By Dipendra Gurung, Working President, SPCC
The Sikkim Pradesh Congress Committee extends its best wishes to the Sikkimese people and remembers 8th May 1973, as a beginning of a new era for Sikkim. It was on this day, 43 years ago, the 8th May Tripartite Agreement 1973, was reached between the Durbar, Government of India and the people of Sikkim. This was the resultant consensus settlement after the historic peoples’ movement of 1973, better known as the 1973 agitation. This agitation in itself was an outburst of the peoples’ long cherished desire to end the oppressions of monarchic rule, and was triggered by certain electoral violations in the form of alleged rigging of council elections in some booths in south Sikkim, that led to the victory of a pro-king political party. The durbar represented by Chogyal of Sikkim Palden Thondup Namgyal, Government of India represented by its foreign secretary Kewal Singh, and the people of Sikkim represented by 3 political parties, namely Sikkim Janata Congress, Sikkim National Congress and Sikkim National Party were the signatories to this agreement. It was based on this agreement the ‘one man one vote’ was introduced and general elections held on 13th April 1974, which was the first and last such elections of Independent Sikkim. The elected assembly headed by Late Lendup Dorji Kazi abolished Chogyal rule and annexed Sikkim to be India’s 22nd state in 1975, though several political leaders actually desired a constitutional monarchy akin to United Kingdom. Sikkim has since then, moved on to flourish as an integral part of India.
The issue of Article 371F, though not understood in clarity by many, appeals sentimentally to the general masses and thus has been used as a tool by parties for political mileage. Even in this election every political party pledged protection of Article 371F in their manifestos.
Former Chief Secretary of Sikkim Mr. K C Pradhan writes “It would do well for people of Sikkim accept that 8th May 1973 Tripartite Agreement as the Magna Carta of Sikkim, the essence of which has gone into Article 371F of the constitution of India.” (Sikkim Express, Sat, Sep 9, 2017). It is the basic foundation of the constitutional rights and privileges of Sikkimese people, that has guided them to make a smooth transition into democracy after ending a 332 years old monarchy. Thus, the history of modern Sikkim may be considered to have begun from 8th May 1973.
As far as Sikkim is concerned, Article 371F is a ‘mini Constitution’ or a ‘Constitution within Constitution’, that has laid down clear provisions regarding the governance of Sikkim as a part of the Indian Union and the constitutional status of Sikkimese people as Indian citizens.
It was the Congress party that ushered democracy in Sikkim and brought about the 36th amendment of the Indian constitution to add Article 371F which guaranteed special protection to the Sikkimese people. The progress and prosperity that Sikkim has witnessed so far has been largely due to the special status it enjoys. Sikkim is also hugely dependent on central grants, loans and various central schemes for development. In spite of these important contributions, the Congress party has been the victim of negative propaganda by regional political forces for many years. The party has been blamed for forcefully annexing Sikkim against the wishes of its people. The party has been called an outside party and party of the plains people (madhesis). A false fear psychosis that population influx will increase if any central party comes to power in the state has been generated. It is because of such propaganda the Sikkimese electorate have been deprived of governance by a national party.
The issue of Article 371F, though not understood in clarity by many, appeals sentimentally to the general masses and thus has been used as a tool by parties for political mileage. Even in this election every political party pledged protection of Article 371F in their manifestos. However, those who have governed Sikkim for the larger part of 43 years since merger with India, have either invoked the protection provided by this constitutional provision or blatantly diluted it to serve their vested interests, completely ignoring the larger interests of Sikkim.
The current political developments in Sikkim, with issues of increasing assembly seats from 32 to 40 on the pretext of providing Limboo-Tamang seats, demands of Darjeeling and Sikkim’s unification and implementation of Citizenship Amendment Bill and the uniform civil code by the Bharatiya Janata Party, bears further testimony to the fact that there is an ongoing political conspiracy to completely do away with Article 371F and the special status of Sikkim. These moves will also erase the historical basis of Sikkim’s unique identity, the 8th May Agreement 1973, the only document signed by our former ruler and the only official document to prove we are Sikkimese of either Bhutia, Lepcha or Nepali origin. The protection of old laws has helped safeguard the unique geographical, social, cultural, religious and political identity of Sikkim. In a diverse nation like India, a unique identity is not just a desire but a necessity, in order to live as proud citizens of a modern democracy.
While the people anxiously await the election results, everyone hopes for a better and secure future. Years of regional party rule in Sikkim have failed to uphold the sanctity of Article 371F, and have put it in danger of being abolished forever. However, the Congress party remains strongly committed to protecting the constitutional rights of Sikkim and its people, and will take all necessary steps in this regard.
The Sikkim Pradesh Congress Committee humbly appeals to the current generation of Sikkim’s youth to unite as Sikkimese first, and find common ground to protect the interests of all the three constitutionally recognised ethnic communities of Sikkim, the Sikkimese Bhutias, Lepchas and Nepalis. We are fortunate, many elders of our society who have lived through the Chogyal era and were witnesses to the 1973 agitation, the tripartite agreement and the annexation are still alive. Out of the 15 political leaders who signed the agreement, three are living. It would largely benefit us all if we interacted with them and documented their stories while there is still time. A generation of well informed and committed youth will be our guarantee for a better Sikkim.