The perceived dangers of a “Greater Sikkim” are discussed by Mohan Ram in a recent article in the New Delhi Pioneer, excerpted here, whose starting point is the constitutional recognition given to the Nepali language in India.
Sikkim’s new status, as a linguistic state of Nepalis, gives a new edge to the hitherto nebulous demand for a “Greater Sikkim” encompassing the adjacent Nepali-speaking tracts of the former kingdom which became a part of India under controversial circumstances.
Eyebrows were raised at the Foreign Correspondents Club of South Asia in New Delhi late in May when Bhutan´s Foreign Minister, Lynpo Dawa Tshering, said in answer to a question that the “Greater Nepal” demand of a Nepal extending to the Nepali-speaking tracts in India (Sikkim Dooars, Kalimpong and Darjeeling), was a myth with no basis in history. But he hastened to concede that a demandfor “Greater Sikkim” would be a greater threat to Bhutan than the “Greater Nepal” idea.
Lynpo Tshering, during his talks with the Indian Government last May, passed on a four-page pamphlet, “The Voice of the Oppressed People of Bhutan”, which amounts to an open call for a Greater Sikkim.
It says: “The Gorkha people of southern Bhutan must unite and fight for our rights. We, the Gorkhas of southern Bhutan, are not only the majority but we also have 17 million brothers and sisters in Nepal and over 10 million living in India. Unless the minority Drukpas, native Bhutanese, come to their rescue and immediately undo the damage and great harm they have done to themselves, there is every possibility that the borders of the Gorkha State of Sikkim and the adjoining districts of Kalimpong and Darjeeling can easily be extended across the whole of southern Bhutan. Then, instead of Bhutanisation of southern Bhutan, we may see the day when the minority is Nepalised by the Gorkhas of southern Bhutan.”
India and Bhutan seem to share the concern over the implications of a Greater Sikkim demand. The implications of such a demand was discussed at a high-level conference called by the Union Home Ministry in 1992, because a Greater Sikkim, though no challenge to India´s sovereignty like the Greater Nepal demand, had implications for the security of the Northeast.
On the surface, the Greater Sikkim demand amounts to a rational reorganisation of the states to conform to the linguistic principle. If Sikkimis accepted as a Nepali-majority, Nepali-speaking state with Nepali as its official language, there is no logic in denying merging the adjacent Nepali areas (immediately, Kalimpong and Darjeeling and the Dooars) into a single Nepali entity.
Thus far, the political competition between the Sikkim Chief Minister Narbahadur Bhandari and the Gurkha National Front leader Subhash Gheising, who began a demand for statehood for Darjeeling region and settled for much less within the confines of West Bengal, has relegated the Greater Sikkim demand to the background.
But if the demand picks up in Bhutan and gains momentum in India, and in the unlikely event of the rivals, Bhandari and Gheising, finding a common wave-length, both New Delhi and Thimphu would have to respond with some seriousness to the challenge.
Bhutan’s concern is more fundamental. A Greater Sikkim is a more immediate possibility than a Greater Nepal. Both mean a threat of Nepali pressure on Bhutan´s southern border in the form of a renewed influx and a Nepali bid for political power in Bhutan on the lines of the unobstructed takeover in Sikkim.
In New Delhi’s thinking, Bhandari and Gheising have to be kept apart at all costs because something more than an enlarged Nepali-language state is implied by the Greater Sikkim state. The real threat is the vital Siliguri corridor close to the China border which is the vital link between the Indo-Gangetic plains and the Northeast.