Saturday, May 24, 2008

85th Birthday Anniversary of the Chogyal of Sikkim

Thursday, May 22, 2008

This spring the world’s attention was drawn to Tibet, where on 10th March this year the people commemorated the 49th anniversary of the Tibetan upheaval against the Chinese occupation. The protests spread from Tibet across the whole world and along the route of the torch relay for this year’s Olympic games people demanded: “Free Tibet!”.

In the Southern part of the Himalaya another occupied territory did not attract any attention at all: Sikkim. The Kingdom which had defended its independence for 300 years against powerful neighbours was annexed by India in April 1975 and became the 22nd state of the Indian Union. The 85th birthday of the 12th Chogyal of Sikkim gives me the opportunity to focus on the fate of the tiny Himalaya Kingdom.

Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal, Twelfth Consecrated Ruler of Sikkim, was born in Sikkim’s capital Gangtok on 22nd May 1923. The Denzong Chogyal was the second son of the late illustrious Chogyal Sir Tashi Namgyal, who will always be remembered as Sikkim’s gracious, enlightened and benevolent ruler.
In 1935 he continued his studies at St. Joseph’s College, Darjeeling, and completed his studies at Bishop Cotton School, Simla, in 1941.

As the Heir Apparent, Gyalsay Palden Thondup Namgyal undertook the Indian Civil Service Training Course at Dehra Dun in 1942 and thereafter returned to Sikkim to look after the administration so that the needs of the people could be taken care of.

Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal was keenly alive to the needs of the people and as Heir Apparent had exercised direct personal supervision over various departments of the government of Sikkim. He was his father’s adviser on external affairs and led the Sikkim team, which negotiated the Treaty with India in 1949-1950. By contract Sikkim became India’s “protectorate” on 5th December 1950, not unlike Nepal and Bhutan that were forced to sign similar treaties after the British had left the subcontinent. So far the other two Kingdoms could maintain their independence. If Nepal will be able to keep the two greedy neighbours outside the borders should the country be declared a republic, is in doubts.

The Chogyal was connected with a number of cultural and academic bodies in Sikkim, India and abroad. He had been the President of the Mahabodhi Society of India since 1953 and he led the Sikkim delegation to the Sixth Buddhist Council that was held in Burma in 1954. He participated in the 2500 Buddha Jayanti Celebrations in India in 1956, and was the only member of the Working Committee from Sikkim. In March 1959 he attended the 2500 Buddha Jayanti Conference in Japan and represented Sikkim at the Sixth World Fellowship of Buddhists conference in Cambodia in 1961. In 1958, under the patronage of Maharaja Sir Tashi Namgyal, he set up a centre for Mahayana and Tibetan studies at Gangtok , and this world famous centre bears the name of “Namgyal Institute of Tibetology.”

In August 1950, he married Sangey Deki, daughter of Yapshi Samdu Phodrang of Tibet. Sangey died in June 1957. In March 1963 he married Hope Cooke, grand daughter and ward of Mr. and Mrs. Winchester Noyes of the United States of America, which drew a huge media attention to the tiny Kingdom. The Chogyal had three children from his first wife, namely Tenzing, Wangchuk and Yangchen. His second wife bore him Palden and Hope. After his father’s death, Palden was crowned as the Twelfth Chogyal of Sikkim on 4th April 1965. (Please note the photo, where his US-born wife Hope Cooke is sitting at his right on a lower throne.)

Among the honours and distinction the Chogyal held were: The Order of the British Empire (1947), Padma Vibushan, India (1954) and Commander de l’Ordre de l’Étoile Noire, France (1956).

The Indian invasion
Small numbers of Nepalese had been migrating to Sikkim from about the 15th century, but it was only under the British that the Nepalese began entering Sikkim in great numbers, entirely upsetting the traditional ethnic balance of Sikkim. This social engineering was done by the British to weaken the traditional Lepchas – Bhutia strength. The Eleventh Chogyal and representatives of two of Sikkim’s largest parties, the Sikkim State Congress and the Sikkim National Party, agreed in May 1951to a parity formula . According to this formula, the seats in the state council were to be divided equally between the Bhutia-Lepcha group, and the Nepalese. The Sikkim State Council was then institute in 1953.

In April 1973, after making allegations that elections had been rigged, ethnic Nepali protested in front of the King's palace, demanding civil rights and the sidelining or even removal of what they called the "feudal" monarchy. Palden Thondup Namgyal, the King of Sikkim, ultimately gave in and signed an agreement on 8th May 1973.

The document called on India to provide a chief executive, and to hold elections for an assembly. The agreement was the first step in the disappearance of the Kingdom of Sikkim. The inhabitants of the Kingdom are in no doubt that the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her local agents fomented the unrest. Indira Gandhi’s dictatorial and imperialist attitudes were are a major concern in the 70s. Asked in 1998 by the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, why the Sikkimese army did not resist the Indian invasion, a former captain of Sikkim's army replied: "The Indians soldiers had joined the army because they were hungry and received a warm meal; to shoot at them would not have been in accordance with our Buddhist faith. We knew four days in advance about the invasion, but the King had ordered not to fight."

In 1975, Sikkim’s Prime Minister “appealed” to the Indian Parliament for representation and change of Sikkim's status to a state of India. In April 1975 the Indian Army moved into Sikkim, seizing the capital city of Gangtok, disarming the Palace Guards and putting the Chogyal under house arrest.
A “referendum” was held in which 97.5% [!] of the votes cast (or counted!) agreed to join the Indian Union.China did not recognize Indian’s occupation of Sikkim until 2003, which led to an improvement in the Sino-Indian relations. In return, India announced its official recognition of Tibet as an integrated part of China.

The Chogyal never renounced his throne and hoped till the end that justice would win.

On 29th January 1982 Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal died a heartbroken man from cancer in New York. His second son Wangchuk inherited the rights to the throne after the Chogyal's eldest son Crown Prince Tenzin had died in a car accident in 1977.