Taking Before The Other

At best a historical novel rather than a serious historical narrative.
Smash and Grab: Annexation Of Sikkim
By Sunanda K. Datta-Ray
Vikas | Pages: 338 | Rs. 795

As someone personally familiar with the events of that time, I would concede the author’s primary contention that India ‘took over’ Sikkim, but this was an inevitable and integral part of evolving contemporary historical processes. Apologies are not necessary. This book, first published about thirty years ago and recently reissued, is a highly emotional and brazenly partisan presentation of the Chogyal’s case, by a close personal friend of the then Sikkim monarch. Every Indian action and policy is viewed a priori as motivated by malevolence in the book. Its title, ‘Smash and Grab’, would have been appropriate to describe China’s conq­uest of independent Tibet, but the proc­ess in relation to Sikkim was much more prosaic—a long, meandering, somewhat bumbling and less than efficiently executed constitutionalist integration of Sikkim into the Indian Union.

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The author has taken enormous pains trying to establish that Sikkim was fully independent in the year 1947. But he doesn't explain why the Maharaja of Sikkim accepted the wording—‘Sikkim shall continue to be a protectorate of India’—in Article II of the India-Sikkim Treaty signed on December 5, 1950. Unlike Bhutan, Sikkim was a member of the chamber of princes—in those days an issue of considerable symbolic significance. Apart from the political officer, an Indian ‘dewan’ was always there.

The treaty was supplemented by an Exchange of Letters on February 25, 1951, the existence of which the author, inexplicably, does not accept. Though Sikkim enjoyed autonomy in internal governance, in terms of these documents India retained “ultimate responsibility” for the maintenance of “good administration and law and order” in Sikkim and, to ensure this, in disturbed circumstances “the goi will give such advice as they may consider necessary and the Maharaja shall be bound to act in accordance with such advice”. These provisions came into play explicitly in the final two years. As an officer, I have personally seen and handled copies of this Exchange of Letters.

The American Hope Cooke’s arrival as the Chogyal's queen consort and the consequent increasing international attention towards Sikkim aggravated matters. China provoked serious armed clashes in Sikkim in 1967. The Chogyal's increasing overtures to China became disturbing. Nepalese constituted more than 70 per cent of the population and, denied an appropriate role in government, their mounting anger was finally the clincher for something that had been waiting to happen. In these contexts, the strategic salience of Sikkim’s location ensured that its merger with India became an unavoidable strategic necessity. In its specific circumstances, independence was never a luxury that Sikkim would have been permitted by its two huge neighbours. If India had not done it, China would have.

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Apart from the book being wrong about the fundamentals of the framework governing Indo-Sikkim ties since Independence, there are too many factual errors. There is a huge amount of avoidable, florid detail and questionable quotations of conversations, of even trivial anecdote, incidents and events. It is written in a racy, gripping style unfolding like a movie to seek the reader’s empathy. Because of all these reasons, the book is at best a historical novel rather than a serious historical narrative.

(The author was the deputy to the political officer in Sikkim at the time of its merger with India)

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