Sikkim – The Unknown Blunder of Jawaharlal Nehru

Knowing accurate history is of utmost importance, and if we, as a people, hope to rise above past mistakes and build a nation that future generations admire and hope to replicate, then the task of pushing ourselves to delve into our history becomes not just a matter of intellectual curiosity but also of essential responsibility.

Being aware of what happened in post-Independent India is also a matter of knowing what our ancestors went through, how they lived, what experiences they had and, how we, as a country fared in facing up to the challenges of a bygone era.

This article talks of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. He is adulated by a major section of the media and the intellectual community – historians, artists, writers and the like – for having laid the foundation of a modern, progressive India. Over the past many decades a narrative was created that made it almost treacherous to criticise Jawaharlal Nehru. He was surrounded in a halo of adulatory words and glorious anecdotes, breaching which was made nearly impossible for anybody trying to do so would find no audience for his arguments. This was understandable. A political party and those who’ve thrived off its power are expected to protect the legacy of its past leaders.

But, in this process, a serious injustice was done to the common man. For he wasn’t given the chance to judge for himself whether those who’d led his nation in past, those who’s decision then had come forward to impact his present, were actually worthy of the praise and glory they had received.

My aim with this article is to simply reveal another small piece of  our history that finds no mention in textbooks and is very scantily represented in history books.

At the time of India’s independence, Sikkim was just like the other 566 princely states in terms of its relation to the Indian state. It was also resisting becoming a part of India just like Hyderabad, Junagarh and Jammu & Kashmir. By the time the matter of Sikkim came up Sardar Patel had brought 562 states under Indian control; the four mentioned above remained.

Sardar Patel was adamant that Sikkim should also be coalesced with the Indian union as its status was no different from the 562 states that had already become a part of independent India. However, Jawaharlal Nehru didn’t agree. He wanted to give Sikkim ‘special status’, somewhat like Bhutan enjoyed.

And so he moved a resolution in the Constituent Assembly that called for the examination of the status of Sikkim. He said, “Bhutan is in a sense an independent state under the protection of India. Sikkim is in a sense an Indian state but different from others.”

Eventually Sikkim remained independent under India’s ‘protection’. However that is nowhere close to being a part of India by any stretch of imagination. The government had, in the simplest of terms, left Sikkim for the taking even when it should’ve made it an integral part of India.

It is not as if powerful elements in Sikkim didn’t want democracy and Indian control. There were many pro-democratic parties that wanted accession, and yet, Jawaharlal Nehru went the opposite way. The one opposing accession was the Chogyal (monarchs of Sikkim), and Nehru went on to appease him instead of doing that which would’ve been in India’s interest.

It isn’t crystal clear why Nehru did what he did. But the common understanding is that he didn’t want to irk China. He may have even thought that if he’d left Sikkim as it is, that is, in a state of obscure independence, then China would do the same with Tibet. However, as events later transpired, Nehru himself gave Tibet to China with the Panchsheel Treaty and abolished India’s rights over facilities in Lhasa further withdrawing Indian infantry detachments at Gyantse and Yatung. In return he asked for nothing. As any nation, even a remotely sensible one, would do, China went on to annex Tibet threatening India’s security as earlier Tibet had acted as a buffer between India and China.

It almost seems as if during his entire tenure Nehru stayed bent over so that China could keep kicking him in the fundament. (Or  rather India).

The appeasement of the monarch of Sikkim was exactly what Nehru did in Kashmir by repeatedly turning a blind eye to the anti-India actions of the self-declared ‘Sultan’ of Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Nehru nearly created a Kashmir in the East had it not been for RA&W’s 27-month long ‘operation’ in Sikkim in the 1970s. And this Kashmir would’ve seen the involvement of a much stronger opponent than Pakistan – China.

Source: ‘RN Kao: Gentleman Spymaster’ by Nitin Gokhale



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