On 5th August Monday the Home Minister announced two critical measures on the floor of the Upper House, the revocation of Article 370 and 35A or the “special status” granted to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. In the immediate aftermath of these events the Rajya Sabha MP from Sikkim, honorable Hishey Lachungpa, delivered a speech on the floor of the house where he first congratulated the Central government on its actions and then went on to plead saying, “but I hope the government won’t do the same to Article 371F in Sikkim for Sikkim joined India through a referendum”. (All said in Hindi)
According to the provisions in Article 370 (in paper at least) Kashmiri’s were to have their own Laws, their own state Flag, a Prime minister and a President and according to Article 35A only Kashmiri citizens were allowed to buy and sell land and avail government jobs in Kashmir. All finely said only on paper, the 70 years since this negotiation, Kashmir has seen mass deployment of Indian army, huge human rights violations, generations of psychological abuse, widowed women and aggrieved mothers who do not know whether their sons are or dead or alive and the spectacle of unmarked graves which runs in thousands.
Article 371F grants similar provisions to the state of Sikkim which acceded to the Indian Union in 1975. The Sikkim Subject holders of Sikkim alone can own and sell land and avail government jobs in Sikkim, Laws that were in regulations before the accession continue to retain legal saction in Sikkim and Sikkim continues to retain fiscal autonomy with the State Bank of Sikkim still functioning in lieu with the 1968 Royal Proclamation Order of the Chogyal. What is also distinct in the case of Sikkim is that the word “Indigenous”, which in the gobal diaspora may have restricted meaning, denotes all people who resided in Sikkim before 1961. Hence, the word “Indigenous People of Sikkim” includes not just people of one community but all – Bhutia, Lepcha’s and Nepalis’ who resided in Sikkim before 1961.
It is with this in mind the recent turn of events need to be put into perspective. The demand for revocation of Article 370 by the Rashtriya Sawam Sevak Sangh (RSS), the parent organization of BJP, goes well back to 1950’s. The RSS’s imagination of “Akhand Bharat” covers huge areas of the Indian subcontinent, which includes Sikkim and the rest of North-East India. In this imagination of an uniform Hindu state, diversity is secondary and uniformity primary. There is no space for Federalism let alone provisions such as Article 371F. The Nation is one unit, one body, with one religion and one goal. Its ideological foundations are Upper Caste Hindu centric, Patriarchal with mascuilinity being a necessity to achieve this imagined nation, detrimental to Tribal societies and most importantly anti-Muslim.
This demand has found larger echo since 2014 and has been pledged with much nationalist fervor as the cartographic imagination of right wing passions blooms against the withering of its imagined nation-state’s head. Even among the liberal elite, who otherwise are on point on their political correctness, the historicity behind Article 370 is erased and the image of Bharat Mata looms large.
What makes the honorable RS representative believe that Sikkim will not meet the same fate as Kashmir? Didn’t the order of events in Kashmir follow similar pattern as 1975 in Sikkim? The house arrest of the King, questionable conduction of referendum, annexation in the name of Democracy and the complete black out of media? Colonialism is not a black and white affair. It functions through illusionary folklore, cultural hegemony, Racial/Religious sense of superiority and its ultimate goal being plunder and profit making moives.
What makes the honorable RS representatives think that Sikkim will be treated any different when the past years has seen enormous shelling out of mineral resources from Sikkim, which has led to huge ecological diasters and not a miniscule percent of this profit has been used for Sikkim’s own development. What makes us think that we will not meet the same fate as Kashmiris?
Lets revert back to the timeline of events since last week. The Indian government suddenly sent in thousands of troops to the valley where half a million troops were already stationed. Tourists were told to leave the valley, students from mainland were told to return, the annual Amarnath yatra was suspended. Then on Sunday evening Kashmiri Politicians were put under house arrest, curfew was announced and all mediums of communication – internet, mobile networks were shutdown. With few rumours running astray no one knew what was really brewing in Delhi. Then on Monday the home minister announced the revocation of the Articles when large numbers of opposition MP’s who had received no prior notice to such huge steps that were to be undertaken were missing.
All this done while Kahmiri’s themselves remained cutoff from the rest of the world. Such big decisions taken without the consent of those who it was going to affect. All this done to a region that has for 70 years asserted its right to self determination and actively resisted, by all means, the Indian state’s dracodian actions.
If tomorrow the government does the same to Article 371F, what will our response be? How will we resist this move? Or are we going to sit tall in our individual middle class lifes stating that we will not sell our land to outsiders even if they can now buy it (as many are already doing on social media). Do you think chrony capitalist entrerpises will not lure us in, when already majority of the Sikkimese population have made huge money assisting the loot of these private companies and when we already crib inside our houses about how our market is being controlled by “outsiders”. What makes us think that we will not meet the same fate as Kashmiris?
The reponses from our elected representatives makes one thing clear; we cannot reply upon them to protect our Special status. The Chief Minister released a statement only after much pressure was mounted by the opposition and fraction of the civil society. The CM told jouralists,“the Centre will not touch 371F…. we heard in Parliament that Union Home Minister Amit Shah said these provisions will continue.”
On the other hand news from our Opposition, who have been demanding for “assurance”, took a completely different directon with 10 MLA’s of SDF joining the BJP state Unit. The Sikkimese people need to be asking these 10 MLA’s on what grounds can they “assure” the Sikkimese janta that they will be able to protect 371F when their new Party’s ideological leanings says otherwise? On what moral and ethical grounds have they decided to join a party whose ideological base rests on anti-minority Hindutva values?
Keeping our “Sikkimese” pride aside, one thing needs to be said loudly and clearly: the people of Sikkim have a lot to learn from other North-Eastern states like Mizoram and Nagaland. In the immediate aftermath of scrapping of Article 370 widespread protests were held in these states. In Mizoram effigy’s of the Prime Minister and the Home Minister was burnt in public and the entire society came together condemning the move. Such was the immediate backlash that on Thursday the BJP state unit’s General Secetray came out with a statement assuring the people that Aricle 371G granting special rights to Mizos was not to be touched. Similarly Naga Nationalist groups are talking about demanding more autonomy than what they already have under 371A and remain anxious about governments moves in Kashmir. Such were the apprehensions that the newely appointed governor of Nagaland RN Ravi released statement that the Naga people had nothing to worry about. All this done with no need of pleading for assurance and at the same time with active resistance to what had occurred in Kashmir.
It is not just revocation of 371F that plagues Sikkim and other North-East states; What gurantee is there that the BJP government will not table the Citizenship Amendment Bill in the same manner and pass it through both the houses arbitarily? The CAB which intents on changing the demography of the North-East dramatically. Are we going to ask for “assurance” once again?
Whatever happens in the coming days, our politicians begging for fallen crubs off the table will not do. Article 370 was not something that was “granted” to Kashmiris. It was a “negotiated” deal between the Indian leaders and the Indian appointed Kashmiri leaders. Just as 371F in Sikkim is a “negotiated” deal between the Indian state and the last Chogyal. The Sikkimese people are not at the mercy of the Indian state to grant us or revoke 371F, as the Honorable respresentative Hishey Lachungpa implied. Provisions of Article 371F is the reason why we agreed to and are part of the Indian union in the first place.
At times like these we need to revert back to our History, especially the period between 1973- 1975, which saw upheaval against the rigid feudal order, the pro-democracy movement, Sikkim’s position in the existent global politics, the inticement from India, the referendum held to save face, the humiliation of the King and ultimately, annexation. Younger generations need to talk to their elders, ask and take in the oral stories of everyday normal lives in Independent Sikkim and how Sikkim eventually came to become the 22nd state in the Indian Union. There is so much more to our history than what the mainland monitored history books tell us where Sikkim’s history begins in 1975 by “willingly” acceding to the Indian Union. Sikkim has a History prior to 1975, unique and separate from the mainstream Indian history and it is because of this history that we are today able to enjoy the special provisions under 371F.