In June 2017, Sikkim became ground zero for a seventy-five-day long stand-off between Indian and Chinese troops over the construction of a road in the disputed Doklam tri-junction, a territory claimed by China and Bhutan, India’s ally. Even as this high geopolitical drama was unfolding, in Sikkim’s northern border town of Lachen, religious tensions escalated over the desecration of a Sikh gurduwara (temple) located at the shore of the Gurudongmar lake, revered as sacred by local Buddhists. A few days before the Doklam stand-off ended, it was alleged that members of the Lachen Dzumsa (local self-government) with the help of Sikkimese state officials had desecrated the gurudwara built with the help of the Indian military. In media reports it was suggested that Chinese spies were fomenting religious tensions to subvert Indian rule of law at the border.
Drawing on media reports, an ongoing case in the Sikkim High court, and secondary literature, I analyze how the Doklam stand-off and the Lachen gurudwara controversy, despite their distinct scales and tenor, are illustrative of territory making at the frontier. I place these two events in the broader context of the infrastructural spike in Asian borderlands in the Anthropocene. As these Asian giants flex their military and infrastructural might, in border states like Sikkim unresolved histories of annexation, contested sacred landscapes, religious and regional discontents, are also being churned. Within this larger backdrop, this paper argues for an analytical approach to borderland politics that is attentive to both the geopolitical and the sacred.