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WITNESS TO CHANGE IN AND AROUND SIKKIM

Prof A C SINHA

15. Of the Kings and the (Himalayan) Kingdoms  
By 1910 the kingdom of Bhutan was successfully turned into a British ally and the Political Officer from Gangtok looked after the affairs of the British interests in that country. Not only that, he also filed an annual Administrative Report on Bhutan along with that of Sikkim. The Political Officer also oversaw the British interests in Tibet from his hilltop Residency at Gangtok after the Younghustand Expedition, 1903-’04. The first Drugpa king, Ugyen Wangchuk (r- 1907-1926), took his elder sister’s daughter as his wife and gave his daughter from another wife to his same sister’s son in marriage with a view to eliminating emergence a rival ruling family in the country. The same practice was followed by his son, the second Drukgyalpo (r-1926-1952). The King of Bhutan was so beholden to the British after signing the Anglo- Bhutan Treaty in 1910 that he said that ‘Bhutan had joined the British Indian Empire’. In fact, Bhutan was treated as an Indian princely state. The Bhutanese Crown Prince was encouraged by the Political Officer to write letters to him in Hindustani in Deonagri script like other princely states in India. The Maharaja Ugyen Wangchuk asked for about two lakh rupees from the British for certain development works such as construction of roads, schools, hospitals, and starting a school for forestry etc. That led to a debate in the British administrative circle in Delhi in 1922: Was Bhutan an Indian princely state? Ultimately, it was resolved that Bhutan was in British Indian empire, ‘but its status was ambiguous and it was ‘inexpedient at the time to remove the ambiguity’. The second Maharaja of Bhutan had got the last Dharamraja of Bhutan killed in captivity, as he had sent his brother to Mahatma Gandhi in India seeking his support for removal of usurper Wangchuk King from the power. Thus, the second Druk-rgyalpo had his reasons to turn hostile to the Indians and the Indian National Congress.
Tashi Namgyal, the 11th Namgyal ruler of Sikkim, was similarly an out and out a British creation, as two of his elder brothers were removed from the scene by the British. The first one was banished to Tibet and the second one was killed by an over doze of medicine in Gangtok in 1914. Though Tashi Namgyal was educated in Mayo College,   Ajmer meant for the princes, he took no interest in administration of his state. It was the British Political Officers who effectively ruled the state with support of the Sikkimese aristocrats such as the Kazis and Thikedars from 1914-1947. And thereafter, it was the crown prince, Palden Thondup Namgyal, who controlled the affairs of Sikkim. Some times in 1940, The Statesman, Calcutta published a news item that ‘Sikkim Queen gives birth to an illegitimate girl in Tibet’, which led to a little scandal in and around Sikkim. It so happened that Tashi Namgyal’s wife had gone to her natal place in Lhasa, Tibet and stayed there for long. As per Tibetan tradition, Namgyal King sent his step brother, Lhasho Kusho, to escort her back home. The Queen’s return journey in road less Tibet with plenty of relatives on the way took months. Moreover, the return party was forced to stay for long at fort Phari in Chumbi Valley as snow and blizzard bound Himalayan ranges were closed to human traffic. Meanwhile the lady became pregnant and gave birth to a girl at Namgyal’s estate in Chumbi Valley. The news travelled to India and became a talk of the day. Man Bahadur Basnet, a Nepali courtier of the ruler, informed the author that the Nepalis reached Sir Tashi with the plea that unfaithful queen would pollute the palace, which was not acceptable to his Nepali subjects, who worshipped the king as per their tradition. The King got a separate house built for the queeen outside Gangtok and would visit her next about 25 yeas, but did not permit her in the palace. It was a credit to the queen’s son, Palden Thondup Namgyal, who brought her back to the palace, when he succeeded to the throne after his father’s demise.     
With the British support, Rana Jung Bahadur not only imprisoned the Shah Maharajadiraj for life in 1846, but also kept him and descendants illiterate, ill-trained in court-etiquettes and forced them to marry with the Rana girls approved by the Maharaja Prime Minister. And that’s how king Tribhuwan’s all relatives were Ranas, who used to espy on the captive king. His son, King Mahendra had confided to his Prime Minister, B P Koirala, that he was trained by eunuchs how to sing and dance and he had no friends of his own choice. Koirala records the same confession made by his father, King Tribhuwan to him earlier. They were never trained to conduct themselves regally in the court, as they were kept away from the state affairs by the Ranas, who might ceremonially parade their sovereigns to the presence of state guests on the occasion, only to retire them hurriedly. So far Nepal, then known as the Gorkharajya, was concerned, the sovereigns of land lived in captivity from 1846 to 1950. Moreover, the British treated Nepal as the soldiers’ farm, which was strongly supported by the Ranas for their own monetary gains. From 1923 onwards, Gorkharajya was changed to kingdom of Nepal and the British began treating it as a sovereign state. However, nothing would move in Nepal without support of the British Resident, stationed in Kathmandu. Apparently, these rulers were terribly shaken with the British decision to leave their Indian Empire as rulers because they were vulnerable with the changing times. They could not imagine to continue as the rulers, as they were apprehensive of the rising expectations of the masses. Moreover, all three of them apprehended that India might try to integrate them in the Indian Union. It was the All India Gorkha League in the east, Sikkim State Congress in Sikkim and Nepali Congress in the west in Nepal, which were the populist movements etching for controlling the destiny of their land.  
II
The Bhutan Agent in Kalimpong, Raja Sonam Tobgyel Dorji and his nephew from Sikkim (the Raja S T Dorji was married to Chuni Wangmo, Sir Tashi Namgyal’s sister), Palden Thondup Namgyal, approached the Political Officer Basil J Gould for passing the information to London.  They had pleaded that they would prefer to continue with the British Crown on the old relations even when the British withdrew from their Indian Empire. The P O categorically rejected the suggestion as it was not a feasible preposition at the time after the Second World War. Instead he advised the two gentlemen to prepare their memoranda and proceed to Delhi to meet the ‘Cabinet Mission’.  The result was an advisory issued on August 10, 1946 to the rulers and the future Indian Union. The advisory had suggested to maintain the status quo in the region and recommended for keeping them as the client states of the Indian Union. The soon to be independent Indian Union had inherited serious administrative problems in view of the division of the British India into two. Army, police, transport, resources and administration were divided and dislocated. There were large scale refugees coming to India and another group of people from India leaving their home and heart for the new country. In this chaotic situation, the Government of India literally followed the above advisory: first she signed the standstill treaties with all three of the above states; and subsequently signed formal treaties with them on the same old British treaties as if on the dotted lines. Maintenance of status-quo meant continuation of old exploitative rule of the feudal elements against the increasing demands of land reforms, welfare of the people and their participation in the affairs of the states. For a little while, the rulers appeared to be on the stronger wickets at the cost of the masses.           
III
While the political stirs were around the corner, two significant operators, the second Wangchuk King of Bhutan and his Agent in India, Raja S T Dorji, the external face of land-locked Bhutan, died in 1952. In their place, two young men, Crown Prince Jigme Wangchuk (r. 1952-1972; who had married Raja S T Dorji’s youngest daughter) and his brother-in-law, Jigmie Palden Dorji, were chosen as the king and the Bhutan Agent in India respectively. Nepal was by then in turmoil in 1950: the Nepali Congress had launched a war of liberation ( Mukti sangram) from the Nepal Terai and the King, Tribhuwan Bir Bikram Shah, who had run away from his captivity, sought political asylum in the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu. At last, the King was airlifted to Delhi, where a controversial Tripartite Agreement among the Ranas, Nepali Congress and the King was struck. The King returned from Delhi to Kathmandu in February, 1951 and appointed a Government of the Ranas and the Nepali Congress leaders under a Rana Prime Minister, which could not last long, as the cabinet did not come to a decision on any issue of importance.  The Government resigned without accomplishing much to the embarrassment of everybody. Then the ruler appointed a couple of governments, which could not last long because of their administrative inexperience in running the government. By then the King was seriously ill; he was taken to Genoa, Switzerland for treatment, where he breathed his last in 1955.  The Crown Prince Mahandra Bir Bikram Shah, who was anti-thesis of his father, took over the Nepalese throne and began his rule upsetting his father’s still unstable democratic steps. King Mahendra did not like what his father had done politically. Once he took over the administration, he began dismantling his father’s deeds. He would dismiss his democratically elected popular Prime minister, B P Koirala, in December 1960; would imprison the members of the cabinet, the parliament and the members of the political parties. He banned all political activities and took the administration in his hands. At last, he established a party less Panchayati System of administration, which was allegedly corrupt, inefficient and based on extensive violence let loose on the commoners.
There was a war between China and India in 1962, in which India was badly beaten.  The King of Bhutan decided to do away with its old policy of isolation and sought development assistance from India, which was granted as much as Bhutan could absorb. Bhutan sought Indian support in modernizing its tradition bound institutions. In spite of all her limitations, India tried to provide adequate relief to landlocked and infra-structurally poor Bhutan. On the other hand, King of Nepal began toying with the idea of a federation of the Himalayan kingdoms/greater Nepal under his leadership as a buffer zone between India and China. The Maharaj Kumar of Sikkim too was scheming with his ethnic-parity formala between Lepcha-Bhutia versus Nepali in the state. Before the old King Tashi Namgyal died in 1963, the Crown Prince had married an American young lady, Hope Cooke, who was half of his age. Naturally, this unison was opposed by the significant section of courtiers and lamas, but the head strong Crown Prince went ahead with his decision of the marriage. He was crowned in a glittering ceremony in the presence of international guests in 1965. And for the next 8 years, he ruled Sikkim in a most minute way to the extent that he would pass bills up to rupees 250 worth in spite of the fact that Sikkim had an elaborate administration under a Chief Secretary.
IV
There was a civil war going on in the East Pakistan around 1970. There was a general election held in Pakistan, in which Awami League led by Sheikh Mujub Rahman of East Pakistan got elected on the majority of the seats in the parliament. But the party was not permitted to form the Government and the Sheikh was put behind the bars by the power to be. In fact, there was an armed cracked down on the people of East Pakistan by Pakistan army led by General Tikka Khan. Millions of Bengali refugees flocked to India in view of the atrocities on them and relief to the refugees in India was a major problem in the absence of international support. Pakistan invaded India and India retaliated in an equal terms. In the process, East Pakistan was liberated from Pakistan to form a new country of Bangladesh. And that was the time in 1971, India had sponsored Bhutan to be a member of the United Nations Organization (UNO).  Some way or other, the ruler of Sikkim considered Sikkim’s case of membership to the UNO more appropriate than a less developed Bhutan. On the other hand, unfortunately, 1970’s began with ominous development for the Himalayan Kingdoms: two reigning monarchs, Jigme Wangchuk of Bhutan and Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah of Nepal, breathed their last in 1972.  Thus, the two Crown Princes of the two kingdoms, Jigme Singhe Wangchuk (r. 1972-2008) of Bhutan and Birendra Bir Bikram Shah of Nepal (1972-2001), were enthroned in the two kingdoms respectively.
Elections to the Sikkim State council were held in January, 1973, in which the loosing parties charged the royal political party, Sikkim National Party, for the electoral malpractices. These charges were arrogantly brushed aside; people took to the street with shouting slogans and throwing break bates on properties and persons; the police was called in, who resorted to lathi charge, which was responded by the unruly crowd with wide spread violence. However, the ruler was busy in his golden jubilee celebration close by in state stadium. At last, the police resorted to firing with a view to controlling the agitating masses, in which there were extensive causalities. The administration had collapsed and the masses moved to occupy the administrative centers. In these chaotic situations, the ruler requested the Government of India to take over the administration and restore it to normalcy. But the masses had developed the taste of the success and they demanded cancellation of the controversial election; fresh election for a State Assembly on the principle of one man, one vote and appointment of a government responsible to the Assembly there after.  All these demands were to be accepted, which the ruler grudgingly conceded. Once the State Assembly was elected, an elected member of the house was sworn in as the Chief Minister, and the ruler’s office was reduced to that of a symbolic figure head. Incidentally, ruler’s sworn enemy, Kazi Lhendup Dorji, was elected as the Chief Minister of the state. The ruler considered the above steps against the Sikkim’s claimed international status and the spirit of the Treaty between the two: Sikkim and the Indian Union. At the top of these developments, the ruler got an invitation from Nepal to attend the crowning ceremony of prince Birendra in Kathmandu. In spite of New Delhi’s advice not to attend the Kathmandu ceremony, he travelled to Nepal, attended the function and addressed the international press voicing his side of stories. In these ominous conditions, the State Assembly passed a resolution abolishing the institution of the Namgyal dynastic rule as anachronism.  Once the ruler approved the above resolution of the State Assembly as the head of the state, 333 years old Namgyal rule in Sikkim came an end in 1975. Thus, for the next about three decades, there remained only two kings in two kingdoms out of the three.   
             
By 1990, placid Bhutan discovered large many illegal Lhatshampas (Southerner in Dzongkha, the national language of Bhutan) settled in her southern foothills. They decided to conduct a thorough census of the population and defaulters were identified as the aliens and were asked to leave Bhutan immediately. When they checked the documents of citizenship and property rights, even government functionaries were surprised to find the extent of illegality. Those of them, who did not possess relevant documents, were considered illegal intruders, who were thrown out of the country. Many of the Lhotshampas felt that the Dukpa administration was deliberately driving people of Nepalese origin settled for generations in land away from their home and hearth. They began organizing themselves and many a times, they retaliated the steps taken by the state and resorted to violence on the authorities. Many of them left Bhutan out of panic and at least some of them reached Nepal, where refugee camps were erected. Slowly the number of refugees in the camps at Damak in Jhapa district increased to more than a hundred thousand inmates. Within no time, it turned out to be an international refugee problem, which was handled by UNHCR. However, the Royal Government of Bhutan maintained that they were illegal settlers in the country and they were rightly sent out wherever they had to go. Moreover, many of the refugees were criminals in the eyes of the Bhutanese establishments. At last, as much 70 thousands of the refugees residing in the refugee camps were sent to the various western countries in 2010’s and the rest were still languishing in eastern Nepal.   
There was a violent agitation against the misrule of Nepalese royal family in 1990 and for the first time, people demonstrated publicly in streets of Kathmandu and mocked at the royalty. The august Shah dynasty and the ruling couple were publically ridiculed in the street for their style of indulgence at the cost of much deprived subjects. The agitation continued for long period of time bringing normal administration to a standstill. Unlike in the past, it was no more an anti establishment agitation led by a political party. This was a mass upsurge against the stagnant and callous administration presided by the King. On the other hand, the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) had forcefully captured (liberated) an extensive chunk of Nepalese territory and had driven the Government functionaries away from their posts. At last, the political parties got together and a constitutional provision was made in which along with the Shah dynasty, people were recognized as the second pillar of the sovereign state of Nepal. And since then, 1990 was termed as harbinger of the Second Democracy in Nepal.  However, much worst fate was in the store of the royal dynasty.
VI
The great-grand son of the Illustrious Tribhuwan Bir Bikram Shah, who also happened to be the Crown Prince of the State, butchered his father, the King and his mother, the Queen on 1st June 2001. Not only that, he also killed a large many members of the extended royal family present in the palace for the dinner on that fateful night. What a tragic coincidence it was? It was about five decades back that Tribhuwan had restored Shah dynastic rule in Nepal against the Rana usurpers with the Indian support. The Crown Prince would die soon with self inflicted injury and Prince Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah, his uncle (King  Birendra’s son and Tribhuwan’ next grandson) would succeed to the Nepalese throne. But the subsequent events proved that King Gyanendra was not cut for the challenges facing the royal dynasty at the time, as he immediately courted plenty of hostility all around. Instead of restoring normalcy in daily administration and everyday life of the commoners, he resorted to playing partisan politics. In the process, there was a massive democratic upsurge against his misrule in 2006, in which various shades of political operatives joined hands.
Apart from his own omission and commission, it was alleged that the image of the Crown Prince as an evil operator contributed significantly in Gyanendra’s down fall. So much so that his administration earned so much hostility so soon that all the political parties sank their ideological differences and waged a relentless war against his regime. The regime turned Kathmandu in an open air jail by extensive repression of the dissent and suppression of the voices in opposition in the year 2006. Subsequently, the political parties, in opposition to the King, came together and formed a Constituent Assembly with a mandate to frame a democratic constitution for the country. Thus, the Constituent Assembly passed the resolution to abolish the Shah dynastic rule with immediate effect in 2008. In this way, approximately, 240 years of Shah dynastic rule in Nepal came to an end, in which the Shah kings had ruled or misruled directly for 134 years in two stretches of 77 years ( 1769-1846) and 57 years (1951-2008) and in between they reigned from captivity of the Ranas. With the end of Shah dynastic rule in Nepal, the second old Himalayan kingdom in the eastern Himalayan region came to an end and nomenclature of the Himalayan kingdoms became redundant. What a paradox? The oldest among the three Himalayan Kingdoms, Namgyal Sikkim, came to an end first. In fact, the only surviving among the three Himalayan kingdoms is Bhutan, which was established 113 years back on December 17, 1907.

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