Little did we realize that the year 2020 would be a year that would all of a sudden clip the wings of our existence the way it did. It is up to individuals to remember the year as they like. The shocking slumping of the economy, the closing down of educational institutes, the complete shutdown of transportation, the packing up of the entertainment industry, the emptying of sports stadia – our ‘hot and happening’ world was relegated to a coma.
Sikkim, like any other society, had an unprecedented opportunity to take a deep look at its core advantages and disadvantages. We would fail our future generations terribly if we do not leverage these findings for the rebuilding of our society.
To me personally, one of the biggest realizations has been the advantage of our landlocked status, which the lockdown made only starker. Never before had I realised that our isolated location is such a tremendous blessing – in fact, on the contrary, I had always viewed it as the exact opposite. A landlocked status comes with many hardships but the flipside to it is rewarding. Sikkim, cut off as it is from the rest of world physically, has helped us filter out a lot of potential problems.
In a profound sense, our physical isolation has been a mirror image of our emotional aloofness in the country. Not that Sikkim doesn’t accept its Indian nationality wholeheartedly – but Sikkim prefers much more to accentuate the distinctive nature of the transition of Sikkimese nationality into Indian nationality.
That explains why Sikkim is inherently an identity-sensitive state. Its merger (annexation) history in India is central to our socio-political characteristics. It might come across as ultra-regionalism at times and Sikkim does need to ponder a lot of issues. However, no one can downplay Sikkim’s need to preserve her Sikkimese distinctiveness in the larger Indian context. The trauma of the merger continues to haunt her. Any thought of a complete assimilation of the Sikkimese distinct identity into India re-stirs the trauma – as it does to many other NE states.
Sikkim must own up to the fact that the great democratic values that she has imbibed and benefitted from have been the greatest of all blessings accruing from her merger with India. Sikkim would have never seen the kind of academic, economic and political freedom and the benefits thereof outside of India.
Also, the possibility of Chinese militaristic interference in Sikkim’s border cannot be negated. Sikkim, by virtue of its location in such a strategically significant position between two Asian giants, was hardly destined to preserve her territorial integrity. Nehru’s romantic ideas about Sikkim were predictably notional.
Now that the inevitable has happened, Sikkim has prioritized a complete acceptance of Indian nationality with the all important caveat of preserving her own identity. To which the Indian establishment has agreed as enshrined in Article 371 F. Sikkim should never forget to be alert about the following.
Demography: Sikkim, like any other Indian state must welcome fellow citizens. Social, cultural, educational and commercial engagement is a must and is healthy for Sikkim. However, when and if non-Sikkimese voters outnumber Sikkimese voters, a drastic political shift will be an undeniable possibility. The exodus of people from other states into Sikkim is an ever intensifying phenomenon. The changing nature of the voter-list is worrying from a Sikkimese perspective. To make it even more worrying, the decreasing fertility of the Sikkimese adds to the speed of Sikkim’s demography changing.
Commercial monopoly: Sikkim may have been one of the fastest growing economies in India, ranking third in the NSDP per capita for 2018-19 after Goa and Delhi, but Sikkim is not fully ready to exploit the economic boom. One glaring example is the hospitality industry.
Sikkimese people in general are only enjoying the benefits that trickle down from major commercial activities, pharmaceutical companies, supplies, tourism etc. This is not to instil a sense of resentment against those non-Sikkimese people who have been major players. In fact, Sikkim, in a sense, owes them for what they do. However, Sikkim must ready herself to block further incursion into her commercial arena. More than that, Sikkim has to find ways to change these potentialities into actualities.
In a sense, Sikkim would do well to remain isolated in a manner that will help her grow into her fullness as a resoundingly strong, self-confident Indian state.
“A landlocked status comes with many hardships but the flipside to it is rewarding. Sikkim, cut off as it is from the rest of the world physically, has helped us filter out a lot of potential problems. In a profound sense, our physical isolation has been a mirror image of our emotional aloofness in the country.”
By Jiwan Rai. The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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