On Tibet…

Some months ago, Newsweek reported this article, one that made me smile (Reincarnation regulations) – It related to Tibet and China and starts thus - In one of history's more absurd acts of totalitarianism, China has banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission. I could not believe it, but well, it is what the Chinese government said..

And this reminded me of a fantastic Mohanlal movie called Yodha (based on The Golden Child), a family favorite with music by AR Rahman. In the movie, Mohanlal gets a vision to save the reincarnated Rimpoche monk from people out to abduct him, and goes on to do just that.

But then, living in California does remind you of the Dalai Lama now and then, he is to be seen around here in the news channels & Hollywood watch, much in the company of certain people who understand his quest for support for his mater land’s struggle –Hollywood persona like Richard Gere and many others like Harrison Ford, Sharon Stone, Goldie Hawn & Brad Pitt.

I was also reminded of Tibet by my fellow blogger
Harimohan, who wrote about the movie 7 years in Tibet, one that I had enjoyed years back. I was actually forced into writing this by a stern comment by commenter Sreedevi on Hari’s blog. She said ‘But I, for one, hope that the rest of the Tibetan-themed films coming our way will show some evidence that Hollywood is capable of treating such a serious subject in an equally serious manner’. Actually Sreedevi – It was mainly Hollywood and Hollywood only that supported the Dalai Lama’s plight and they helped raise attention to the cause, more than anybody else. Hollywood stars repeatedly used their high profile. Whether they succeeded or not is a question to ask.

Tibet today - LA times however provides a very interesting and contrasting picture of the transformed Tibet. What standards would one apply to judge transformation? Old replaced by new, shiny buildings, roads…but no soul?? I don’t know.

The holy city of Lhasa is remote no more; a multibillion-dollar drive to develop tourism has made getting to Tibet easier than ever. The world's highest railway between Beijing and Lhasa was inaugurated last year. Highways crisscross the Tibetan Plateau, and even the rough road to Everest base camp is being smoothed so the bearers of the Olympic torch can announce next summer's Beijing Games from the roof of the world. About 2.6 million people visited Tibet last year, most of them newly flush Chinese, their love of travel recently unleashed by boom times in their homeland. But to others, especially from the West, many of whom recall all too clearly that Tibet was free and independent before a 1950 invasion, development is simply a calculated maneuver on Beijing's part to open the region's doors to ethnic Han Chinese, diluting its unique indigenous culture and drawing it ever more tightly into the People's Republic.

The other reason why I took this up was due to the comment made by Rajeev Sreenivasan a chap (A Malayali himself) who writes in rediff.com & India currents – he said in an old article
Nepal, the next Tibet.

I was flabbergasted to realize that India's disastrous Tibet policy under Jawaharlal Nehru was the handiwork of two Keralites: K N Panikkar and V K Krishna Menon, while another Keralite, M O Mathai, was Nehru's private secretary.

Later on I read his other article – a collection of all kinds of quotes to prove his point. I was wondering if he had a point. What one has to remember is that politics is also about self preservation, the individual and his own country’s interest, something that Nehru alluded to later.

And I wanted to tell him – my friend –politics, especially geopolitics has always been strange. Notwithstanding all that, don’t be naïve, look at what happened when India meddled in Sri Lankan affairs…Would it have been right to take on China head on?? In the UN vote on the subject of Tibet, 25 major nations abstained, including India. What should India have done Rajiv? You never gave the answer, I believe.

I had previously read some reports on the story of Tibet. But in all frankness, so much biased reporting on Tibet made me wonder who was right in this geopolitical game, was India right, was China wrong, was US right, was UK wrong…So I decided to pen a few words on what happened behind the scenes (after reading multiple sources), when the Lama was forced to flee to Dharmasala and how India accorded him & his forlorn group, asylum status…

In a few words, I will cover Tibet’s relation to just three of the many players in that geopolitical game, namely China, India & USA…To cover more than this would make this a very long essay indeed. For 9 years between 50-59 the two countries India & China were best of friends (India having helped China get into the UN & the world scene)with only one thorn between them, namely Tibet. India expressed public displeasure when the Chinese government started armed intervention in Tibet in the mid 50’s. During these years, due to the tricky & sometimes strained relationship, Mao Tse Tung himself oversaw Chinese relations with India. The situation
in India at that time is best explained in this Time article.

Until 1954, India was more in support of Tibet, but when The Dalai Lama signed the 17 point agreement where it was agreed that Tibet will remain an autonomous portion of China, the posture in India changed. Lama’s representatives who signed the agreement later recounted that they were coerced into doing it. In 1956, Dalai Lama informed both Nehru & Zhou En Lai while visiting India that he was contemplating asylum in India, but the Chinese reassured him and got him back to Tibet. By then open fighting broke out in the Eastern Tibetan provinces of Kham and Amdo. Three years later the uprising took on national proportions, leading to the massive demonstrations in Lhasa.

In India – Nehru, careful of the relations with and the might of Chinese then, did make a silly remark when questioned about Tibet and the warmer relations with PRC. In defense he said, "...not a blade of grass grows there" referring dismissively to the Aksai Chin area of Ladakh. Yes, it was clear then that India had no plans to pick up a fight over an internal dispute in China, though I am sure Indian leaders had different thoughts on a personal level, Krishna Menon included. It did make sense, not poking India’s nose in China’s internal matters - if you look at the first point in the 17 point agreement which was signed by representatives (some say
‘were forcefully made to sign’) of Dalai Lama on 23rd May 1951 - The Tibetan people shall return to the big family of the Motherland – the People’s Republic of China. The Dalai Lama upon arrival in India repudiated the agreement.

Tibetan relations with America are best explained by these excerpts from a Dalai Lama interview in the book ‘The story of Tibet’ byThomas Laird.

The Dalai Lama said. "And then after the war, as we began to worry about how the Chinese Communists were defeating Chiang Kai-shek, Lowell Thomas came (to Tibet), in 1949. The Tibetan Government considered Lowell Thomas to be a very important person in the American government. But actually he was just a broadcast journalist. So all during this time, the Tibetan Government put a lot of hope on America." "Yes," he continued, "we obviously had the clear expectation or impression that since America supported Chiang Kai-shek, (as he fought Mao in the Chinese Civil War) that America would help prevent a Communist invasion of Tibet. At that time, we thought that communism was a real enemy of Dharma. And since America fought against communism and opposed Russia, it was very clear, to us, that they would help." These assumptions proved to be false.

In 1959, The Dalai Lama fled to India -
According to the Dalai Lama's recollections, three mortar shells were heard from the palace on March 17, 1959, and his aides believed he must leave at once. "It was I who had to find the answer and make the decision; but with my inexperience in the affairs of the world it was not easy," the Dalai Lamawrote in his autobiography, "My Land and My People." "If I did escape from Lhasa, where was I to go, and how could I reach asylum? Everything was uncertain. Our minds were overwhelmed by such unanswerable questions. We could not tell where the journey would lead or how it would end," the Dalai Lama wrote. At 10:00 that night, the Dalai Lama traded his maroon monastic robes for the clothes of a common soldier, put on a fur cap, slung on a rifle, and sneaked incognito out of his winter palace, Norbulingka. The Dalai Lama and a 37-strong entourage crossed into exile in India on March 30, 1959, after a 13-day trek that crossed the Himalayas and a 500-meter wide stretch of the Brahmaputra River.

After this the Tibetans with the Dalai Lama settled down in Dharmasala, the Dalai Lama & his troupe were granted official asylum by India. Their fight and arguments for a homeland continue. The Dalai Lama, was awarded the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize for advocating what the Norwegian Nobel Committee called “peaceful solutions based upon tolerance and mutual respect in order to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of his people’. For much of the 1960s, the CIA provided the Tibetan exile movement with $1.7 million a year stipend for operations against China, including an annual subsidy of $180,000 for the Dalai Lama,
according to US intelligence documents

In all his statements, the Dalai Lama always first put the faults of Tibetans & Buddhists and then talked about external forces like the Chinese as the cause of the problem. This was Dalai Lama’s Ideal - "The tendency to look at external forces first is deeply rooted in the human mind and difficult to eliminate." That was what I learnt in the whole bargain – I can say that I knew it, but it was taught again by the teacher in Dalai Lama – Look for faults in your own self before finding faults with others.

Geography plays a basic but silent role in the affairs of a people. It was many years ago - sometime in 1956 or so that the late Krishna Menon was addressing a Cambridge undergraduate audience. The United States Navy was patrolling the waters around Taiwan and it was a period of some international tension. A youthful questioner stood up and asked: "Mr.Menon, Sir, what are your views on the position of Taiwan?" Krishna Menon's response came in a flash: "The position of Taiwan is that it is a few hundred miles from China and several thousand miles away from the United States of America." The audience dissolved in laughter. The visit of President Richard Nixon to China twenty years later underlined the significance of that which Krishna Menon had said. Explanation - Taiwan's influence on the outside world and in turn the influence of the outside world on the affairs of the people of Taiwan is a function, not of Taiwan's size, but of its location near the large land mass of the China.

Those who are interested in history and Nehru’s mind at that time may read this article by Noorani. A very interesting Time article blames Nehru & Menon.An interesting article in ‘The age’ on the issue.

Meanwhile the Tibetan story goes on…
Today I read that violence had broken out in Lhasa. Choephel of Tibetan Human rights told CNN that the Games were seen by campaigners as an opportunity to highlight "repression" and "human rights violations" inside Tibet.
Photos: From the web, thanks to the providers...


harimohan said…
dear maddy
tibet ,china and india politics were always shrouded in shadows of deciet and decreipt,the passage of the young dalai lama through the hardy mountain passes and settling down to form a nation like colony with international celebrity supporters and disciples is history ,the deeds and words of panditji and people like menon would have all influenced the events that unrolled ,
incidentally there is a colony of tibetians in karnataka near coorg with a huge monastery
so now with a tibet in the throes of development and a lhasa becoming a tourist spot one misses the enigma called tibet .
Happy Kitten said…
I think the freedom fighters have chosen the right time to air their grievances though it has resulted in 100’s of deaths. It is the time when China is all set to glitter during the Olympics and they don’t want anything to mar it. I do really hope something comes out of this.

But does China really have a claim to Tibet?

As for the the Chinese statement on reincarnation, it is hilarious! Reminds me of GOC's communist leader.. Pinarayi's outburst on his ex-comrades's belief in God.

Sometimes (or often) these Communists really do go overboard!

A great post..
narendra shenoy said…
It is so sad that hundreds of harmless protesters have to die and an entire nation has to lose its identity because a bunch of old men in Beijing want the right to kick more people around.

Beijing actually calls the Dalai Lama a terrorist. Incredible!
Naveen said…
sir ... your post provides a lot of insight & information on the subject, but i beg to differ on a few issues ....
1. "Tibet"was a big diplomatic failure of Nehrus .. no question about it .... India was the country most affected by chenese annexation of tibet... other countries abstained only becauseindia did ......it was not a question of taking China head on but using some diplomacy and clout that india possessed,instead of playing into chinese hands ...

2.Nehru's advisors got it all wrong in other contexts too ... 1962 was more a policy failure than a military one ....

3.Failure of IPKF was caused only because we didn't know our enemy and their tactics .. & therefore were taken by shock at their preparedeness and intelligence ... no comments of whether the decision to medlle was correct or not ....

4. Nehru gave dalai lama refuge and land more due to a feeling of guilt than anything else ....

.... this can go on ....

if the tibetan issue errupts again , we must use it to further our national interests & not repeat our mistakes ......
you can read some interesting posts on the subject in this wonderful blog http://catapult.nationalinterest.in
Guru said…
When all said and done, two things matter. First, China will be the second most powerful nation, militarily and economically within a decade or two. Second, China the economists say will have the largest dollar reserve within years, outstripping Saudi Arabia, outside America and can simply ruin the the economy of America better than what the subprime lending is doing now by simply threatening to glut the market with dollars. Well about India, who cares.

By the way,if my memory serves me right, Nehru and Menon the two lefties believed that their comrades in China would not march into Tibet. Come to think of Tibet, its position as an independent country within Chinese belt was always in doubt.
Maddy said…
Thank you all for the candid comments - Hari, HK, Naveen, Guru, Narendra - any calamity is normally blamed as misdeeds of the masters and lords, that has been practice. we blame our leaders, tibetans and chinese will blame their leaders. most are not interested in what really happened and why certain paths were taken.

HK - China refers to the documents signed by Dalai lama as one mordern basis for settlement.

Guru - you are very right, the very thought of what you forsee is scary..while we spend front pages on why harbajhan called hayden a monkey and such stuff...

As for the nehru, tibet, china 62 debacle, i have a proper reply, it was an article i penned some months ago. will be posted as a detailed blog. so pls read it, disregard much of the heresay stuff that you picked up from all kinds of loose talk over the years and then decide..

As for IPKF i.e. what i meant - no need to poke our noses into matters that we do understand or pick up fights with an enemey who you never even recognise...
Guru said…

I am guessing that you are much younger than me. Without disclosing who I am I can say that I am over 60, was very much in evidence when Tibet debacle took place and we all debated about it particularly after President Radhakrishnan's stinging rebuke in his address which I listened live about his government (Nehru and Menon handling0 of the affair. What perhaps you will get now is hearsay.
Pradeep said…
Watching all that's happening now in the context of the past, is very confusing to say the least.
Maddy said…
Guru - yes of course, for us who are interested in history, only the documented facts are of help..though all the other side aspects that lend the right flavour are mostly missing..

Pradeep - so it appears i was not able to clarify at all, yes, tibet is indeed a tricky story, I guess Indians wanted to help them once. But having done it partly and having been punished severely in return, todays policy makers would balk at changing status quo..