Andrew Duff’s book on Sikkim: Requiem for a Himalayan Kingdom is an enthralling book on how a Kingdom of Sikkim lost its independence to India after more than 300 years of monarchy rule. It tells story of Sikkim’s annexation, its last king and his American wife Hope Cooke and their fairy-tale wedding in 1963. It narrates a poignant story of how the last Chogyal’s attempt to save his country from merger with the new independent India ended in vain.
Duff argues that Sikkim’s loss of independence cannot be viewed in isolation of the wider geo-political issues that prevailed between India and China at that time, and which continues to date. Despite the internal intrigues and rivalries within Sikkim, it becomes clear through his book that the causes for Thondup’s loss of his nation is to a large extent is fueled by external forces that has nothing to do with his ability to rule the tiny kingdom.
So far as internal issues are concerned, Duff presents in a very convincing style, how the Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim underwent major demographic transitions starting the late nineteenth century, which later culminated into a political strife that finally became Thondup’s greatest challenge as a ruler. The influx of Nepalese immigrants during the British era in India was a turning point in Sikkim’s history. Uncontrolled inflow of Nepalese settlers whose culture and history hugely varied from the native Sikkimese completely changed the country by 1970s when about 75% of the population were identified as ethic Nepalese immigrants. It is partly seen as Thondup’s lack of ability to adjust with these new developments, and his dire attempts to save the fate of ethnic Sikkimese that led to rise of Kazi Lhendup who fought for equal rights for all.
Duff also points out the subtle roles played out by the American and Scottish wives of Thondup and Lhendup in the loss of Sikkim’s independence.
Sikkim’s story is not a unique case though. It is very similar to Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1950s and the more recent annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. Though British did not make firm efforts to annex Sikkim, it was them who first brought Sikkim to the limelight when they planned to open a trade route to Tibet via Sikkim. Following this proposal, British placed a political officer in Gangtok who served very critical roles even during the time of Thondup’s reign. They acted as whisper behind the throne. So, to a large extend, it was the strategic positioning of Sikkim, which acted as a buffer between India and China, that interested India in her efforts to merge Sikkim. Duff very successfully notes in detail how India has supported the Kazi Lhuendup and his supporters, in a very unethical manner. A hasty referendum conducted in a very unprofessional way is often the most approachable tool used by big powers to legitimize the process.