A Secret R&AW Op, a ‘God King’ & Sikkim’s Merger With India

Sikkim-Dawn of Democracy’ by GBS Sidhu, The truth behind the merger with India
The following is an excerpt from the book ‘Sikkim-Dawn of Democracy: The Truth Behind The Merger With India’ written by GBS Sidhu, retired special secretary, Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW).
It gives a riveting account of a 27-month-long “operation” started in February 1973, that saw R&AW orchestrate the merger of the princely state of Sikkim with the Indian republic on 16 May 1975. It is for this reason that this day is celebrated as Sikkim Day.
The book traces New Delhi's shift from a long-standing pro-Chogyal position to a pro-democracy position and chronicles the changing political alignments in Sikkim. It outlines the interplay of personalities – Indira Gandhi, Chogyal (God King) Thondup, the Kazi, and the Indian officials, like Gandhi’s principal secretary PN Haksar, and intelligence agencies involved – to reveal the chain of events that led to the merger of the Himalayan kingdom with India.
(Unedited excerpts reproduced with permission from Penguin Viking.)

The PMO, headed by Haksar, was of the opinion that there was no immediate requirement to revise the existing treaty and that India should not become a victim of the Chogyal’s manoeuvres and pressure tactics.

But these words of wisdom seemed to have little impact on India’s policy of continued appeasement towards Sikkim.

The Chogyal continued to receive royal treatment from the Indian government. In the spring of 1971, the Chogyal expressed a wish to go on a pilgrimage to important places of Buddhist interest in India.
PO Bajpai made a request to the MEA which was accepted. The Indian Railways provided two luxury coaches for the trip. Bajpai and Devare, with their wives, accompanied the Chogyal, Gyalmo (Hope) and the family. The group visited Nalanda, Rajgir, Bodh Gaya, Sankisa and Sanchi.
They also visited Chandigarh and New Delhi. The Chogyal was extended a warm welcome wherever he went. Governors of the states he visited hosted lunches and dinners in his honour.
Indira Gandhi received him with all courtesies. It was a high watermark of Sikkim’s relationship with India, despite the pinpricks the Chogyal had started giving to India on a number of matters of key importance. Nothing happened during 1971 to the revised draft treaty prepared by Kaul, mainly due to India’s preoccupation with the situation in east Pakistan.
Towards the end of 1971, while Indira Gandhi was busy sorting out the problems arising out of the large-scale exodus of refugees from erstwhile east Pakistan, Thondup and Hope were concentrating on organising fashion shows in New York, in the prestigious department store Bergdorf Goodman, inviting favourable media coverage of ‘His Majesty’s’ activities.
Although Gandhi’s position at home had considerably improved due to her success in the dismemberment of Pakistan, the resultant creation of an independent country –Bangladesh – and also due to her resounding victory in the fifth general elections that followed, she still sent Kaul to Gangtok in March 1972 to gauge the feelings of the Chogyal towards an acceptable solution to his problems.

Kaul showed the draft of a new treaty relationship with the Chogyal, offering Sikkim permanent association with some accompanying benefits that were not part of the 1950 treaty. On Kaul’s return, Haksar had another discussion with him.

Kaul again visited Gangtok after a few months and conveyed that India was ready to revise the treaty by replacing the word ‘protectorate’ with ‘permanent association with India’, with Sikkim retaining the ‘right to autonomy in regard to internal affairs’. Thondup consulted British constitutional lawyer and expert on international law Sir Humphrey Waldock and Nani A Palkhivala, an Indian jurist, on this issue.
Both of them were of the view that permanent association status ‘makes India’s case for merger of Sikkim much easier at a future date’.
Thondup then told Kaul that the wording of the proposed revised treaty required an amendment to read that ‘Sikkim in full sovereign rights enters into a permanent association with the government of India’. This was not acceptable to India.
Offering another sop to Thondup, Kaul told him that if he agreed to the removal of the clause ‘in full sovereign rights’, India would allow him to take immediate control of the posts and telegraph in Sikkim followed by sponsored membership of the Colombo Plan within six months. Kaul also said that membership of the World Health Organisation and the International Labour Organisation could follow at suitable intervals.

 Meanwhile, after spending about four years as defence minister, Sardar Swaran Singh had returned as external affairs minister in June 1970. Thondup met him in New Delhi on 5 May 1972.

Singh told him that the permanent association status ranked higher than that of a protectorate, but added that he did not approve of any reference to the UN in the revised treaty.
Thondup met Indira Gandhi on 8 May. She too echoed Singh’s sentiments. On his return to Gangtok, Thondup suggested that clause II of the treaty could be made to read: ‘though separate, Sikkim and India shall continue to be in close association with each other.’ This was obviously not acceptable to India. In September 1972, Kaul formally repeated his earlier offer for the last time.
Thondup agreed to accept the permanent association status, provided the GoI unconditionally endorsed a separate letter from the Sikkim durbar that would read: ‘it is also the understanding of the government of Sikkim that Sikkim and India shall continue the association between their two countries within the framework of the purposes and principles of the charter of the UN.’ Swaran Singh once again told Thondup that no reference to the UN would be acceptable.
Thereafter, Kaul’s repeated attempts failed to convince Thondup to accept India’s offer. That marked the end of India’s efforts to accommodate Thondup’s sensitivity to the use of the word ‘protectorate’ in clause II of the 1950 treaty.

It must be noted that PN Haksar was a man of high integrity and practical wisdom, and his advice was well respected by Indira Gandhi on most issues of national and international importance.
It is, therefore, not known as to how, in the face of clear written advice from her principal secretary, Gandhi continued to follow Kaul’s policy of appeasement towards the Chogyal.
Kaul had no direct access to Haksar’s notes quoted above, but he had numerous meetings with him on this subject. Therefore, he was fully aware of Haksar’s line of approach towards Sikkim. In view of his proximity to the Chogyal, it could be presumed that Kaul, during his visits to Gangtok to discuss the permanent association status, might have had sufficient time (he stayed as a palace guest) to tell the Chogyal about Haksar’s opposition to such concessions as were being offered through the permanent association.
The Chogyal also knew that Kaul was about to retire in early December 1972 and was expected to be replaced by Kewal Singh, who would not be as accommodating of the Chogyal’s whims and fancies as Kaul had been.
There was also a danger of Singh lending his support to Haksar’s line of thinking. In view of that, it is not known as to what was going on in the Chogyal’s mind when he did not listen to repeated appeals from an old and trusted friend like Kaul.
It is also not known as to how and when the Chogyal could have convinced the Indian leadership to agree to his demands, as put forward during the course of negotiations on the permanent association treaty. It appears Thondup was fully convinced by his legal advisers that permanent association was as good as merger.
In view of that, he avoided agreeing to Kaul’s offer in the hope things might change in his favour in future. Also, till then the merger of Sikkim was not on the radar of either the MEA or the PMO.

Insofar as the MEA was concerned, things changed only after Kaul was replaced by Kewal Singh, and Kewal Singh didn’t share with anyone else in the MEA the possibility of India accepting Kazi’s request for merger till the very end.

On the other hand, Thondup had no means of knowing about this change in the GoI’s policy due to the highly secretive nature of the decision-making process involved. The Indo-Sikkim Treaty of 1950 served India’s interests as long as Thondup was willing to abide by its contents and observe the sanctity of the lakshman rekha it drew.
India continued to honour its contents, both in letter and spirit, and helped Thondup maintain control over Sikkim and ensure stability in the state, even at the cost of the democratic aspirations of the vast majority of Sikkimese people.
But Thondup’s insatiable ambition of seeing Sikkim as an independent country during his lifetime did not fit into India’s heightened security perceptions in 1972. In 1947, Thondup had walked out of a crowd of over 560 Indian princely states waiting in front of Sardar Patel to sign the instrument of accession which finally led to their merger with India, holding Jawaharlal Nehru’s finger.
In 1972, he had tried to grab the wrist of Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, to lead her in a direction that was not to her liking.
She was willing to draw a new lakshman rekha to accommodate Thondup’s sensitivities over the ‘protectorate’ status for Sikkim to a point, by offering him the more respectable status of ‘permanent association’, but she could not sacrifice her country’s security interests by leaving them at the mercy of an assertive and unreliable Chogyal of an independent Sikkim.
India’s strategic interests in Sikkim at that time were too critical to let the Chogyal dream of Sikkim’s independence, thereby making it a hotbed of international tug of war, with the distinct possibility of the Chinese pulling the rope from one side. In this respect, he seemed to be playing a game of chess with Gandhi.
Thondup, however, did not realize that in 1972 she was playing this game from a much stronger position and was only one move away from checkmate. Credit must be given to Gandhi for holding back her next move by offering Thondup one last escape route, through the offer of permanent association, before she took the ‘king’. Unfortunately, Thondup overestimated his skills and miscalculated the real impact of his moves.
He was actually playing a losing game, which he thought was going in his favour. Thondup’s reaction to Gandhi’s moves can aptly be described through a well-known Indian proverb: vinash kale viprit buddhi. It means that before you embrace destruction, your thinking process gets muddled.
He could have accepted the status of permanent association and waited for a more opportune time to revisit his plans for independence, or left it to his future generations.
Maybe it was the curse of a very large majority of the politically and economically deprived Sikkimese people that was now visiting upon Thondup. Indian diplomacy had tested its outermost limits through the offer of permanent association, and it could go no further.

No Indian leader, not even the idealist Morarji Desai, who made a lot of noise against the merger of Sikkim when he succeeded Gandhi as prime minister, could have granted independence to Sikkim.

With a diplomatic deadlock staring her in the face – that is, Thondup unwilling to accept anything less than sovereign status, and TN Kaul replaced by a non-partisan Foreign Secretary Kewal Singh – Indira Gandhi finally decided to go for a course correction in India’s policy of appeasement towards the Chogyal.
Having tasted success through the dismemberment of east Pakistan and the resultant emergence of Bangladesh, and fully confident of the capabilities of the buoyant R&AW under the leadership of RN Kao, she finally told Kao in Haksar’s presence to ‘do something about Sikkim’.
What the R&AW did in this respect is described in the subsequent chapters (of the book).


The following is an excerpt from the book ‘Sikkim-Dawn of Democracy: The Truth Behind The Merger With India’ written by GBS Sidhu, retired special secretary, Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW).

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