Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The legend of April "73" Agitation in Sikkim

I was not born when Sikkim got merged with mighty Indian Union, but being a student of Sikkim History all that is available with me are rack of books by different authors and those old folks who had been part of that historical “April ‘73’ Agitation”. When I go through the history of Sikkim, the April ‘73 Agitation holds an important role, mostly the turning point of the Independent Sikkim and the Sikkim State. The mass demonstrations against the Chogyal rule shocked the 300 year old monarchy system and ushered democratic rule in Sikkim. The agitation was of a result, “due to serious differences which ensued with the demand of repoll in one booth by Kazi Lhendup Dorji and Mr. Krishna Chandra Pradhan, as such the Chogyal had to face the people’s agitation launched by the Joint Action Committee with the tacit blessings of the Government of India. This people’s political movement spearheaded by Kazi Lhendup Dorji finally resulted in Sikkim joining the mainstream as 22nd State of India in 1975”.

March 26, 1973 at Gangtok (MG Road)

The face of the agitation started off during the fifth General Election in January 1973 where in Rabong constituency it was alleged that the Durbar had rigged the election result. The National Congress led by LD Kazi and Sikkim Janta Congress led by KC Pradhan charged the Presiding Officer with aiding and abetting the Sikkim National Party in rigging the election. On February 2 protest was lodged and letters written to the Chogyal and the Election committee. With the final outcome of the election result favouring Sikkim National Party (they won 11 out of 18) there was major disappointment among the other local parties. Two (one each of National Congress and Sikkim Janta Congress) of the six newly elected councils declined the office. The masses felt that they had been cheated as a result large demonstration broke out at Gangtok bazaar that slowly ignited to every corner of the then Independent kingdom of Sikkim.

On March 26th, 1973 as KC Pradhan told in his interview to Weekend Review, “That day, there was not a step that could be taken in Gangtok Bazaar. There were 8,000 people…..it looked like whole of Sikkim had assembled there. I spoke at the meeting, and people were highly agitated. After the meeting and my speech, I was arrested and taken to jail at 4.30.”. The arrest further gave air to the movement. Twenty Thousand of agitators joined the national movement at Gangtok.

The next day the Joint Action Council of the Sikkim Janta Congress and the National Congress submitted a memorandum to the Chogyal seeking four demands. The demands were i) release of the arrested leaders, b) enquiring into the rigging of the 1973 Council elections, c) one man one vote system of election and d) setting up of a democratic system of government. BS Das in Sikkim Saga puts in “ If the Chogyal as an intelligent and shrewd person had conceded the four demands of the political leaders in April itself, Delhi would had no position to do anything beyond accepting the arrangements between the two sides. Ultimately, the Chogyal by refusing to come to such an understanding with his opponents and confronting Delhi thereby lost his rulership and his kingdom”.

MG Road during the 73 agitation

With the demands of the JAC not meeting to a result, on April 4 the agitated mobs surrounded the Durbar. The Durbar Police fired injuring eight persons and even teargas shell was busted. The crowd went violent capturing police stations, government offices and houses of government officers were destroyed, effigy of the king was also burnt. The agitators echoed the ending of monarchy rule. Till then the agitation had spread to other towns and villages of Sikkim. The Durbar administration had collapsed and Gangtok Bazaar was beyond control. The much hyped 50th birthday of the Chogyal on April 4 was cancelled at every villages and small towns of Sikkim. Chogyal had no option than to call upon India for help and restore normalcy in the region.

Sikkim and India written by BSK Grover writes the Indian Army took control of the situation on April 6. The act was the result of the request of the Chogyal to the Indian Political Officer KS Bajpai. The request came under the news that 15,000 volunteers of the JAC was heading for Gangtok from Sangkhola, (Near Singtam). A telegram was send by the members of the JAC to Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India appealing her to intervene in the matter.

Here I would like to draw the attention what my grandfather told me once, he remembered being at Gangtok during the pro democracy movement in Sikkim where he was caught along with thousands of other protestors and kept captive at Palzor Stadium. He persisted that he belonged from Kalimpong but the CRPF (Central Reserve Protection Force) were not interested on his words, they replied all Nepalese are to be kept captive wherever you belonged to. For around 10 days protestors were not allowed to move from Palzor Stadium. The entire day they had to chant “long live Indira Gandhi”. After democracy was restored in Sikkim, everyone was freed.

On April 8, BS Das was appointed as the Chief Administrator of Sikkim. The following day JAC suspended all their revolution. This signified the takeover of the administration of the Kingdom of Sikkim by the Government of India and the people of Sikkim too acknowledged it. On April 13, the Chogyal attended the press conference and announced that the constitutional and administrative reforms would be discussed.

Thus it was in May 8, 1973 Tripartite Agreement was signed at the Palace by the Chogyal, Kewal Singh, Indian Foreign Secretary and the five representatives of the three political parties that included the Sikkim National Party, the Sikkim National Congress and the Janta Congress. The Agreement provided democratic set up for Sikkim, administrative improvement and the closer relations with India.