Gangtok: It was on this day, 48 years ago, the 8th May Tripartite Agreement 1973 was signed between the Sikkim Chogyal, the Indian government represented by foreign secretary Kewal Singh along with representatives of three political parties, Sikkim Janta Congress, Sikkim National Congress and Sikkim National Party.

People’s demand was for one man, one vote. The parity system must be broken — that was their demand.

The history of the tripartite meeting began on April 4, 1973, when the then Sikkim Chogyal, Palden Thondup Namgyal, was celebrating his birthday. It was at that time when the kingdom was gearing up for the celebration with people assembling from all the four districts.

A copy of the 8th May Tripartite Agreement 1973

But instead, they gheraoed the Sikkim Durbar, which was seen as a law-and-order issue. Chogyal Namgyal was compelled to ask for help from the Indian government to curb down the revolution. For the first time then, India got directly involved in the affairs of Sikkim.

Sikkim reached out to India over any other state because of the 1950 Indo-Sikkimese friendly treaty. Chogyal asked for help and the Indian government agreed. The ensuing result was the agreement of May 8, when election was demanded to be conducted in a democratic manner.

Sikkim Assembly was formed on April 15, 1974. It brought a proposal, cutting out the power of Chogyal, and Sikkim to be a part of India, on 10 April 1975. Taking the same proposal in 1975, the Indian Constitution brought Article 371F and Sikkim became an Indian state.

EastMojo spoke with eight individuals from different organisations to understand their perspective on the importance of this day, one that shaped the present and the future of Sikkim over the last 48 years.

TN Dhakal
Political advisor to CM Prem Singh Golay

May 8 Agreement was a stepping stone for the merger of Sikkim. It was to give protection to Sikkimese people, specifically their political rights, and forming a 32-member Assembly. Election happened in 1974, with 31 constituencies favouring Lhendup Dorjee Kazi to lead the Sikkim government. But, the government of India betrayed us on May 16, 1975. The notion of the people was that he should have been Prime Minister instead of chief minister. But, the leaders of that time insisted that “we will have the chief secretary under us”. We boasted about it, but didn’t understand. Chogyal could have been titular head. This was when Sikkim was snatched. The book, Smash and Grab, carries the truth.

The government of India betrayed us on May 16, 1975.

TN Dhakal
Political advisor to CM Prem Singh Golay

The agreement was properly drafted, but it paved the way for Sikkim’s merger. It was a betrayal. The 1974 Act removed the Chogyal. It was illegal as India backed the overpower. The agreement was good, but later it was misused. Every previous government could have raised the issue when they had a majority in the Assembly with the government of India. Both NB Bhandari and Pawan Kumar Chamling have betrayed Sikkim in this matter. But no point in blaming, it was the solidarity of the people. It would have been a unanimous decision of the Assembly, but they didn’t. There were those who were hand in glove with the Indian government back in the 1970s.

Pawan Kumar Chamling
Former Sikkim chief minister

May 8 agreement was not just a document in history; it encapsulated and was symbolic of the hopes and aspirations of the people of Sikkim. It was on the basis of this agreement on 8th May 1973 that elections were held from April 15-19, 1975 supervised by the Election Commission of India. In 1973, there was a people-led agitation in Sikkim, the demand of which was a functioning democracy in Sikkim. The demand was for self-governance and a system of one man one vote, doing away with the parity system. On 4th April, the agitation reached its peak and the popular movement resulted in the 8th May agreement.

The people of Sikkim must read this document and understand its significance and what it means for our state, its history and its present.

Pawan Kumar Chamling
Former chief minister of Sikkim

The agreement was the first success of the democratic movement of the time. It was an agreement that was to be fulfilled and within it also lay the core of the Sikkim-India merger that took place in 1975. It is the reason for which Sikkim is the 22nd state of the Indian Union. A lot of time has passed since 8th May 1973, but the hopes and aspirations of the Sikkimese people that the agreement carries is yet to be fulfilled. The people of Sikkim must read this document and understand its significance and what it means for our state, its history and its present.

Tseten Tashi
Convenor, Sikkim Bhutia Lepcha Apex Committee

In 46 years, there has been nothing positive. In the name of 8th May Agreement, all are enjoying earning money but forgetting their distinct identity. It is bad. The purpose of the 8th May Agreement is still not fulfilled. The spirit and sanctity of the agreement is aligned with Article 371F. Political rights of Sikkimese people are still alive, but where are the seats reserved for people of Sikkimese origin in the Assembly? It is also a dilution; it is a betrayal on the people of Sikkim. One of the signatories is the Chogyal, but the 13th Chogyal of Sikkim is still alive. Of course, not in power, but that convention or tradition will still continue.

Political rights of Sikkimese people are still alive, but where are the seats reserved for people of Sikkimese origin in the Assembly?

Tseten Tashi
Convenor, Sikkim Bhutia Lepcha Apex Committee

Some other signatories representing the people are also alive. Former chief minister B.B. Goorong, Tasha Tenge, DN Tiwari, their inks have not dried yet. Forget Chogyal, even the people have not benefitted. Majority of Nepali holding Sikkim Subject are in slumber. They are least bothered with the passage of time. 1978 ST Order was a blunder and Representation of People’s Act 1980 — these two were draconian legislations. Now, everyone is jumping for Schedule Tribe status. We have our unique identity of Bhutia, Lepcha and Nepalese of Sikkimese origin. They are going after materialistic gain. Due to influx, now they are ruling us. People must go back to the Agreement and how there has been a breach of Article 371F. Now when I say all this, I will be labelled as communal. Even in recent Municipal election, candidates making promises that based on voter card, those people who are influx will be allowed trade licenses. There is a law in 371F which prohibits that.

Bharat Basnett
Former President, Sikkim Pradesh Congress Committee

Sikkim has been an Indian state for 48 years now, India must not forget the agreement. In India’s freedom struggle, Sikkimese people had helped. Seeing the same in 1949, Sikkim also brought democracy but it was incomplete. India went beyond its friendly Indo-Sikkim treaty to sign the 8th May agreement in 1973. Indian government must not forget Article 371F as to where and what it signed.

Indian government must not forget Article 371F as to where and what it signed.

Bharat Basnett
Former President, Sikkim Pradesh Congress Committee

All in the political field in Sikkim today must not forget its value and work for its preservation. People trusted the Indian government to usher in the democracy, where a special poll was held in April 1974, allowing Sikkim Subject holders to vote to become part of India and the ensuing democracy. Sikkim became part of India with that belief, which the Indian government must not forget. Article 371F was born to protect Sikkim and Sikkimese people. Sikkim a small state then had only 2.5 lakhs people. Now in 46 years we have little over 6 lakh people. Our survival is based on 371F and it is the responsibility of the Indian government and Sikkim government.

NB Khatiwara
Former legislator and senior advocate

May 8 Agreement was temporary, but after the democratic revolution, election happened with one man, one vote. But there was no proportionate representation. As per one man, one vote and one value, seat reservation in Sikkim Assembly should have happened as per population. But the Indian government was inclined towards the people to elect their own government in the future and make their own laws in the future. It was considered transitory. Similar understanding followed in 1974. “Care being taken, no single section of the population will take a dominating position”, it mentioned saying everyone is equal.

But in terms of population, Nepali was dominating population with Bhutia-Lepcha community a minority. But despite population of Nepali people being more and due mainly by their ethnic origin, they wont get many seats. Indian government gave Bhutia-Lepcha the interpretation that parity has been kept while we were given the interpretation that parity has been removed. That was a big trick on the people of Sikkim.

May 8 Agreement is the foundation of our protection, but our protection has been taken away. All left out communities must be made tribal. BJP has commitment for all Gorkha community in the country.

NB Khatiwara
Former legislator and senior advocate

Election was necessary, as people feared how the Chogyal would react. He wanted to create an obstruction in the process of democracy. An opinion poll was done with the question: do you want the King or the democracy with people’s rule? People opted for democracy, but there is still betrayal. Those that asked for democracy have not got, there is no proportionate representation.

In the sub-section (f) of Article 371F, it mentions all sections of people will have reserved seats and only they will be allowed to contest. In 1979, 12 for BL, One sangha, 2 for SC and 17 left as general seats. It was the loss of our reservation, which was fought by RC Poudyal in Supreme Court. May 8 Agreement is the foundation of our protection, but our protection has been taken away. All left out communities must be made tribal. BJP has commitment for all Gorkha community in the country.

Pasang Sherpa
I am 371F convener

Under this agreement, it was agreed that the rights and interests of Sikkimese of Bhutia-Lepcha origin as well as of Nepali origin, which includes Tsong and Scheduled Castes, are fully protected.

Subsequent political developments post 8th May agreement led to the merger of Sikkim with India and insertion of Article 371F, a reflection of 8th May agreement which envisioned to protect the rights and interests of different sections of the population.

However, the aspirations and wishes of Sikkimese people were crushed when Presidential Ordinance of 1979 removed the political reservation of Sikkimese Nepali, violating Article 371F and the provisions of 8th May Agreement. Removal of Nepali seat gave birth to the discontentment and sense of insecurity among the people. The current burning issues of Limboo-Tamang seat, Nepali seat and tribal status in Sikkim are the result of the failure of the Government of India to protect the rights and interests of Sikkimese people as agreed under 8th May agreement.

Political parties and leaders in Sikkim should understand that the remedy they are looking for is already incorporated under the provisions of 8th May Agreement.

Pasang Sherpa
I am 371F convener

Thus, political parties and leaders in Sikkim should understand that the remedy they are looking for is already incorporated under the provisions of 8th May Agreement. The Government of India on several occasions evoked the provisions of 8th May Agreement while dealing with the issues relating to Sikkim as they are fully aware of the importance and validity of the said agreement and its responsibilities towards the protection of the rights and interests of Sikkimese people as promised. It is for us, the Sikkimese people, to realise that 8th May agreement is as alive as it was in 1973 and all our political, social and economic security is well defined under it. We should collectively work towards achieving our rights as a Sikkimese and deliver justice for our generations to come.

KB Rai
President, Sikkim Republican Party

People’s representation should have been based on population, along with land reforms. But after Sikkim’s fight for democracy to ensure the same, not even 0.1% of all these demands were respected or pursued by the Indian government. There was no freedom that Sikkim got despite the revolution for democracy. A majority of the people were tricked to believe there is democracy, but there is still bondage upon people. The very reason they were fighting for May 8 Agreement has failed. 80% people voted in favour to go with India, with 371F being welcomed.

A majority of the people were tricked to believe there is democracy, but there is still bondage upon people. The very reason they were fighting for May 8 Agreement has failed.

KB Rai
President, Sikkim Republican Party

There is no purpose for May 8 agreement, there is no need for celebration as it is wrong. Has the agreement ensured the people’s demand? There is no equal rights, the agreement has impacted Sikkim’s 80% of the people. May 8 is a black day, as India invaded in the matters of Sikkim, plus people’s demands fell flat and it still remains as such. Until there is equal rights for all the people of Sikkim, specifically taking the context of majority Nepali community, this day will remain a black day.

Shanker Sharma
Sikkim Progressive Youth Forum

It paved way for the ultimate merger of the hitherto independent kingdom to the Indian union, which the majority of the signatories of the Agreement had not thought. Secondly, it was the first milestone in achieving democracy that we have today as a part of the Indian union. There is no doubt there were hands of external forces (Govt of India and India Intelligence agencies) behind this agreement and the historic eruption of 1973 that preceded the Agreement. However, at the same time the prevalent resentment among the people against the monarchy and his coterie for the oppression and exploitation, especially in rural Sikkim, cannot be ignored. A majority of the people were treated as second class citizens. There was mistrust and enmity among the communities. All these factors paved the way for the revolt of 1973 and the consequent signing of the Triapatite Agreement.

In Sikkim, there is lack of awareness of our own history. Majority of the people born after the merger have no idea about their history. Our history must be the part of the curriculum of schools and colleges. History must be read, understood and accepted honestly without prejudice. What has been done cannot be undone now.

We must accept all Sikkim subjects are equal. All communities have contributed in making the Sikkim we have today.

Shanker Sharma
Sikkim Progressive Youth Forum

However, lessons must be learnt from history. Whatever little Sikkimese identity that has remained even after the merger under 371(f) can be safeguarded only if the beneficiaries under this provision stay united. We must accept that all Sikkim subjects are equal. All communities have contributed in making the Sikkim that we have today. There must be mutual trust among the communities. At the same time we must understand the laws safeguarded under 371f are feudal laws, which may not fulfill the aspiration for complete democracy. This is something we must accept if we want safeguard under Article 371f. This provision does not allow us to be ultra-democratic. However, if there is scope to make changes in it to make the provision more democratic without harming the interest of the Sikkimese at large, we must do that in order to make this provision time-relevant.

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