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Introduction to the controversy about Karmapas
A few historical points
1959 : Karmapa flees to India
Difficulties in 16th Karmapa's times
Years 1980 Through 1990
Events beginning 1992
Events during May and June 1992
Propaganda campaign
Orgyen Trinley, Situ Rinpoche's Karmapa
Events during November and December 1992 in Rumtek
Some information about Sikkim
Year 1993 - situation deteriorates in Rumtek
Recognizing the 17th Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje
Year 1994
Controversy: opposing viewpoints
Relationship between Shamar Rinpoche and Dalaï Lama
A quick glance at events from years 1995 to 1999
Year 2000
Year 2001
Chronology of Events
Bibliography and data sources
french version
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Some information about Sikkim


Internal situation in Sikkim

Four powerful families in Sikkim

The "Joint Action Committee (JAC)"

For a better understanding of JAC's interests

Internal situation in Sikkim

Historical data

The Bhutia and Lepcha community is formed of different clannish groups. Among the most prominent are the Kazis, or landowners, traditionally the noble families of Sikkim. For centuries, the Kazis exerted a great deal of influence in the region during the centuries-old dynasty of the Choegyals (Rajas of Sikkim). Leaning more to the middle class, are the Babus (clerks), a clan of usually educated members but traditionally subordinate to the Kazis. The next class of Lepcha and Bhutia are traditionally the farmers. They are usually the uneducated segment of the community and, more often than not, manipulated by politicians. Finally come the Nepali labourers who outnumber the Bhutia and Lepcha by 300,000 to 95,000.

Following a revolt by the Nepali labourers, Sikkim was integrated into the union-state of India. This occurred in 1975 and, with the advent of democracy, Sikkim entered into the political stream of the Republic.

The State Government of Sikkim was established with a 32 sed t Legislative Assembly. In order to secure and protect the Sikkimese minority, 13 seats were reserved for the Bhutias and Lepchas. These seats constitute more than one third of the Assembly, and, thus whoever is to bid for power, must gain their endorsement.

Over a period of 15 years, the Babus raked support from the commoners and pushed the Kazis, sometimes literally, from power. Nar Bhadur Bhandari, the Chief Minister of Sikkim, at the helm of the Sikkim Sangram Parishad Party, ruled over the minute state with an iron fist for nearly two decades.

Four powerful families in Sikkim

Among the most conspicuous members of this SSP Parry were Karma Topden and Kunzang Sherab. They exerted a great deal of influence and power in both their party and the State. Gradually their family members and close friends took over jobs in important and influential areas.

Topden and Sherab belonged to four politically powerful families who contributed members to Situ Rinpoche's "Joint Action Committee". The Joint Action Committee is comprised of the Lharipa, Martang Topden, Kunzang Sherab and Pasang Namgyal families. As previously stated in Chapter One, the Lharipa family hosted Gyaltsab when he first came to Gangtok.

Topden and Sherab had managed to snare the 13 seats reserved for the Bhutias and Lepchas. They allotted them to people who were part of or otherwise subservient to the interests of this group of four families. The Chief Minister and the influential families made a deal: He gave State contracts worth a fortune to the four families in return for the support of the 13 seats.

Back in 1983, the Martang Topden family turned into sworn enemies of the Rumtek administration. Situ Rinpoche, recognised" the new Gyathon Tulku within their family and, banking on this, approached Karma Topden asking for assistance.

However, the General Secretary, Topga Rinpoche, closed Rumtek's doors to Situ Rinpoche's crafty choice. According to Topga Rinpoche, there was no reason to contradict the words of the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa. Nor did he need to overlook what the old Gyathon himself had announced fifteen years earlier, that he was "The last incarnation in the line of the Gyathons".

The Joint Action Committee (JAC)

Creation of the Joint Action Comittee

Karma Topden would not forgive the General Secretary for the humiliation and perceived lack of etiquette. When the time arrived to settle the score, Topden advised Situ Rinpoche on how to buy support from the three other families and the Chief Minister. Since Situ Rinpoche did not lack the funds to convince them of the advantages of having a common goal, a coalition was born. A few years later this would prove to be lethal to Rumtek monastery and its monks. The attack on Rumtek Monastery on August 2nd 1993, was backed by the Joint Action Committee. It is also with the backing of this committee that Rumtek monastery has been forcibly occupied till today.

In the winter of 1994, the Joint Action Committee abandoned the Sangram Parishad and joined the Congress (1) Party instead. Recently, Kunzang Sherab has resigned as the president of the nefarious group due to health problems. Sonam. Topden, the brother of Karma Topden, is now at the helm of the association.

The joint Action Committee is apparently financed by another infamous group based in Kathmandu. This group, called the "Derge Association", was established by IN. Gyuchen in 1990. He formally served as a minister in the Exiled Tibetan Government and during his time in office, he was opposed to H.H. the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa. The main financial sponsor is said to be Karge who serves as a close ally to Situ Rinpoche. The steering committee of this group are Mr. Dhonyod Gyago, President, based in Himachal Pradesh; Kelzang Chimi, VicePresident, from Lhasa and now based in Kathmandu; and as General Secretary stands Mr Karge, originally from Bir, Himachal Pradesh, now residing in Kathmandu.

The families comprising the Joint Action Committee are not naive; they are not motivated to work with Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches through faith in their candidate for Gyalwa Karmapa. As has been shown, for one of the families, revenge against the Rumtek administration is the driving force. For the others, money is the objective.

For a better understanding of JAC's interests

We found a document which is a press release from the du Department of Information & Public Relations - Government of Sikkim Gangtok dated 6th september 1993, document n° 41/IPR/1993-94, signed by P. Thondup, joint secretary :

Mr. Karma Topden(*), M.P. has requested in a letter written to the Prime Minister, M. P.V. Narasimha Rao to discuss with the Chinese authorities the question of soliciting the visit of H.H. the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa from Tsurphu (Tibet) to his centre at Rumtek at soonest possible. The letter written on the eye of the visit of the Prime Minister to China states that the devotees of His Holiness, both within and outside Sikkim, are very anxious to see the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa come to Rumtek so they may receive his blessing there (…)

The more interesting …

In the same letter M. Tobden has urged the Prime Minister to take up with the Chinese authorities the question of opening border trade between India and China through the Sikkim - Tibet border. He has expressed his confidence that this border trade, if restarted from this traditional route, would help to boost the economy of the State of Sikkim which in the present day trend of market economy and liberalisation suffer from locational disadvantages. It may be recalled that Mr. Karma Topden has on several occasions in the past written to Prime Minister stressing on the need to open the border trade between Sikkim and Tibet, where at one time a flourishing trade existed.

(*)Karma Topden is a JAC's member.

Following unrest in the area, Sikkim was annexed to India in 1975. In the past, it had always had continuous ties with Tibet and other himalayan countries (Nepal, Bhutan). JAC members' intent would be to renew these ties with Tibet (meaning China), whence the motivation to build a relationship with the Chinese.