In terms of India’s security, Sikkim remains a trend-setter and a model; India can’t afford to have insecure and ‘unhappy’ borders, when the northern neighbour is always ready to change the status quo, writes Claude Arpi for South Asia Monitor
By Claude Arpi JAN 20, 2019
In the summer of 2017, the Doklam incident could have taken
a dramatic turn for India (and China too!); fortunately, it ended well with the
withdrawal of the Chinese and Indian armies from an area near the trijunction
between Sikkim, Tibet and Bhutan. However, early 2018, several media reports
mentioned fast-paced road construction activities in the area, particularly a
12-km-long stretch from Yatung, in Chumbi Valley, to Doklam, being built by
“The black-topping of the road, which according to
sources, has been underway since the middle of September 2017, means that the
Doklam plateau will see an increasing deployment of PLA in days to come,”
A crucial factor in India’s favour has been the strategic
and political stability of the border state of Sikkim. For several reasons, it
is vital for India’s security that it remains so. First, Denjong or the Valley
of Rice, as Sikkim is traditionally known, is a prosperous state; that the
charismatic Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling has become the longest serving
Indian Chief Minister in 2018 is a clear sign of its stability.
Sikkim is also India’s first organic state, showing the way
to other progressive states in the country. On October 12, 2018, Sikkim won the
UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Future Policy Award 2018 for being
the world’s first 100 percent organic state. The citation said, “Sikkim is the
first organic state in the world. All of its farmland is certified organic…
Embedded in its design are socio-economic aspects such as consumption and
market expansion, cultural aspects as well as health, education, rural
development and sustainable tourism.” This makes Sikkim particularly special.
In terms of India’s security, Sikkim remains a trend-setter
and a model; India can’t afford to have insecure and ‘unhappy’ borders, when
the northern neighbour is always ready to change the status quo. Another
welcome change has been the disenclavement of the state.
On September 24, 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi
inaugurated an aerodrome at Pakyong, near Gangtok, Sikkim’s capital. The
airport has been constructed at a cost of some Rs 600 crore, the first
commercial flight from Pakyong taking off on October 4 with SpiceJet operating
a 78-seater Bombardier Q400 flights to and from Delhi, Kolkata and Guwahati.
Recently, an Antonov AN-32 transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force landed
for the first time at Pakyong. It will be a game-changer for the Indian Army.
The way for India to strengthen its Himalayan boundary lies
perhaps in Sikkim. When one reaches Gangtok, the first thing one realizes is
that Sikkim is spotlessly clean and the environment well-protected. This is
particularly striking when coming from a state where plastic and garbage litter
every public place. It is a truly refreshing and uplifting experience to see
clean forests, streams and villages. Driving up from West Bengal, Sikkim seems
This brings the possibility of developing eco-tourism, which
could bring rich dividends. But that is probably not enough. It is also
necessary to empower the local population. Chamling has recently decided to
institute a universal basic income for each of Sikkim’s 610,577 citizens. If
the scheme is a success, Sikkim will become India’s most progressive state.
Though Sikkim is today stable, large sections of society
feel they have been victim to historical injustices in the past. After the
merger with India in 1975, some communities were excluded from tribal status. A
two-day summit, organised by EIECOS (Eleven Indigenous Ethnic Communities of
Sikkim), in May 2018 in Gangtok demanded that all communities with a Sikkim
Subject’s Card should be given ‘tribal’ status and Sikkim be declared a tribal
state, like other north-eastern states. Three years after Sikkim joined India
in a quasi-unanimous referendum, some communities were unfortunately left out,
while Scheduled Tribe recognition was granted to others.
While inaugurating the Sikkim Summit for Tribal Status 2018,
Chamling said: “We embraced India as a country on the condition of never
compromising our uniqueness as Sikkimese people, protected by the Indian
With fast-paced developments taking place on India’s
borders, the pressure is going to greatly increase. For the local population to
remain steadfast, a small gesture such as granting tribal status to Sikkim
would go a long way to make the people of Sikkim happier and, therefore, more
prepared to support the defence of India’s borders.
This is valid for other Himalayan states which too have
their long-pending demands which are often ignored by Delhi. It is true for
Ladakh, for Arunachal Pradesh, and also for Himachal and Uttarakhand. India
needs to satisfy the basic aspirations of the local populations and give them
the freedom to develop according to their own genius.
A visit to Nathu la, the border pass between India and
China, makes one realize the strategic importance of Sikkim which has the
potential to keep peace between the two Asian giants despite recurrent
tensions. It witnesses BPMs (Border Personnel Meetings) between the Indian and
Chinese Army, in a ‘hut’ built for the purpose, several times a year. It
symbolizes the decision taken at the highest levels in India and China to resolve
localised border issues around a table.
The Himalayan people may not represent a large or
politically influential section of the Indian population, but the country’s
security depends on them. Let us hope that Sikkim can remain a model of
stability and lean environment, as well as a beacon for other Indian states. It
is the need of the hour.
(The author is a French-born author, journalist,
historian and Tibetologist. He can be contacted at email@example.com)