Editorial: State Day

May 17, 2019

Sikkim as a part of India

Yesterday was State Day, the day marking 44 years of Sikkim as a part of the Indian Union, time then for a quick recap of events which led to the first State Day back in 1975.

The decade of the Seventies began in Sikkim with a groundswell of aspirations for democracy and a heightened political consciousness among the people. This was not the first time that such sentiments coursed through Sikkim, and similar moments had arrived in the previous decades as well. However, like with most historic occasions, several things had to come together at the right moment for Sikkim to make history and set on course a new destiny.

The right combination of popular leaders, a supportive Delhi and a weakened palace led to the signing of the Tripartite Agreement of 08 May, 1973, with the Government of India, leader of the political parties of Sikkim and the Chogyal as signatories. Nar Bahadur Khatiwada, feted with the Sikkim Ratna on State Day some years back, was a successful youth leader of the movement for democracy in Sikkim and will be able to better explain the passion which inspired the Sikkimese at the time. He will hopefully do that some day, but for now, suffice to say that at the root of the upsurge was a general belief that the elections to the State Council in 1973 were rigged by the palace. Soon, there was anarchy on the streets, police stations even in remote Sikkim were being attacked and the Chogyal invited the Indian Political Officer to take over the administration. The Tripartite Agreement envisaged the Chogyal as a constitutional head, and set things up for the establishment of democracy, rule of law, fundamental rights, independent judiciary and universal adult franchise. As much as this set in place the parity formula for the first Assembly, a system which did not survive when the next election came along, adult suffrage was also a major victory for the subjects, and when the Sikkimese were given their first chance to vote in a democratic environment [in April 1974], the voters gravitated towards the person they saw as the leader of democratic movement in Sikkim – Lhendup Dorji Kazi, whose Sikkim Congress cornered 31 of the 32 Assembly seats.

The Tripartite Agreement, however, did not hold for long. Its provisions were being ignored and sidestepped within a year, or so the elected representatives believed. On 10 April, 1975, the Sikkim Assembly met for an emergency session and agreed that the Chogyal was violating the provisions of the Agreement and abolished the institution of the Chogyal and resolved to become a constituent unit of India. The Statement of Objects and Reasons appended to the 38th Amendment Bill of 1975 [which subsequently became Article 371F of the Constitution] records that the Sikkim Assembly, on 10 April, 1975, “…inter alia, noted the persistent harmful activities of the Chogyal which aimed at undermining the responsible democratic Government set up…” The Assembly then submitted its Resolution to the people for approval.

What Sikkim today calls the “Referendum” is referred to as “a special opinion poll” conducted by the Government of Sikkim. This “Opinion Poll” was held within four days of the Assembly’s resolution and 61,133 of Sikkim’s approximately 97,000 voters shared their opinion – 59,637 in favour of the Resolution and 1,496 against it and this high turnout and the presence of Indian paramilitary forces in Sikkim continue to  feed speculations about the veracity of this “opinion poll”. Be that as it may, the verdict of the people was communicated to India on 15 April and the then Chief Minister and his Council of Ministers were in Delhi the very next day. On 19 April, the amendment to the Constitution was moved and Sikkim became a full-fledged State of India on 16 May, 1975.

With the passage of the Act, Sikkim became the 22nd state of the Indian Union, the institution of the Chogyal was formally abolished and provisions of the Indo-Sikkim Treaty, Tripartite Agreement and the Government of India Act, 1974 were made inoperative. Sikkim’s identity within India was to be decided by provisions of Article 371F.

Article 371F is a powerful tool providing Sikkim with its special status within the Indian Union. Unfortunately, it has also become just convenient dodge to rake up the past. The Act was inserted into the Constitution to guide Sikkim’s future, not nail it down to the past. One reason why it is not taken as seriously as it should is because Sikkim has been unable to remind Delhi what the Act is all about. Delhi, of course, with larger states to keep happy, rarely does its homework and bulldozes all over Sikkim. What people need to appreciate is that Article 371F has none of the incongruities of Article 370 and boasts near watertight provisions which allow Sikkim to remain unique while also wholly a part of India. It is a progressive Act and that is how it should be used, not as a political slogan to confuse people or to whip up nostalgia for an imagined utopia.

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