Are We Actually Different, Mr. Chief Minister, Pawan Kumar Chamling?

Writes: Binu Sundas

The Honourable Chief Minister of Sikkim, Shri Pawan Kumar Chamling, has blatantly denied himself being a Gorkha by differentiating those residing in Sikkim to be Sikkimese Nepalis and those outside of it to be Gorkha. He has vociferously denied the unity that the Gorkha of India have been rallying for. His differentiation of those Gorkhas living in Sikkim and those living outside of it is devoid of any historical and socio-cultural support. His only variable for such a thesis has been the military vocation one had chosen in the distant past. It would be interesting for all the Gorkha population to know the sources of his conclusion, as this would add a new dimension to the multiple  histories and historiography of the area. Dr. Chamling would do us a great favour if he can answer the question whether  the Gorkha population only joined the army, if not, then how would he categorise those who did not join the army?
Pawan Kumar Chamling
Pawan Kumar Chamling

It is very saddening to know that a person occupying such a responsible position in the polity of India is making such a rash statement. He and his office should know that the population dynamics are more complex and intertwined and migration of people has always played an important role in shaping the contemporary nation-states and in this matter the state of Sikkim. Historiography of the region has not been reliable, moreover there is no social history of the region which gives a lucid accounts of people belonging to different race, ethnicity and nationality inhibiting the region of Sikkim. There is no written history of the area and people, prior to the coming of the Tibetans from the Kham province of Tibet and the formation of Namgyal dynasty in Sikkim, as the Tibetans burnt all the written documents of the Lepchas (Foning 2003), the presumed autochthones of Sikkim, which left them only with the oral traditions.  However, it is mentioned that Sikkim claimed to have ruled Limbuan, there is evidence that people, particularly in the north-east of Far Kirat, recognised this overlordship (Pradhan 2009). On the other hand it is also known that areas of Sikkim at certain periods of history was also under the rule of Nepal Kings. The Sugauli Treaty of 1816 forced Nepal to restore the Sikkimese land under its control. Therefore it is evident that movement of people must have taken place between Nepal and Sikkim. Therefore to claim that Nepali/Gorkha people of Sikkim is different than those of the rest of India is absurd. If we go by the logic of Dr. Chamling then the population of Sikkim would not be as favourable to the Nepalis as the data below illustrates.

Table I: Population Profile of the Three Communities of Sikkim

Year     Lepcha     Bhutia      Gorkhas
1840     3010        1995        1995
1891     5762        4894       18981
1909     6000        6000        5000
1931     13060     11070     36105
1951     13625     15626     97863
1961     14847     36577     88916
1971     22306     36760     134236
1981     22147     21548     192295
1991     56904     65033     284520

A glance at the population composition of the three major ethnic communities of Sikkim shows that the growth of Nepali/Gorkha population has been much greater than the other two communities combined.  Population growth or decline happens in two ways a) natural growth or decline and b) due to in-migration or out-migration. Is the fertility rate of the Nepali population of Sikkim so high? The answer to this high decadal growth is not fertility but migration of Nepali/Gorkha population to Sikkim. Therefore Dr. Chamling the migrating Nepali/Gorkha population cannot be different from those residing in other parts of India, unless you have selectively allowed only those who did not have any military background or you thought them to be of different race than the rest.

This needs to be put in a context. The decades of 80s and 90s saw a very high growth of Nepali/Gorkha population. This was the time that Sikkim had recently joined the Indian Union. It was transforming itself from an aristocratic feudal state to a democratic state. During the monarchy the state had very low level of social development. It did not have a college till the late 1970s, therefore when it became the 22nd state of the Indian Union it lacked human capital to run the business of the state. For running the state, human resources of different varieties were encouraged to come to the state from the neighbouring areas of Darjeeling, Kurseong, Kalimpong and other places. This led to a large influx of Gorkha from the neighbouring areas. Can this historical fact be denied by the state of Sikkim and are these Nepali/Gorkha people different than the ones the Hon’ble Chief Minister is referring to, since many of these people also have papers to prove that they are subjects of Sikkim?

Dr. Chamling must have made such a dastardly  statement owing to the pressure he must have faced from his political circle in reaction to the Government of India notification to provide eleven communities of the Nepali/Gorkha ethnic group the Scheduled Tribe status. The Government of India through the notification dated 2nd April 2016 already reiterated that the granting of Scheduled Tribe status to these communities will be done in consultation with the state governments where the Nepali/Gorkha have a significant population. Is he differentiating Nepali/Gorkha of Sikkim and the rest of the country, so that the life chances of his state’s subjects increase manifold in comparison to the others. Otherwise why would he state that he would take his 28 MLAs and meet the PM to discuss the inclusion of Sikkimese Nepali/Gorkha in the ST list and not of the others when the Government of India has already notified it. Is he playing a political game here at the expense of the entire Gorkha population who are now, though stateless, but equal citizens as anyone from Sikkim or for that matter India.

The Hon’ble Chief Minister has fallen from grace in the eyes of all the Gorkha people residing outside of Sikkim with one Machiavellian statement and if his desire is to deprive these Gorkha, who have taken pride on him being the only Gorkha Chief Minister in India, of the ST status then it would be the greatest disservice one can do to its fellow beings.

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