Thursday, December 9, 2010


"It is important for India to keep the hopes of the Tibetan youth alive." -B. Raman, Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi

This morning I read an article 'The Internal Political Situation in China' (06 December 2010, written by B. Raman, a noted Sinologist based in Chennai. The last paragraph of the article caught me as it concludes in saying that India needs to keep the hopes of young Tibetans alive by showing stronger association with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He concluded that if India distant herself from Tibet, it will be a lost to India in the future, taking into consideration of China's dominance in Tibet.

Lately, in India, amongst the intelligencia and the political elitists, Tibet issue draws serious discussions and debates, concerning the recent development in Tibet, which presumably has high potentials of threatening and harming India. Such cases like border disputes, environmental threats, and the betrayal of Sino-Indian friendship in 1962 had somehow concieved a different mindset among Indian people. In contrary, over the decades, many scholars and leaders from both sides applaud long-standing friendship between the two old civilizations by burying the unresolved disputes.

Recently, high level Indian delegation visited China to talk about the border issues, and India and China both failed to reach a mutually acceptable solution even after concluding 14 such talks over the years. It is easily understandable that the crux of the problem lies in the recognition of the Tibet. The Indian Line of actual control, (McMohan Line) was previously signed by the representative of Independent Tibet Government with the British India in 1914 on the basis of watershed. However, both British India and Tibet had not specifically drawn the territorial borders demarcating India and Tibet's border stretching all along the mighty Himalaya as it serves a natural barrier. First thing is that the strict border demarcation is simply a modern concept, and both the parties ruled out due to physical difficulties. Secondly, it might be due to the close cultural affinity between India and Tibet, bonded with the concept of Guru and Chela, that foresaw no conflicts in the future. But, somehow, I still have some reservations about the seriouness of British in Shimla Agreement, considering her Majesty's different colonistic attitude. One can contemplate a scene where, British knew about the conflicts and interferance of China on Tibet's politics since 18 century during the 7th Dalai Lama, and notably in the first decade of the 20th Century. If British was serious and comitted then, the situation might have been different now as of Sino-Indian border relations.

Since 1959, Tibet inevitably become a part and parcel of India's foreign and domestic policies, chained with conflicts over borders. The clashes of the two Asian gaints splashed in the front when Chinese forcefully invaded Tibet in the every 1950s. On that particular moment, Pandit Nehru initiated working on the different diplomatic tactics, thinking that his idealism of clubing India and China would work, but it failed drastically as India could not help Tibet when needed the most. Rather, Indian government helped China by sending the rations to the Chinese PLAs stationing in Tibet, who were killing and butchering the Tibetans resistance movement. Some would say, Nehru ji was misguided but others would say he was not serious enough to even safeguard the Indian side of Himalaya, which was later occupied and still under the grip of China. The infamous quote of Nehru ji, 'Not even a blade of grass grows' still remains a joke among the political pandits as Nehru ji himself, a historician who wrote 'Discovery of India' should have known about Indian geography. Sardar Patel wrote strongly to Nehru ji in his letter, dated 7 November 1950, which says, 'The final action of the Chinese, in my judgement, is little short of perfidy. The tragedy of it is that the Tibetans put faith in us; they chose to be guided by us; and we have been unable to get them out of the meshes of Chinese diplomacy or Chinese malevolence.'

More than 60 years had passed, but India and China are still on a tug of war on their long-standing border disputes, and more so, it is disturbing to learn that the Chinese incursions in the Indian territory has been increasing over the years.

In April 8-14, 2008 Outlook Magazine, many Indian think tanks viewed their perceptions on Tibet's role in Sino-Indian relations, when the mass movement of Tibetan uprising hits all over the world, including India. Srikanth Kondapalli, East Asian Studies department, Jawaharlal Nehru University viewed that, "The Indian establishment strongly believes that taking in the Dalai Lama was very costly to India, that it led to the 1962 war with China. That is why successive generations of Indian bureaucrats have wanted to wash off the Tibet card." But in the Atimes, July 17, 2010 article on 'New Delhi plays the Tibet card', he stood differently as mentioned "Whenever there is a perception of China crossing the red lines of core, sovereignty related issues, we react by activating the Tibet card." Unlike him, Alka Acharya, fellow East Asian Studies with the tag of being a member of the National Security Advisory board, stood cautioned enough to say that "Tibetans political activities on India's soil, which 'will certainly be problematic in relation to the Chinese."(Outlook, 2008) G. Parthasarathy, former Indian diplomat view it differently as he confidently said, 'Tibet give us a moral authority in dealing with China'.

Sumit Ganguly, a professor of political science at Indiana University criticised Indian government policy on Tibet and suggested that Indian Government should treat the Dalai Lama as a head of the state rather than a spiritual leader. Whereas, Mira Sinha Bhattacharjea (late), former director of the Institute of Chinese Studies in New Delhi remained on the softer side by addressing that “There is interest on both sides, very deep interest, to see that what is happening is not allowed to upset the apple cart — the present momentum of India-China relations” (The Question of Tibet, April 2008, The Washington Post)

Brahma Chellaney's 'India, China mend fences' in the Washington times, 2 April 2005 mentioned that "India does not believe in strategic balancing and has no intention of using Tibet or Taiwan for leverage against China." But interestingly, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna recently told his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi that New Delhi considers Kashmir as a core issue and are sensitive just like Tibet and Taiwan to China. Knowingly or unknowingly, India is smearing into mud by equating Kashmir as Tibet and Taiwan.

On the India's role on Taiwan and Tibet, Kanwal Sibal, former foreign secretary spoke at the discussion “Tiger v/s Dragon: Prelude to a Showdown?” at the India International Centre Annexe, organized by the Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, “We should increase strategically relations with Taiwan and also persuade China to talk with Dalai Lama on the issue of Tibet”. (07 September 2010,

Over the recent years, Indian government shows certain level of higher assertiveness in her policies and begun to learn the mistakes of past decades. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama vehemently reiterated on many occassions that 'India has been overcautious' on her policy towards Tibet and China. He also gave certain degree of confidence to the Indian government that he mentioned "India's basic posture that Tibet is an autonomous part of China is in tune with mine. And no one person can change that."(Outlook, 24 November 1997) On that note, later, the change in the mentality of the Indian political gurus came into limelight as His Holiness the Dalai Lama was allowed to visit Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, despite China complaints. Even recently, Ministry of External Affairs gave a green signal to the Jamia Millia Islamia University when they conferred him the doctorate of Letter, although the ministry earlier turned down the proposal.

Whether Tibet be a useable card for India to negotiate with China or not, it still remains a subject of serious discussions amongst the class of Indian political pandits and elitists.

Lastly, I think it is appropriate to quote an extract from Kanwal Sibal's piece, 'Mentality of retreat', which says "Tibet is not a distant problem for us. It is vitally linked to our own future as a secure nation and an equal of others. Governmental decisions may require cognisance of several factors. Civil society, though, does not have similar constraints. It can reject the establishment line. Let it reject it in this case and not disavow the Tibetan cause."(05 April 2008, dailypioneer)

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