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WITNESS TO CHANGE IN AND AROUND SIKKIM

9. IDENTITY AND NATIONALITY OF THE INDIAN NEPALIS

Prof A C SINHA

It all began in a little dramatic way in 2004. I was at Tadong, Gangtok, at Daju C D Rai’s residence with a copy of our book, NEPALIS IN NORTH-EAST INDIA: A Community in Search of an Indian Identity. It was the only copy I had, which was already given to Daju as a complimentary copy. His son, Prem Das Rai (PD), who belongs to my Alma maître, IIT/ Kanpur, happened to be there as well. He naturally saw the book; took it from his father’s hand; turned out the pages; closed it and turned to me, ‘Sir, you must meet the CM (Chief Minister) and show him the book. He will like it and please let us go to him’. I instantly protested: ‘I cannot do that; I do not have a spare copy for him right now. I cannot go to him empty handed and show my book, borrowed from Daju, to him. And moreover, I cannot barge on his door like that, without an appointment. He is the Chief Executive of the State; he does no know me and I do not know him’. ‘These details are my problems, you need not bother on that and we are going to the CM’ and saying that he rang up to the CM directly, talked to him and he asked me to seat by his side and drove to the CM’s residence.

Poor Daju was left behind and I was still numb with the fast flow of events. By then, we were at the desired destination. PD introduced me to him and showed the book to Shri Pawan Chamling, who naturally took the book in his hands, turned the pages; paused at the contents and handed the book back to PD. By then as if I had a choice, I had regained my composure and tried to explain the situation and expressed my helplessness in rushing to him empty handed. Like PD Rai, CM Chamling was also dismissive of my protests and turned himself with all seriousness, ‘I have a request. Why don’t you do a thing like this for us?’ It was an unexpected request and I reacted instantly.

I explained to him that I was a superannuated professor, who had no institutional affiliation at the time, and thus I could not receive the fund from the Government of Sikkim and spend it, get it audited. Moreover, I did not have an infrastructure to organize an academic seminar of that proportion he would propose to. However, I would discuss his request to my colleague, Prof T B Subba of North Eastern Hill University, Shillong, with whom I had been working and reach him as early as possible. The honourable CM repeated his proposal once more and expressed his hope that we would be able to honour his request. We two parted his company with a suggestion from him that he would expect the proposal for holding the seminar on an earliest possible date.

                                                            II

I discussed the suggestion/ proposal made by the honourable Chief Minister with my colleague, Prof T B Subba, and he agreed to work on it. In fact, we were looking for an opportunity to organize such an all India seminar on the Nepalis. I acquainted him with the CM’s request for a proposal for holding the seminar with a budgetary break-up of the expenditure. The proposal may be sent to him with a copy to me; or still preferable, it would be better to meet him with the proposal in hand. That occasion came soon and we met the honourable CM at Gangtok with the proposal to hold the seminar with the budgetary provision thereof. We informed him that it will be the first national seminar in which apart from delegates from different parts of India, there would be some delegates from Nepal, Bhutan and other countries. The CM glanced through the proposal, approved it with his initial signature and ordered somebody to release fund required for instantly. It was agreed that we should hold the seminar in the summer, 2006. Moreover, the C M instructed somebody to get in touch with Shri K P Adhikari, President of the Indian Nepali Study and Research Forum, Gangtok to co-ordinate with us for the purpose of calling a meeting in Gangtok to form an Organizing Committee for holding the seminar on Nepalis in India

 

We worked hard for more than a year to organize the seminar. The C M Chamling himself had invited the senior statesman Dr. Karan Singh to bless the seminar, which he had agreed. I convinced Shri B S Das, former Chief Executive, Government of Sikkim and an author by himself, to inaugurate the seminar and, if possible, preside over the panel discussion on ‘democracy in Sikkim’, which he had agreed to. The three day seminar on Indian Nepalis: Identity and Nationality was proposed to be held in April, 2006. Shri K P Adhikari, the President of Indian Nepali Study Forum called for a general meet of the scholars of Gangtok, in which an organizing committee was instituted. Among others, it was decided that Prof. A C sinha, T B Subba, G S Nepal and D R Nepal would be responsible for the academic aspects of the seminar and for logistics and hospitality, an Organizing Committee was instituted, which would work in the supervision of D S Nepal on our behalf. In this way, we two were free from logistic aspect at Gangtok and would concentrate on the academic part of the seminar.

 

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We used our earlier contacts to reach the scholars and their response was instant and enthusiastic. Scholars from abroad and Nepal made commitment to be present with their academic participation. Michael Hutt, Rhoderick & Sarah Chalmers from SOAS, London, Kanak Mani Dixit (Himal), Deepak Thapa (social Science Baha, Kathmandu), Dipak Gyawali,  S R Timsina, and G S Rawat from Kathmandu were prompt to accept our invitation to present their papers on the occasion. However, as we began to assemble in Gangtok for the seminar, disturbing news began to pour in for us. First, it was Dr. Karan Singh, who was sent by the Government of India on a diplomatic mission to crisis ridden Kathmandu from Delhi. Then the C M Chamling received a telegram from Shri B S Das, informing the host that Mr. Das was asked by the Government of India to be available in Delhi for consultation on the evolving/ impending crisis in Nepal.  We the academic organizers were not unduly disturbed by their absence, though we too missed their sagacious presence. The worst thing happened for the seminar, when we learnt that transport network from Nepal was cut off because of on-going intense political turmoil in Kathmandu and elsewhere. So much so that Kanak Mani Dixit was made a captive by the Royal government of Nepal. Naturally, none of the invited scholars from Nepal could reach Gangtok for the seminar.

 

                                                            IV

 

The three day seminar on Identity and Nationality of Indian Nepalis had a grand inaugural function in the Chintan Bhawan, Gangtok by the Honourable Chief Minister, Pawan Chamling. Anybody and everybody, who mattered in Sikkim, were present on the occasion. Nearly a hundred senior, young and emerging scholars from various parts of the country participated in the various sessions of the seminar. There were intense discussions on each and every presentation in the various sessions. Apart from Inaugural and Valedictory sessions, there was an intense panel discussion on ‘advent of democracy in Sikkim’, in which the Sikkimese speakers spoke on what had happened in 1973-1975 as they had felt/ observed/participated as young students, activists or just ordinary citizen.  It was an eye opening experience to the visitors to learn how the Sikkimese intelligentsia reacted and still view the events and actions of those memorable days.  Some of the panellists informed their audience that when they voted for L D Kazi, the most popular face of democracy in Sikkim of 1970’s, they presumed that they were voting for the democracy against the autocratic regime of Namgyal ruler. Incidentally, more than one panellist informed the seminarists that merger of Sikkim with India was not an issue on the occasion and in fact, it was never debated in Sikkim.

We had privilege to invite a senior academic, Dr Kumar Pradhan from Siliguri, who is known for his seminal work on Gorkha Conquest of Eastern Nepal. He played a moderating role on some of the ticklish occasions in the seminar. Similarly, Michael Hutt’s contribution to language and literature of Nepali came handy on occasions in the meet. In this the three day seminar with two or three simultaneous sessions, as many as 43 papers in English and 23 contributions in Nepali, a total 66 presentations were made. As discussions were intense and concerned, the chairmen of sessions had difficulties in maintaining the time schedule of the sessions. The state opened its resources lavishly for the hospitality for the visitors to the extent that our budget was almost tripled at the end. However, all accounts were happily settled as per rules.  At the end, the honourable Chief Minister gave a memorable at home farewell party to the delegates; thanked the participants on our behalf and bade farewell with a memorable gift of Sikkimese handicraft to the visitors.

 

We edited the proceedings of the seminar and could select only 23 articles out of the lot presented on the occasion for the publication, which ran in more than 400 pages (INDIAN NEPALIS: Issues and Perspectives, CONCEPT, 2009). As a whole, it was a handsome publication and we as the editors had satisfaction that our efforts were worth it. All the time, I was conscious of the dramatic way P D Rai  had led me to the CM Chamling and his earnest and instant appeal for the seminar, which worked as constant reminder to me.  I reiterate that it was difficult to select only about two dozen of presentations, not because of the fact that the rest were deficient in any way. There were large many lessons for us from the papers presented in the seminar. First point was that the community was in turmoil in the sense that they were asking themselves what type of Indians were they after all.  There was almost a consensus that there was a crying need of having an appropriate nomenclature of the community distinct from that of the Nepalese citizens. Then there were gaps in the appreciations of the Nepalis among themselves: from those who are from the regions, where they are in majority as the linguistic group and those who are from the regions where they were in numerical minority as a linguistic group. Same was the difference between the Nepali medium papers and English medium presentation. It was apparent that the Nepalis from the former group were sure and confident of themselves than those, who came from the regions where they live as the minority among other ethnic groups. There were other aspects worth keeping in mind for the future. We realized that we owe something to the honourable Chief Minister and we decided to request him to release the book for the public. But some way or other, we could not reach him in spite of our best of the efforts and we regret for that. There was another reason of uneasy especially for me as one of the organizers of the Seminar in particular. I missed the presence of P D Rai on the occasion in three day academic extravaganza, who was instrumental in holding the seminar. And it was he, who had reached me to the Shri Chamling in 2004 for the purpose, as they had fallen apart at the time.  

 

 

 

 

 

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi