; he used Chief Judge's best friend to instigate Chief Judge to take leave from office. As expected innocent Chief Judge took leave and left to Delhi. The only independence arm of the government was brought under Chief Executive’s control. Since then nothing was left independent. The executive branch and legislative branch were already under the Chief Executive's control.
At last moment when everything was about to get over, Kazi and his wife seemed to have realized their treachery. Crown Prince Tenzing negotiated with Kazi and reluctantly came to terms for the first time ever. Crown Prince along with legislators in Sikkim drafted a resolution to be sent to Indira Gandhi to hand over all the roles of Chief Executive to the Chief Minister of Sikkim. India knew about the meeting, and Kazi was threatened with consequences. Kazi could not take the risk and he was immediately back to his old habit of treachery. He withdrew all propositions that were supposed to be sent to Indira Gandhi signed by legislators in Sikkim. Crown Prince Tenzing’s last hope was gone forever.
Indira Gandhi seemed to have learned a lesson from Crown Prince's attempt. Not so long after Crown Prince’s failed attempt to take over Chief Executive’s role, India with their thousands of armies smashed and grabbed Sikkim forever. Sikkim could not retaliate with their very few guards and weapons but only left at the mercy of god helplessly losing their sovereignty forever. Even Chogyal could not do anything. India ripped off everything from him, country as well as his personal freedom. He was locked up in the palace without any communication nor any other basic utilities like telephone, water, and electricity.
Finally, the referendum in Sikkim was held in 1975. The merger referendum was held within 72 hours with all polling booths guarded by Indian CRPS. The 36th Amendment of Indian constitution made Sikkim, 22nd State of India. Kazi was rewarded for his loyalty to India as a first Chief minister of Sikkim. Bepin Behari Lal who served as Chief Executive in Sikkim became the first governor of Sikkim.
The book further provides the details facts about how Chogyal was falsely implicated for various crimes by Indian representatives in Sikkim and Kazi to destroy the loyalty towards Chogyal. The book also argues that merger was unconstitutional and illegal as Indian Law cannot bind Sikkim people and treaty cannot be amended through the amendment of the domestic law. The only way merger would have legal is through amendment of Government of Sikkim Act,1974. The another interesting part of the history of Sikkim is that when Sikkim was facing such a terrible threat to their sovereignty, Hope Cook left Chogyal and went to U.S never to be returned. She might have known that her Queen status might end soon.
It seems democracy failed to protect the sovereignty of Sikkim. Had people of Sikkim were bit patient for their constitution and democracy, I think today Sikkim would have been another happy Himalayan Kingdom like ours. It also gives you a timeless lesson of the importance of maintaining unwavering loyalty towards our great Monarchs! Book was my best vacation treat, a great read!