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Wednesday, Sep 16, 2020 13:30 [IST]

Last Update: Wednesday, Sep 16, 2020 07:46 [IST]

Witness to Change in Sikkim

Affairs of Sikkim State Congress and the Khamdong Estate

A C SINHA
Wherever I stayed in Gangtok, I used to make it a point to visit Dewan’s General Store in the morning for reading the latest newspapers and meeting the friends effortlessly. It was located in the beginning of the Mahatma Gandhi Marg in a small cubicle on the ground floor in the old post office building owned by Tseten Tashi, former private secretary to the Maharaja.
Resident reporters of various newspapers, political activists, reading public and sundry visitors to the town would easily hang on around and share the latest gossip prevalent in and around Sikkim. Lal Bahadur Basnet, S N Sharma,  Zugran, Nandu Thapa, Krishna C Pradhan, elderly Namgyal Tshering and others would be around for a while and then we would disperse on our work for the day. I learned from the second generation of political leaders that it was Kashiraj Pradhan, who was instrumental in dousing the radical fire from the Sikkim State Congress (SSC) and turning it into a pliable political outfit for the Maharaja. One day I chanced to talk to Nehkul Pradhan, the President of the SSC and one of the Executive Councilors of Sikkim. I mildly put the idea before him, having noted that he was one of Kashibabu’s nephews. Pradhan Sahib smiled in his enigmatic style and responded, ‘Why don’t you enquire of him?’ I was reluctant to do that considering the venerable Kashibabu’s age. But I decided to keep in mind and sleep over it for the moment.
Satya Narayan Sharma, representative of the Hindustan Samachar, who happened to be Kashibabu’s neighbor, introduced me to Kashibabu. I requested the elderly gentleman for an opportune time to meet him. He easily agreed and when I turned up, he was surrounded with various magazines and a number of newspapers. Among all that, there were some issues of the Kanchanjungha, the periodical, edited by him. He advanced the latest issue of that to me and enquired of straight away, ‘What can I do for you?’ My response was apologetic, ‘Sir! I must pay my respect to a senior person like you, as I propose to understand political development in Sikkim’. He smiled and offered a cup of tea and said, ‘We shall talk about it, as you are here’. That was the opening I was waiting for. I did not want to miss the chance. I told him that it would be impolite for an outsider and a green young man like me to ask him pointed questions. But I may report to him, what I had heard from a number of persons during my months long stay in Sikkim about his pioneering role in politics of Sikkim. The Sikkim State Congress had begun as a radical political forum with the universal mass political support. The Palace was captured by its volunteers for the royal negligence of cause of the common people. The SSC had forced the Maharaja to appoint a popular government under the leadership of President of the party. The Maharaj Kumar was so nervous that he formed his own political party, Sikkim National Party (SNP), consisting mainly of his courtiers with a view to counteracting the SSC.           
However, it is alleged that the moment you emerged on the political scene of Sikkim, the downfall of SSC began and you were instrumental in reducing the party as a Nepali party, as it suited the palace. Naturally, Sanam Tsheing, Tashi Tshering, L D Kazi, C D Rai, Namagyal Tshering and others parted company of the SSC to join your adversaries. Kashi Babu all through kept on smiling and chewing something in the gums. I stopped and looked at him and apologetically it occurred to me, whether I had crossed the limit as an intruder. Kashi Babu was not apologetic; neither was he angry at me, nor was he sorry for what he did. ‘I look at things differently and did what was possible in the given situation for me to do. Moreover, a political party is a voluntary association, in which political interests of the members predominate. If members realize that they are in wrong company, they would dissociate themselves from the party; no cajoling will succeed to keep them in the party if they feel strangers in the company of party leadership’. Look, we have already spent enough time today. Let us meet again and talk it over.  
I was eagerly waiting for the chance to meet him again to carry the discussion further. The chance came uninvited. Journalist S N Sharma and myself were descending the steps to the M G Marg, while Kashibabu was ascending to it. I tried to stop aside to make way for him, but he stopped in front of me with his enigmatic smile. I folded my palms and asked, how are you sir? He said, ‘What you expect a 65-year-old man? The formal answer to question is: I am fine, but in reality I am not very well’. I had an audacity to say that you have a doctor at home to attend to. ‘Come, come to me if you are not in a great hurry to catch somebody else’. I turned to my friend, asked for my apology and joined the precious company of Kashi Babu to his abode.   
Once we got settled in our seats, he enquired whether I had checked the facts he had shared with me last time. My response was that unlike journalist I was not looking for a lead story to flash. My efforts were to understand the process of political development in the state and thus I prayed to him to complete his assessment of the past events as if he was looking back to them to enact. He laughed and asked, ‘By the way, are you aware of Gopal Singh Nepali?’ My response was that Prof. G S Nepali had been a venerable senior professor of sociology in Bombay University and B H U Varanasi. That pleased him, it appeared to me. After ubiquitous tea ceremony, we continued our discussion.
Kashi Babu said, ‘The British had gone back home to Britain, but they had left behind a psychosis of fear. The first thing the SSC did was to remove that fear psychosis from the masses in this isolated corner of the Empire. But all three kingdoms: Sikkim, Bhutan and Nepal, were ruled by the kings. Moreover, there Ranas, Kazis and Dashos, who continued to really rule in the names of their sovereigns. The masses were slaves groaning under archaic rules, which were unwritten. The Congress in Delhi was busy in Junagarh, Kashmir, Hyderabad and elsewhere, where they saw bigger stakes. In fact, they had no time for our corner of the world. Coming to Sikkim, our people really struggled under the leadership of our party to remove many of the disabilities like removal of kazis and thekedars, variety of unpaid impressed labour, removal of private police, judiciary and jails and collection of land revenue by the feudal families.
Sikkim is a poor and small state, where resources are limited. Our people were illiterate. There were no jobs in the private hands. Whatever jobs were they were controlled by the Kazis through the Durbar. At the top of all that, the Congress in Delhi could not decide how much control they would have on the Durbar. In the process, old ICS bureaucrats continued to see us as agents of Nepal. So how do we survive? The impatient youth support base of SSC left us many times, but they came back to us when they realized that their options were really very limited. The kings party naturally attracted many of our people for the simple reason that the king controlled the resources. On that score we could do nothing. Should I tell you something, which still pains me? I used to attend the annual sessions of the All India Congress Committee as a fraternal delegate from the beginning. In the year 1956, at Durgapur session of the Congress, Panditji told me, ‘Kashi Babu, the Durbar objects your attendance to our sessions as our interference in their internal affairs of Sikkim. Please do not attend our sessions’. I felt cheated on the occasion on that day. On that day, the dream of SSC joining the AICC died for good.
Daju C D Rai had taken a group of journalists to see the process of electioneering in Sikkim during the 4th general election to the State Council in 1970. He was nice enough to include me among them. We began early in the morning and we would stop at the polling booths and observe how was the over-all political ambience and after half an hour we shall be once more be on the road looking for the next polling booth. In this process, we reached Khamdong Estate, an imposing edifice in the rural setting. Soon enough, we were served with poories, fried potato and red stuffed chilly pickles for the breakfast. When we were on the road, CD Daju humorously asked me, ‘Did you enjoy the familiar breakfast?’ I said, ‘Yes, I did, but why did you ask this question to me?’ I had forgotten that the Daju was a student in BHU at Varanasi for many years.  He said that that household belonged to Prasad Family of Gangtok, whose ancestors had travelled from western Bihar to Sikkim at one time. I made a note of it for the time being.
Latter I learned that possibly Mr R S Prasad’s grandfather had travelled from Shahabad district of Bihar to Singtam Bazar in the last decade of the 19th century and realized potential of orange trade. He was a modest man with simple rustic dress, rough exterior on the person, enough entrepreneur skill and limited cash on hand. He used to collect best quality oranges invariably on credit, sell them by evening, settle the accounts with the fruit growers and collect the same types of fruits for the next day. This was the cycle of his daily routine for some times, then he established trading links with Siliguri fruit sellers and began supplying quality fruits to them for onwards supply as well. Slowly, he began to collect some capital to invest in trade of his choice. It is said that his skill attracted attention of J C White, the First Political Officer of Sikkim. During the First World War, he contributed to the War Fund at the instance of P O Sir Charles Bell, earning the title of Rai Bahadur. And that was the appropriate time for then Rai Bahadur Prasad to buy not only Khamdong Estate, but also urban properties in Gangtok and elsewhere. Later R S Prasad would buy Prasad Mansion and Ajit Mansion, at Chawrasta, Darjeeling from their British owners in 1940’s, when the British were leaving India for good. R S Prasad happened to be a nominated member of the West Bengal Legislative Council and Sikkim State Council in 1960’s simultaneously. However, there is no record that he played any role in politics of Sikkim. It is surprising that the Prasads do not figure in public life during the eventful history of Sikkim between 1940’s to 1980.   

(acoomarsinha42@yahoo.com)

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