The presence of culturally diverse groups within Sikkim hinders the kingdom's cohesiveness. The term "Sikkimese" indicates a resident of Sikkim, but it has no linguistic or ethnological implications. The citizens of modem Sikkim trace their ancestry to a variety of Asian people: Lepchas, Indians, and Nepalis. The native Lepchas comprise only 21 percent of the kingdom's population. Nepali settlers make up 60 percent of the present Sikkimese population. In about 1890 the British began to encourage immigration from neighboring Nepal. Until recently the Nepalese settler did not have the status of a citizen, but the Sikkim Subjects' Regulation legislation of 1961 gave citizenship to these inhabitants of Nepalese Descent. Conflict between the Tibetan Bhutias and the Lepchas has led to considerable disturbances in Sikkim's past. The Lepchas have been pushed into the forests and lower valleys below 1,200 meters by Bhutias who have settled at higher elevations. Despite these distinctions of ethnicity, the religious factors and a common feeling of national consciousness have resulted in a certain degree of historic and cultural unity.
The two political aspects of Sikkim that merit special attention are: (1) the internal political problem of self-government and the country's ties to India; and (2) the broader problem of the relationship between India, China, and Sikkim. In theory, the maharaja of Sikkim controls the state's internal affairs. In 1963 he was 70 years old. At that time he was already delegating most of his power to his 39-year-old son, Prince Palden Thondup Namgyal. The Sikkimese prince was married to a 22-year-old American woman, Hope Cook of New York City. Their engagement was preceded by six months of negotiation between the governments of Sikkim and India because of the religious and political implications. Their marriage was the first between a member of the Sikkim royal family and any foreigner other than a Tibetan. In November 1961, the state elders met in Gangtok to give their formal approval to the match. In 1975, Sikkim became an Indian state, and the office of Chogyal (king) was abolished.