‘Nepal is not Sikkim’

Indian moves in Sikkim worried Nepal, with Palace backing public demonstrations against the move. But Delhi’s blunt message to Kathmandu saw it pull back, even as U.S. reassured Nepal that it would not have a similar fate.

April 16, 2013 12:29 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:07 pm IST

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi seen with King Birendra of Nepal in Delhi on October 1, 1975.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi seen with King Birendra of Nepal in Delhi on October 1, 1975.

When India first moved in to internally administer Sikkim, on the request of the Chogyal, in April 1973, Nepal’s King Birendra told U.S. interlocutors >(1973NEWDE04657_b; Confidential) that there were “two views” about Indian actions.

The first was that it was initiated by India — if this was the case, “it would affect others in the area”. The other was that it was a result of “internal troubles”. The king said he believed it was “50-50 proposition and Nepal is closely watching the outcome to determine its meaning”. By May though, the monarch seemed to feel that India had encouraged Sikkim Nepalese to express their “legitimate aspirations”, but the situation had turned out in a way that the “only player which had the cards was India”. ( >1973KATHMA02309_b; Confidential )

Indian actions the next year appeared to confirm the worst fears of the Nepali nationalist elite. After New Delhi declared Sikkim to be an associate state, in early September 1974, Nepal’s Foreign Minister said Nepal wishes Sikkim “should continue to make progress through the preservation of its tradition entity” ( >1974KATHMA03615_b; Limited Official Use ) . Local parliamentarians said Nepal should take the issue to an international platform, and senior officials asked U.S.: “Was it really necessary” for India to act the way it did? The Nepali press “condemned the move”, and demonstrations took place, including outside the Indian Embassy, with slogans like “India stay out of Sikkim”.

U.S. diplomats commented, “Analogy between Sikkim and Nepal, however inaccurate or irrational, is easily drawn.” In another cable, U.S. noted that the demonstrations have “all earmarks of a well organised campaign with approval of government” ( >1974KATHMA03619_b; Limited Official Use ) .

But India was furious. Ambassador M. K. Rasgotra met the Nepali leadership and received assurances that Nepal “entertained no apprehensions about Indian intention”, and fullest measures would be taken against “anti-India demonstrations” ( >1974NEWDE11926_b, Limited Official Use ) .

Mr. Rasgotra visited Delhi, and his absence triggered concerns in Kathmandu that India was looking to “review bilateral relations”. This prompted, in U.S. assessment, “a pull-back from the position of confrontation with GOI” ( >1974KATHMA04019_b, Limited Official Use ) .

The U.S. noted that many Nepalese were wondering if Nepal was “next on India’s list” after Sikkim, and wondered whether India-Nepal relations were taking a “fundamentally new shape…or it was just another case of Nepalese suspicion of India leading to over-reaction” ( >1974KATHMA04166_b; Confidential ) .

Nepal’s pull-back was apparent, with King Birendra’s interview to The Washington Post on November 16, where he emphasised India-Nepal relations could not be allowed to be disturbed by “minor or sporadic events of a temporal nature”. The interview made sense in the light of what Mr. Rasgotra told his U.S. interlocutors — he had never seen Delhi “as angry” as it had been on the Nepali position on Sikkim, and Nepal could not expect a “privileged relationship” if it was not sensitive to “India’s vital interests” ( >1974KATHMA04836_b; Confidential ) .

The pressure worked. When Sikkim was integrated into the Union the following year, the reaction in Kathmandu was muted ( >1975KATHMA01743_b; Limited Official Use ) .

The U.S., however, remained sensitive to Nepali concerns. In a cable signed by Henry Kissinger ( >1975STATE086460_b, confidential ) , explaining U.S. would stick to a “no-comments” policy on Sikkim and missions across the world must convey the same if asked, an exception was made for Kathmandu. He instructed diplomats, “Should the question arise, you may assure GON officials we continue to support Nepal’s independence and development. We regard Nepal’s situation, as a U.N. member and independent sovereign state with which we have very good relations, as different from that of Sikkim.”

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