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Sikkim - 1960s

Even before India's dispute with China had reached serious proportions, the Sikkim Darbar had expressed its interest in expanding the Sikkimese role in defense and security provisions, but had not been given much or a hearing in New Delhi. With the sudden increase in the demands made upon the Indian Army after 1960, however, the Indian government found the proposal more attractive. Crown Prince Palden Thondup visited New Delhi in November 1960 for talks with Nehru and External Affairs Ministry.

It should be remembered that, for its size, Sikkim made a major contribution to the Indian Army. Several thousand Sikkimese enlisted in the regular army, including the famous Gurkha Battalions, and in the Assam Rifles or special frontier police units. In proportion of servicemen to population, Sikkim was certainly the equivalent of any Indian state. The Chogyal, Palden Thondup Namgyal, has held the honorary rank of Major-General in the Indian Army since his coronation in 1965. He had previously had the honorary rank of Lieutenant-Colonel conferred on him while he was still the Crown Prince.

Crown Prince Palden Thondup visited New Delhi in November 1960 for talks with Nehru and External Affairs Ministry officials, and formally suggested the creation of a battalion-strength militia in Sikkim. He claimed shortly thereafter that the Indian government had given its approval "in principle" to his proposal, although he admitted that details regarding implementation were still to be finalized.

A political furor erupted almost immediately in Sikkim when the Darbar's proposal to New Delhi was made public. Political factions divided into two clearly-defined camps in the debate that raged for several months. The pro-Palace Sikkim National Party and most Bhutia political leaders demanded the creation of a home guard or militia that would be organized and trained by members of the Sikkim Guard and/or Sikkimese ex-Servicemen, under the direct command of the Sikkim government. Indian Army control over thesa para-military units would thus have been exercized through the Sikkim Darbar rather than directly.

The opposition-oriented political parties, the Sikkim State Congress and the Sikkim National Congress, were strongly opposed to the Darbar's plan. Apparently, the parties feared that any home guard system under the control of the Palace might be used against the opposition in a political crisis. The Nepali Sikkimese also suspected that a militia organized and trained by the Sikkim Guard would discriminate in favor of Lepchas and Bhutias and against the Nepali community. The critics of the proposal tended to oppose the very concept of a home guard or militia, and preferred to have the matter dropped entirely.

If the Sikkimese and Indian authorities insisted upon the creation of a para-military unit, the opposition leaders were determined that it would be organized, trained, and commanded by Indien Army officers, and thus isolated from any substantial role in local Sikkimese politics.

After an Initial commitment to the raising of a militia battalion in Sikkim, the Indian government wavered in its support of the program. Presumably, this was due both to the intensity of domestic Sikkimese opposition and to questions raised in the Indian Parliament and press concerning the long-term significance of this proposal.

The vacillation on the part of New Delhi was clearly evident in the first half of 196l. In January of that year, Chogyal Tashi Namgyal made one of his rare trips to the Indifin capital for discussions with the Government of India. He told newsmen there that India had accepted the principle of "our association with the defence of Sikkim," although it was still to be determined whether this would take the form of a militia or "Territorial Army."

In view of the basic disagreement between the different political factions in Sikkim and the Government of India's uncertainty over the militia issue, it was finally decided in mid-1962 to shelve the entire program, at least temporarily, in favor of an expansion of the Sikkim Guards. An Indian Army training mission has supervised the organization and training of the Sikkim Guard. India also supplied a limited amount of arms, but according to Sikkimese sources it has been necessary to supplement these with arms acquired through Sikkimese resources.

Indian control over Sikkim's defense and foreign relations permitted India to place its officials in prominent positions throughout the Sikkimese Government. By 1968 Sikkim's ruling maharaja, in his contacts with foreign diplomats, had voiced considerable frustration over the inhibitions imposed on Sikkim by the treaty. Although in September 1968 his government officially deplored a small anti-India demonstration in Gangtok, the capital, it probably sympathized with the demonstrators' demand for independence. India reportedly was willing to loosen its control over Sikkim's internal administration, but the already poor prospects for any broad treaty revision would probably diminish even further in reaction to Sikkimese pressure tactics.

Increased Indian attention had been drawn to the region by the redeployment of Chinese troops along Sikkim's border and by Indian parliamentary and press allegations of sinister motives behind American scholarly research projects in the Himalayas. In September 1968, India revoked its newly permissive attitude toward travel to Sikkim and is now issuing permits only in exceptional cases.



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