Impact of British Colonial Rule in the Modernisation of Sikkim
In the latter half of the 19th century, British appear to have achieved complete dominance at the apex of the formal structure of power. Britain feared that another European power might take the opportunity of the control over the subcontinent. With the defeat of the French commercial interests, Britain gradually acquired control over vast regions of the subcontinent. Britain formulated the Eastern Himalayan region as a protective shield against powers like Tsarist Russia and Imperial China. In the Eastern Himalayan region, the erstwhile Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim and the present state of India occupied a significant position; its strategic location gave it an importance irrespective of its size; wedged in between Nepal on the west, Bhutan on the south-east, China on the north and north-east, and India on the south.
This paper aims to position Sikkim in the larger colonial framework for analytical purpose, the methodology used in this study is historical–analytical but at the same time comparative, because combining historical and comparative methods may yield more clues to exactly how the modern state developed. Sikkim was in such a position where the British influence was deemed necessary to protect their interests in India. The strategic location of Sikkim was referred as a ‘mountain highway to Calcutta’ through the route from Gyantse in Southern Tibet, crossing the Chumbi Valley to Sikkim and onward to India. An alternative route also existed from Shigatse in Tibet to Sikkim, and from Sikkim to Darjeeling and finally to Calcutta (the official heart of British India at that point in time). These two routes were critical for the trade between Sikkim and Tibet, but they also posed a threat to the British because these routes provided potential passage to India, essentially slipping through India’s back door.
The geopolitics of the region permitted Sikkim to remain as a colonial periphery state; colonial periphery is a state which is not a colony literally but not outside the zone of influence of the colonialism. The scope of this paper is to analyze the British policy in Sikkim which shaped it in accordance to their interest, the socio-political engineering of British which modelled Sikkim in the parlance of the modern state to suit their interests. This paper seeks to provide answers to the questions: how did British policy impact upon the state formation in Sikkim and what are the implications of British policy in the postcolonial period. For this purpose postcolonial framework will be adopted and drawn conclusions on the line of the postcolonial framework, a new line of enquiry that was developed in western theory but yet to use in the context of Sikkim. In other words, the sole purpose of this paper is to examine the impact of British colonial rule on developing Sikkim as a modern state through the postcolonial framework.