By Maila Baje
If the Indians seem to be shrugging off China’s latest threat to support Sikkim’s independence against the backdrop of growing tensions on their Himalayan frontier, they have good reason.
Admittedly, the former Himalayan kingdom was incorporated into the Indian union through a series of highly underhanded maneuvers. And, yes, it took Beijing three decades, having pursued a sustained campaign of cartographic legerdemain, to formally recognize that Sikkim is part of India.
The fact remains that there is no tenable sentiment for Sikkim’s independence manifestly palpable inside the territory. One cannot delve into the hearts and minds of the Sikkimese people. For practical purposes, the independence movement – if there ever was one – has been snuffed out.
‘Sikkimization’ and ‘Bhutanization’ are useful slogans for rabid Nepali nationalists on the left and the right. Beyond that, Bhutan seems hardly bothered by its own ‘subjugation’ by India to feel strongly about Sikkim’s status.
How the Indians managed to pull that off continues to baffle many Indians. The formula has not been replicable in Kashmir, Punjab or any other restive part of the world’s largest democracy.
Could New Delhi’s ethnic cleansing in Sikkim have done the trick long before the term ever was conceived of as a prosecutable offense in an international tribunal? If Lhendup Dorje, the prominent native Sikkimese politician whose exertions were central to the merger of the state into the Indian union, was subsequently forced to spend his life frying fish in a West Bengal transportation hub, one can easily surmise the plight of his compatriots.
The ethnic Nepalis – a concept hard to fathom given the identity crisis in Nepal – who control Sikkim today seem quite content with the status quo. They have no reason to look admirably or enviously towards Nepal or the perennially agitated putative Gorkhaland, while New Delhi’s largesse continues to flow in.
As the writers of that Global Times editorial suggest, Sikkimese independence is a notion that could gain wider credence inside China. New Delhi knows that regime change long ceased to have a part in Beijing’s playbook under Mao Zedong. Switching the sovereignty of states, too, flows more from the history of Chinese humiliation. It is not an investment Beijing can afford to make in its rise to global prominence.
So what should be garnered from that hard-hitting editorial? This gem: “In the past, China was wary of India playing the Dalai Lama card, but this card is already overplayed and will exert no additional effect on the Tibet question.”
The Dalai Lama turned 82 the other day and can only wilt further into the twilight of his life. Is the editorial emblematic of China’s confidence in the full and formal incorporation of Tibet into the Chinese state? If so, it would be immaterial whether the 15th Dalai Lama is designated or discovered, is done so by the Chinese or the Tibetan exiles, comes from inside Tibet or outside, is a man or a woman.
Now, if a Sikkim independence movement were to be launched from Tibet as part of the “certain conditions” that would “rewrite southern Himalayan geopolitics” – as the Global Times postulates – then that would be something to write home about.
Tibet sanguinity in the Sikkim missive?
By Maila Baje