In the months leading up to the transfer of power in India, Bhutan made several representations to the Political Officer in Sikkim, the Cabinet Mission, and the States Committee of the Constituent Assembly. These meetings and letters reveal Bhutan’s understanding of its position in relation to British India and its other neighbors, most notably Sikkim and Tibet, as well as how it envisioned relations with newly independent India. Bhutan asserted that it was an independent country that was culturally distinct from India, and that it should not be treated at par with the 500-odd princely states that were slowly integrated into the Indian Union. It also demanded the retrocession (return) of some territories ceded to British India, and an increase in its annual compensation.
Intelligence reports from Gangtok and Lhasa at the time mention talks about the Governments of Bhutan, Sikkim, and Tibet forming a federation to resist incorporation into the newly emerging states of India and China on either side of the Himalayan mountain range. But of the three, only Bhutan managed to retain its political sovereignty. In the decade when the map of South Asia was significantly redrawn, Bhutan’s representations — and the idea of a federation — enrich our narrative about the founding of the Indian Republic and its place within the subcontinent.
About the Speaker
Swati Chawla is a historian of modern South Asia. She is currently a fellow at the American Institute for Indian Studies and a Ph.D. student in history at the University of Virginia. Her doctoral dissertation is focused on nationalisms and claims of citizenship in the Himalayan regions of postcolonial India. She is broadly interested in issues of statelessness, exile, and citizenship in the modern world. She was formerly an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Delhi, and holds an M.Phil. in English from the University of Delhi.
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