Sikkim during the British Raj

Following the beginning of British rule in neighboring India, Sikkim allied with Britain against their common adversary, Nepal. The Nepalese attacked Sikkim, overrunning most of the region including the Terai.

This prompted the British East India Company to attack Nepal, resulting in the Gurkha War of 1814 Treaties signed between Sikkim and Nepal resulted in the return of the territory annexed by the Nepalese in 1817. However, ties between Sikkim and the British weakened when the latter began taxation of the Morang region.

In 1849, two British physicians, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker and Dr. Archibald Campbell, the latter being in charge of relations between the British and Sikkimese governments, ventured into the mountains of Sikkim unannounced and unauthorised.

The doctors were detained by the Sikkimese government, leading to a punitive British expedition against the kingdom, after which the Darjeeling district and Morang were annexed to British India in 1853. The invasion led to the Chogyal of Sikkim becoming a titular ruler under the directive of the British governor In 1890, Sikkim became a British protectorate, and was gradually granted more sovereignty over the next three decades.

After Indian independence

In 1947, when India became independent, a popular vote rejected Sikkim’s joining the Indian Union, and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru agreed to a special protectorate status for Sikkim.

Sikkim came under the suzerainty of India, which controlled its external affairs, defence, diplomacy and communications, but Sikkim otherwise retained administrative autonomy. A state council was established in 1953 to allow for constitutional government under the Chogyal. Meanwhile, the Sikkim National Congress demanded fresh elections and greater representation for Nepalis in Sikkim.

¬†Palden Thondup Namgyal, the Chogyal at the time, proved to be extremely unpopular with the people, and in 1973, riots in front of the Chogyal’s palace led to a formal request for protection from India.

In 1975, the Prime Minister of Sikkim appealed to the Indian Parliament for Sikkim to become a state of India. In April of that year, the Indian Army took over the city of Gangtok and disarmed the Chogyal’s palace guards.

Thereafter, a referendum was held in which 97.5 per cent of voters supported abolishing the monarchy, effectively approving union with India. Although the union was presented as the will of the people by the India authority, the merger was widely criticized as an annexation and India was accused of exploiting the ethnic divide and rigging the referendum. On 16 May 1975, Sikkim became the 22nd state of the Indian Union, and the monarchy was abolished.

To enable the incorporation of the new state, the Indian Parliament amended the India Constitution. First, the 35th Amendment laid down a set of conditions that made Sikkim an “Associate State,” a special designation not used by any other state. Later, the 36th Amendment repealed the 35th Amendment, and made Sikkim a full state, adding its name to the First Schedule of the Constitution.