Lessons for Sri Lanka from Sikkim

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Sikkim was an independent Buddhist Kingdom before the glorious days of the British Empire. It is located between Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan and Paschim Bangla. Sikkim was a monarchy since the 1600s. It is landlocked and borders Nepal and Tibet. No need to go into its long history but the British made it a protectorate when they ruled India. Sikkim allied itself with Britain because of its traditional enemies the Hindu Nepal and the Kingdom of Bhutan. Later on, due to taxation issues there was a falling out and Britain annexed parts of the large kingdom of Sikkim into its Indian territories.  Darjeeling, of the famous tea estates was historically part of Sikkim until the mid-1800s when the Empire carved it out.

In 1947, the Sikkimese voted overwhelmingly to reject joining India. They had an independent ethno-religious identity and were a monarchy. They were suspicious of the new Hindu regime in India. However, being a helpless, rather poor landlocked nation it agreed to a peace treaty with Jawaharlal Nehru in 1950, (you all remember those arrogant Viceroy Dixit days and the 1987 Accord shoved down Sri Lanka’s gullet don’t you?) giving India control of its external affairs, defence, diplomacy and communications. Sikkim retained administrative autonomy.

Sikkim’s  king was called the Chyogal. As time went by, slowly but surely the expanding Indian and Nepali Hindu populations started encroaching on Sikkimese lands.  This started changing the demographic balance. In the 1960s whilst officially claiming Sikkim was an independent nation, India started sending  in its army and the Central Reserve Police(CPRF).It also built strategic highways as a bulwark against Chinese intervention from Tibet and promoted the penetration of Indian merchant and money into the tiny Sikkimese economy.

Rigged elections
Fast forward to the days of Indira Gandhi and Congress I rule (mostly under emergency). Suddenly there is “popular unrest” in 1974, (of the kind initiated by the US in Libya and Ukraine in more modern times for different reasons). By then the population balance had changed. Nepali Hindus and Indian Hindus dominate the landscape. There is a referendum and a majority vote to overthrow the unpopular Chyogal. In early 1974, a rigged election is held – an election supervised by four battalions of the notorious CPRF and marked by blatant irregularities perpetuated by the candidates of the pro Indian Sikkim National Congress and a man named Kazi Lhendup Dorji, a feudal overlord, is maneuvered into power.

In 1975, under the auspices of Mrs. Gandhi, India absorbs Sikkim as its 22nd state. The world didn’t see or hear the outcry back then. By then 75% of Sikkim’s population were of Nepali origin and even they saw this blatant grab of a once independent Shangrila for what it was; a power play by the regional super power afraid of China. Protests in Nepal were ignored.

India’s post WW II history is as troubled as Sri Lanka’s, with the exception that whatever happens in India including ethnic massacres, do not make international headlines because it is a regional super power. The west will never raise issue if India commits excesses in the Muslim state of Kashmir or deals with rebellion in the 7-sister states with an iron hand..

Partition horrors
During the partition, between 200,000 to 500,000 people were massacred. Most of the suffering happened in Punjab when it was split between Pakistan (Lahore was part of the pre-colonial Sikh Kingdom under Maharajah Ranjit Singh’s rule) and India. Retributive killings, wholesale rapes occurred on both sides as Sikhs and Punjabi Hindus fled Pakistan and millions of Muslims fled mostly Hindu or Sikh mobs.  To this date, it is estimated that the14 million forcibly moved during Partition constitute the largest human migration in history.

Rajiv Gandhi allowed Cong-I goon squads in New Delhi and Haryana to rape, burn and massacre innocent Sikhs in 1984 too. Over 5,000 Sikh innocents are feared to have lost their lives in that week of violence. Human Rights Watch in 2011 unequivocally challenged the State of India to prosecute those responsible for those violent acts against a religious minority.  Were those terrible events a failure of leadership or deliberate pogroms? Did you know that legendary Amithabh Bachchan a Cong I politician back then was accused of raising the “Khooon Ka Badla Khoon” (blood for blood) slogan on October 31, 1984 and was summoned to US courts in 2014?

Fast forward to 2002 and the Gujarat pogrom against innocent Muslims. Modi was Gujarat’s Chief minister back then. Between 1,000 and 2,000 Muslims were massacred by marauding Hindu rightwing mobs and Modi was blamed for his inaction at the least or inciting the riots at the most. The US did not grant a visitor visa to PM Modi until he won the election. For a long time secular well-meaning Indians have asked the question if Modi could have stopped the violence? Ironic isn’t it? Now everyone is rushing to glad hand this guy. Quite a queer twist in Realpolitik.

Conversations over Old Monk rum and countless cups of chai, samosas and kachoris, during my years in Punjab are still etched in my memory. I yearn for those days, where we would sit under a tree at the students union and debate or discuss world events with an incredibly diverse group of students from across the world. It was hard for me to go back to Punjab after the disgraceful pogrom in 1983 because every Indian buddy of mine wanted to jump on my case. Roles were reversed in October-Nov of 1984 when I had to console some of my Sikh brothers from New Delhi as they feared for their lives when people were being dragged out of trains and being murdered on their way to Delhi. My North Indian friends stopped judging Sri Lanka harshly after that shameful chapter in their history.

Modi’s mode?
Will Modi govern as a pacifist or will he give way to his Hindu Raj tendencies from his Gujarat days? Will he try to ferment trouble inside Sri Lanka using RAW so that he can justify a military presence in strategic locations inside Sri Lanka? Don’t rule out possible scenarios where the CM of the North might become the next Pu Yi if Sri Lanka falters in its search for a more equitable representative secular democracy. India will not hesitate to engineer incidents and claim Indian interests are at stake to intervene again if Sri Lanka fails to reconcile different concerns of the different ethno-linguistic or religious groups within its 25,332 sq.miles.

Illegal immigrants from India settling down in parts of Sri Lanka will alter demographic patterns. India may potentially create issues and intervene militarily in the future. These may sound alarmist, but they are not beyond the realm are they? What if RAW and India set up some violent attacks against Indian interests/Investments? Japan did this in China before World War II. What will Modi’s mode be? Will he aggressively seek Hindu Raj domination or will he govern as a moderate mild genuinely Gandhian Indian?
(Colombo Telegraph)

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