How RN Kao – India’s top spymaster - helped integrate Sikkim into India
King of Sikkim (Palden Thondup Namgyal), was pressuring India to revise the Indo-Sikkim Treaty, according to which it was a protectorate, and had developed ambitions to have a separate state like Bhutan.Updated: Dec 13, 2019 16:24 IST
A new book on the life of founding chief of India’s external intelligence agency — Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) — RN Kao, reveals how the agency ran a 27-month-long, ruthless operation between December 1972 and May 1975 and started an uprising against Sikkim’s ruler to annex it to India.
In the book, RN Kao: Gentleman Spymaster , strategic affairs analyst and author, Nitin A Gokhale, writes that the Chogyal, or the then King of Sikkim (Palden Thondup Namgyal), was pressuring India to revise the Indo-Sikkim Treaty, according to which it was a protectorate, and had developed ambitions to have a separate state like Bhutan. This is when (December 1972) ex-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi turned to Kao and asked him: “Can you do something about Sikkim?”
Gokhale writes that a plan was prepared in Kolkata within a fortnight by the then joint director of R&AW, PN Banerjee, who also had a major role in covert operations in Bangladesh during 1971 war. Kao took the plan to Gandhi, who instantly cleared it. The strategy was to undermine and weaken the Chogyal through agitations launched by political parties led by Kazi Lendhup Dorzi (who was leader of the Sikkim National Congress) and other younger leaders, who had launched a joint action committee (JAC) in Sikkim against the Chogyal.
Kao’s officers, Banerjee and Ajit Singh Syali (who was posted as OSD in Gangtok and primarily collected trans-border intelligence on Tibet) launched their operations, Janamat and Twilight, which were perhaps the code names given to agitation leaders KC Pradhan and Kazi respectively, Gokhale writes. Pradhan and Kazi met Banerjee’s team in February 1973.
Around the same time, Banerjee alerted Kao that one political officer at US Consulate in Calcutta – Peter Burleigh, who according to Banerjee’s assessment was a CIA operative, visited Sikkim as state guest of Chogyal. Kao also received inputs that Chogyal was trying to wean away Kazi by negotiating with him couple of exclusive, one-on-one meetings with the SNC leader.
In a meeting called on R&AW’s request in Delhi, it was decided to “strengthen and encourage the agitation till it came to a stage where the Chogyal would be forced to approach government of India for assistance in dealing with the situation”. It was further decided to publicise that the Chogyal had no right to be the king and once the agitation gained momentum, to send Indian army troops for occasional route marches to remind the people of their presence and make sure that the anti-Chogyal, or pro-democracy, movement was not abandoned as it had been in 1949.
As part the plan, the local R&AW team got down to the task of instigating and guiding the agitation, kept the anti-Chogyal leaders united and focused, and, of course, offered financial help whenever necessary, Gokhale writes.
On Chogyal’s 50th birthday, April 4, 1973, there were clashes on the streets of Gangtok, leading to police firing and a couple of deaths. When Chogyal’s elder son, Tenzing, was stopped on his way to the palace, one of the Sikkim Guards opened fire on demonstrators in panic. This was used by Kazi to whip up anti-Chogyal sentiment. By the next day, there was looting and arson on the streets across Sikkim.
Kao informed Gandhi that the takeover of Sikkim was imminent.
By April 8, Chogyal was forced to sign a draft prepared by India, which stated that administration would be taken over by Indian government and Commissioner of Police would be placed under GOC, 17 Mountain Division, of Indian Army.
Kazi then called off the agitation in Gangtok.
The ministry of external affairs then selected IPS officer, BS Das as Chief Executive of Sikkim. He was briefed about India’s ultimate objective in Sikkim: the merger of the state to the Indian union.
The May 8 agreement signed by the Chogyal, Kewal Singh (the then foreign secretary) and parties led by Kazi, left the Chogyal with control of Sikkim guards and the administration of the palace.
However, Gokhale writes “a bigger challenge awaited Kao since Indira Gandhi had made it clear that she wanted a complete merger of Sikkim with India, and in the shortest time possible”.
In an assessment on May 7, 1973, Kao cautioned that Chogyal may change his attitude any moment and that JAC leaders should not feel frustrated and accuse the government of India of betrayal.
Over the next few months, R&AW instructed further anti-Chogyal demonstrations and rallies in Sikkim. Kao also instructed Banerjee to allow the Nepalese or other extremist elements of Darjeeling to join hands with JAC. “We must ensure that in any agreement reached among the various political parties, India’s special position in Sikkim is further strengthened. Neither the Durbar, nor the preponderant Nepalese community, nor the Bhutias/Lepchas should dominate the future setup of Sikkim. There should be ample scope for us to play one group against the other in future so that no one group becomes too powerful,” Kao wrote on his communication.
Kao added that India should look to have 70% of candidates (who are on its side) in the assembly. He also instructed Banerjee that people must be made aware of the disparity in development and progress between Sikkim and the neighbouring districts of West Bengal like Darjeeling so that they start demanding direct representation in Indian parliament, writes Gokhale.
Over six months of elections in 1975 in Sikkim, Kao wanted the agitation maintained. “Foreign secretary Kewal Singh was equally supportive and was ruthless in implementing India’s eventual plan to merge Sikkim with India,” Gokhale writes.
In April elections, Kazi won with landslide victory, winning 31 of 32 seats. He got a new act — The Government of Sikkim Act, 1974, — passed in the assembly, giving Sikkim the status of an associate state.
Chogyal was meanwhile trying to internationalise the issue.
This is when R&AW launched the final stage of its plan. While the government prepared the ground for a resolution to be passed in the assembly, the R&AW had to make sure no bloodshed took place and it was essential to disarm the Sikkim guards, the Chogyal’s loyal soldiers.
Gokhale writes an elaborate plan was drawn up for justifying the disarming of the Sikkim guards. “The scheme is a classic example of what the R&AW could and can do when required,” he writes.
The Sikkim guards were to be disarmed on the April 8 or 9, 1975, but before that public meetings and processions were planned in Gangtok demanding removal of the Sikkim guards, complete merger with India and removal of the Chogyal.
The R&AW stated in its plan that “In case the Chogyal asks for asylum, he should be moved to the India House. After some time, he may be shifted to a suitable guest house about 15- 20 miles outside Gangtok…”
Gokhale writes that Kazi wrote two letters to the Indian representatives; the first asking the Sikkim guards to be disarmed, and the second requesting for an emergency session of the Sikkim Assembly.
Three battalions of Indian army brigade, led by Brig (later Lt Gen) Depinder Singh were deployed. “Troops marched to the palace and despite one sentry at the gate resisting (he was shot dead), it took less than 20 minutes for the Indian Army to disarm the Sikkim guards. The Chogyal was furious but was helpless,” Gokhale writes.
By May 15, Sikkim officially became the 22nd state of India.