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Trade through pass in Sikkim since 18th century

By Super

Gangtok, Jul 5: The history of formal trade linkage between India and Tibet through passes in Sikkim has not been achieved overnight but the result of several rounds of discussions spreading over several years between then British India government and the Chinese/Tibet authorities and dates back to 18th century.

The British India government always tried to establish trade linkage with Tibet but it got resistance by chieftains of Tibet and Chinese rulers.

According to historical records, then Governor of Bengal Warren Hastings dispatched an officer of the Bengal Civil Service to Shigaste in 1774 to explore the possibilities of trade with Tibet.

Nine years after a second mission was dispatched to Shigaste for the purpose.

Later several discussions and deliberations followed. The British-India government signed a convention in 1893 to conduct trade with Tibet through Sikkim and Kalimpong passes but the actual conduct of the trade was vehemently opposed by the Tibetans.

The military mission of Colnel Francis Edward Younghusband to Tibet, who captured Gyatse and forced the Tibetans to sign a convention in 1903-04 among other things to conduct trade, firmed up the Anglo-Tibet trade.

Subsequently two conventions were signed between China and Great Britain in 1906 and 1908 which formalised and initiated the trade between two buddhist nations- Tibet and Sikkim.

After India achieved independence, India and China signed the Panchasheela agreement (five principles of coexistence) in 1954 to promote border trade and start culture intercourse between Tibetan region of China and India.

Trade flourished. But it came to an abrupt end in the wake of the Sino-Indian conflict in 1962 affecting the economic proposperity of many Himalayan state including Sikkim. It also brought to an end the exchange of common cultural exchanges and diplomatic mission.

Realising the importance of the border trade in the development of the areas, the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front government of Sikkim, the land locked state, insisted on reopening of the trade route since it came to power in 1994.

But despite repeated insistence the reopening of the trade route was delayed due to a number of factors including non-recognition of Sikkim as a constituent of India and bilateral dispute over territories.

The visit of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to China in 1988 and the subsequent exchange of visit by a number of top dignitaries of both countries including President Jiang Zemin to India in 1996, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao's and A B Vajpayee's visit to China and Premier Wen Jiabo's visit to India in 2005 improved the bilateral relations and eased tension between the two countries to a great extent.

Both the countries signed an MoU in 1991 to carry out border trade with Tibetan Autonous Region through Shipkila in Himachal Pradesh and Lipulekh passes now in Uttaranchal.

During the then Prime Minister A B Vajpayee's visit to China in June 2003, China recognised Sikkim as a constituent of India and signed a MoU to resume the trade via Nathu La pass.

After several rounds of talks held following the agreement, the trade route was scheduled to be reopened last year on October 2, coinciding with the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. But the date was postponed at the last minute.

A six-member delegation led by Union Additional Secretary Commerce and Industries C Fernadez finalised July 6 for reopening of the trade route at Lhasa at a meeting with the TAR authorities in the third week of last month.



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