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Friday, Sep 25, 2020 11:15 [IST]

Last Update: Friday, Sep 25, 2020 05:36 [IST]

Witness to Change in Sikkim


In late 1960’s, next to the ruler, if there was any individual in Sikkim, who figured in public life, it was that of Kazi Lhendup Dorji, the president of Sikkim National Congress. In popular imagination, there were two conflicting images of the Kazi. One, he was the strongest democratic voice in Sikkim opposed to the ruler’s autocracy. The other was that of a democrat, who was over –ruled by Kazini, his Belgium born wife, Eliza Maria, and he would ultimately do nothing without consulting the Political Officer in Gangtok. In reality, he was a democrat in public life, a European at domestic level and aristocratic and paternalistic in personal life. He was the most popular Sikkimese in public life, as the belaboured and demographically major community, Nepalis looked up to him. And here came the rub: most of the educated Nepalese young and politically ambitious men got attracted to him only to be disenchanted and part company with him after some time: C D Rai, L B Basnet, B B Gurung, C S Rai and other. There was a common perception that he was, after all, a good man, who wanted to do lot of good things, but it was his nagging foreign wife, who used to take over him. He was genial in public spheres and easily mix with the variety of people without inhibition. He had his party office at the Basgitram Petrol Pump near the Police Station, Gangtok, and there, one would invariably meet his ‘adopted son’ Nar Bahadur Khatiwara, a graduate student at the time. If you converse with him, he would address Kazi, as the ‘Kazi sahib’ and Kazini, as the mummy.
I met the Kazi Sahib in his office for the first time informally. It was a relaxed atmosphere; he was conversing with some party men on something or other. When I introduced myself, he heard me patiently and said, ‘’why don’t you come in the evening? We shall talk in a relaxed way. Here it is a bazaar. We cannot talk freely undisturbed’. He asked for Nar Bahadur and when he appeared, assigned me to him to reach his place at the appointed time. I found that Kazi could converse in Nepali, Hindi and English comfortably. When we were face to face, he wanted to know what I did and the reason why I was in Sikkim. When I explained to him my purpose of the visit, he asked, ‘It means you are writing a book?’ I responded, ‘It was something like that on which I shall get a higher degree, Doctorate, but my writing would not be in public domain’. He stopped for a while, and then replied, ‘It is ‘Doctor’ like Dr. Nirmal Sinha Sahib, Tibetology (man)?’ I nodded my agreement. Then he reasoned with, ‘but it would take more time. I have a suggestion, you are welcome here, but why don’t you come to Kalimpong with me, stay with me for a few days and we discuss your problems in a relaxed way’, he proposed. I jumped on it  and within a few days we were on way to Kalimpong by jeep.  
All the way, we kept on talking on something or other. After Malee Bazar, he asked the drier to stop the vehicle at an elevated locale. Pointing his finger across the Teesta, he said that land belonged to Chhibu Lama, my ancestor, who went to Bhutan in 1863 as interpreter to Ashley Eden on his aborted Mission. The Anglo-Bhutan War, 1864  and signing of Treaty Of Titaliya, 1865 led to drawing of the present boundary of Bhutan with India and thus, shedding Kalimpong subdivision to India to create the district of Darjeeling. Two of his uncles, Khngsharpa Dewan and Phodang Lama, were so impressed with industrious Nepalese that they leased their estate to two Pradhan brothers, Laxmidas and Lambodardas, in 1867 and permitted them to settle their estate with the immigrant Nepalese to development the area into agriculture. And that made the beginning of the Nepalese immigration to Sikkim. After a decade, when J C White, an old Kathmandu hand, would be appointed as the first Political Officer (the British Resident) in Sikkim, he would appoint two brothers as members of his Advisory Council, the real power in the state.
Kazi Sahib had a beautiful cottage in Kalimpong, which was presided over by the Kazini. She was a real character: heavy built, boisterous, talkative, satirical, and well informed on affairs of Sikkim. She knew anybody and every body related to the region or elsewhere. She had all scorn reserved for the ruling couple of Sikkim, Palden Thondup Namgyal and Hope Cooke, his American wife.  She would address them as Tinpot King Shyamgyal and his queenipai (His Highness P T Namgyal and his little Queen: courtiers calling couple, Chogyal and Gyalmo in Tibetan). On the other hand, Kazi was likened by her as the Ho Chi-minh of Sikkim. The entire domestic ambience was that of on European pattern and the Kazi’s role was that of a dormant head of family, who had to hum his approval to what was going on. Kazini briefed me as much as she could. I was prepared for her course of lectures as my friends and even Kazi had briefed me before hand. They had a library with relevant books and I was happy to read them as much as I could. In the evening Kazi Sahib would walk in my room, ‘Thora Raxi Khayega? (Will you have a drink?)’ Fortunately, it was a tripe for two and half days and we came back to dear Gangtok on the fourth day. While dropping me at my shelter, Kazi sahib talked to me by now familiar style of K C Johary, ‘I shall help you in your research, but I am a political person. Keep off from me. It will be helpful in the long run to you’. I bowed almost to touch his feet as an old uncle on the parting, but he hugged me and was driven away.
I kept on meeting Kazi Sahib off and on in Sikkim. My research was complete by the end of 1971 and I left Gangtok for IIT/ Kanpur for analyzing my field data and then I got busy in drafting the thesis. Next year 1972 was eventful for me: I completed my research and submitted it for evaluation; got married and defended the thesis for the award of the degree. I was not oblivious of the political environment around Sikkim. The world knows that creation of Bangladesh in 1972 was largely a gift to the Bengalis from India. Little kingdom of Bhutan became a member of the United Nations Organization (UNO) under Indian sponsorship. The kings of Bhutan and Nepal breathed their last in the same year and the crown princes in the two countries were sworn as the kings. The Maharaja of Sikkim had been nursing an ambition of international image for Sikkim for some years now. And the palace had created forum of courtiers to canvass for that and aggressively blame India for ignoring such a ‘natural claim’.
The Maharaja was determined to get it settled at the highest level. Those were the difficult days; India was saddled with 10 million Bengali refugees from East Pakistan and she was feeding another 73, 000 Pakistani prisoners of war. Bangladesh was still not recognized by large many countries and effects of Indo-Pakistan war pertaining to East Pakistan was still hanging on. The Maharaja tried to reach the Prime Minister, but it was not accorded importance, as it was considered to be a routine call. He landed in Delhi and parked himself in Hotel Ashoka and waited for the appointment. At last, a one-to-one meeting was fixed for him with the Prime Minister. After welcoming the visitor, the Prime Minister requested him to have his say. The visitor opened a litany of complaints. After some time, the PM closed her eyes and the Maharaja stopped talking. The PM said, ‘Please go on your Highness. I am listening’. The visitor went on listing his grievances. At last, he complained against an intelligence officer of D S P rank posted in Gangtok and who was supposedly working against Sikkim. The Prime Minister reportedly got up and said, ‘Your Highness, these things must stop. You expect the Prime Minister of India to know what a DSP is doing in an obscure station like Gangtok and take action against his accesses’.     
Soon after that, Sikkim was in turmoil; fifth general election to the State Council was held; serious charges of malpractices were leveled; they were brushed aside; public rose in revolt in anger, but the ruler was busy in celebrating his 50th birthday. But the turmoil continued unabated; the administration lost control of the interior districts and the ruler had to request the Government India to take over the administration and establish law and order. This state of affairs continued unabated for two years resulting in the State Assembly passing a resolution to abolish Namgyal rule in Sikkim. Once the ruler consented to the bill, Palden Thondup Namgyal ceased to be the king and 333 years long history of Namgyals came to an end. He lived for another six years trying hard to settle compensation for the loss to the family. And it was the Kazi, who moved to the power centre in Sikkim. That was the time my thesis was published in the book form by Thomsons. I felt I owed it to the Kazi and I requested him to accept my dedication of the book and he promptly responded in the affirmative.
The government of India had invited the honourable Members of the Sikkim Legislative Assembly on a Bharat darshan trip. They happened to be in Delhi in January, 1976. I went to meet the friends among them from IIT/Delhi, where I was teaching by then. I was busy conversing with somebody and Kazini came to me and said, ‘Dr Sinha, you produced such a handsome dish, but left some dirty droppings in it, which had spoiled the taste. The Governor wanted to file a case of defamation against you in these days of emergency’. I kept my cool and responded, ‘Madame/ I wrote what I found relevant to the case. I stand by it and why don’t you write a book to correct things you would like to, if you feel so strong about it?’  And I walked away from the scene. Incidentally, this incident involving me and Kazani pertains to two versions of Kazi’s removal from the Rumtek monastery at page 110 in the book. After that, I met Kazi Sahib a number of times, but he acted with me as before in a warm ways. In fact, on one occasion, introducing me to S N Dwivedi, a former socialist leader of Orissa, he mischievously said all photos included in the book are not that good.  
It appears to me at the end that Kazi remained essentially a leader in opposition all his life. He was the Chief Minister of Sikkim from 1974 to 1979, but he was overtaken by the political shake-up happening in Delhi and he kept on changing his steps accordingly. He changed his political affiliations so much, that people lost all counts and termed him, ‘man of (party) merger’. Kazi and his cabinet associates could make no sense of political currents in Delhi and they gave impression that they had little control of administration in Gangtok. The matter was further aggravated by the bureaucrats sent on deputation from Delhi, who queered the pitch for the Kazi all the more. Ultimately, he lost all the credibility in the eyes of the people of Sikkim. The worst was yet to come. He was forced to contest the First General Election after Sikkim’s merger in India in 1979 from a Lepcha reserve constituency from North Sikkim. An unknown and inexperienced young tribal candidate from the opposition trounced him soundly. And that was the end of the myth created around his personae. Once the Congress re-emerged in 1980, he knocked at the doors, which was opened to just let him in as a concession to his being the living link with the freedom movement from anti-British to anti-feudal phases. At last, a grateful Indian nation decorated him with the second highest civilian award, Padma Vibhushan, and paid a tribute to him as well itself for posterity.    

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi