Posthumously published recent memoirs of former President of India Dr. Pranab Mukherjee have been making news for several reasons. Pranab da claims that former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had rejected an offer made by then King of Nepal, Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah, to make Nepal a province of India.
Mukherjee attributes this supposedly bad decision of Nehru to his style and temperament. Mukherjee argues that had Indira Gandhi been in Nehru’s position, she would seize upon the opportunity, expanding the territories of India. Mukherjee attempts to portray Indira Gandhi’s style and temperament as aggressive and pragmatic while Nehru’s as timid, naïve and “diplomatic“.
Mukherjee attempts to bolster his argument by citing the case of Sikkim which was made 22nd state in Republic of India through 36th amendment to the Indian Constitution. Sadly, Mukherjee is confused comparing apples and oranges while his arguments are short on facts.
Supposed scholar and acclaimed statesman Dr. Pranab Mukherjee is clueless of Indian history. Sikkim had been part of India long before Indira Gandhi became the Prime Minister. The Chogyal of Sikkim, Tashi Namgyal, had signed the Instrument of Accession with India in 1950. This was the same Instrument of Accession signed by nearly 600 other kingdoms such as Kashmir, Bhopal, and Hyderabad.
Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister who got Sikkim under India’s purview.
However, unlike the other Princely States where monarchs were retired with privy purses, in Sikkim, Nehru had left the Chogyal in-charge. The reasons behind Nehru’s lenience towards Chogyal Tashi Namgyal can only be speculated. Perhaps Nehru’s Buddhist leanings played into the dynamics of this mountainous border state whose identity Nehru wanted to protect. We also know that Tashi Namgyal was a reformer himself who held free elections and implemented land reforms in his kingdom, and hence Nehru probably saw no need to intervene.
Chogyal Tashi Namgyal had died in 1963 and was replaced by his son Palden Thondup Namgyal. The new Chogyal and his American wife however did not continue the reform traditions of Tashi Namgyal, which required Indian intervention in 1974.
King Tribhuvan was deposed by his Prime Minister and hence was desperate for Nehru’s help. While Nehru helped King Tribhuvan regain power, the facts about offer of accession are murky at best. If King Tribhuvan was serious about accession to India, he could have had Nepali parliament pass a resolution. Nehru was already dealing with Naga rebellion at that time.
Contrary to Mukherjee’s assessment, India Gandhi as well as Lal Bahadur Shastri were in Nehru’s place as Prime Ministers. Yet neither they nor any other Prime Minister could seize Nepal, although Nepal went through several political crises since then. After this Nepal episode, Nehru would go on to seize French colonies of Yanam & Puducherry as well as Portuguese territories of Goa, Daman & Diu.
If Indira Gandhi really had the style and temperament as Mukherjee claims, she could have made Bangladesh a part of India in 1972. That would be far more consequential than seizing Nepal since seven Northeastern states are on the other side of Bangladesh, connected to India only by the Siliguri Corridor. The present Doklam Crisis could potentially cutoff that accesses to the Northeastern States.
India did not add a single inch to its territory after Nehru, with the exception of sneaking into Siachen in 1984. Indira Gandhi could seize Sikkim only because Nehru already secured its accession to India and stationed troops in Sikkim. Further, whatever Indira Gandhi accomplished in Sikkim, Nehru had accomplished in nearly 600 other Princely States.