Andrew Duff is well-qualified to tell that story, giving us a fast-paced, entertaining yet thoroughly researched work.
In 2009, Duff encountered the man who symbolises Sikkim’s fight to survive: the charismatic Buddhist monk Sonam ‘Yapo’ Yongda. The author travels to the hilltop Pemayangtse Monastery where Yapo sheds light on Sikkim’s tragic fate.
The book is also the product of several years of research in India as well as in Britain, where at London’s National Archives Duff came across newly-released files on how the kingdom was brutally annexed by India, having been sacrificed as a pawn on the Cold War battlefield. The critical year was 1971, when Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi retaliated to US overtures to China by signing a friendship treaty with Moscow. The hitherto unknown land of Sikkim suddenly acquired a political profile. Gandhi feared that if she allowed Sikkim to push for independence, China was likely to move in and set up an embassy in the kingdom. Tensions mounted and in 1975, after a sham referendum, Sikkim was annexed by India.
Since then, Sikkim has seen its indigenous population and language reduced to near extinction by an influx of Nepalese, who now account for three-quarters of its inhabitants. The land is showing signs of economic success on the back of hydroelectric power and tourism, but what has been lost of its ancient culture is irretrievable. As a British diplomat in Delhi once put it,‘Sikkim is history.’
SIKKIM: Requiem for a Himalayan Kingdom by Andrew Duff, Birlinn, £20 (hardback)
This book review was published in the June 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine