By Vijay Kranti | VIFIndia
ON THE WEB, 13 April 2018
Dr Lobsang Sangay’s attempt to present the Dalai Lama’s return to a Chinese-ruled Tibet as the monk’s “last unfulfilled dream”, and his call to the Tibetan people to make this ‘dream’ of the Dalai Lama a reality, deserves a closer scrutiny by Tibetan society, supporters of the Tibetan cause, and above all, the Government of India. This statement becomes extremely meaningful in light of the fact that it is the first-ever official Tibetan endorsement of Beijing’s agenda which is seriously focused at bringing back the Dalai Lama to Chinese-ruled Tibet before he passes away and the search for his next (15th) reincarnation starts.
One question which is currently confronting most of Tibet-China watchers and Tibet supporters is, “Is the Dalai Lama seriously planning to visit or return to Tibet or China?” Three years ago, the same question had created ripples when the idea of him visiting China’s famous holy Buddhist shrine of Wutai Shan was discussed loudly both in Beijing as well as in Dharamshala. On last Sunday (1st April) again, Dr Lobsang Sangay, the elected ‘Sikyong’ (the ‘President’ of Central Tibetan Administration, or CTA, in Dharamshala) stunned Tibet and China observers by announcing that time had arrived to fulfil the Dalai Lama’s dream of returning to Tibet to ‘reunite with Tibetans’ and to live in the Potala Palace, the traditional residence of the Dalai Lamas in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa.
Dr Sangay was speaking at Dharamshala at the opening function of ‘Thank You India’, the year-long celebrations organised by CTA to commemorate the 60th year of the Dalai Lama’s arrival in India, and to express Tibetans’ gratitude toward the people and Government of India. It was on 3rd April 1959, when the Dalai Lama, the exiled ruler and supreme Buddhist leader of Tibet, arrived in India at the end of a 17-day-long daring and gruelling escape on foot through snow and mountains to save himself from arrest or killing by the occupying Chinese army in Tibet.
Interestingly, these celebrations had already become a focus of world attention following New Delhi Government’s instructions to its senior bureaucrats and leaders to keep off the public events involving Dalai Lama’s personal presence. This sudden toughening of New Delhi’s stand forced the CTA to cancel the main mega-event in capital’s spacious Thyagraja Stadium. But it is not the first time that New Delhi has taken a stand of this kind, which appears to be aimed at pleasing Beijing in the wake of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s upcoming visit to China. In October 2007 too, the erstwhile UPA government had issued an identical diktat to its senior leaders and bureaucrats when the Dalai Lama was given a civic reception at New Delhi’s India Habitat Centre after being honoured with America’s highest civic honour — the Congressional Gold Medal (equivalent to Bharat Ratna of India) by the US Congress.
According to Dr Sangay, the first dream of the Dalai Lama was about seeing blood which, according to Dr Sangay, turned true when Tibetans faced widespread killings of protesters in 1959 during the uprising against Chinese occupation and also in later years. The International Commission of Jurists, an affiliate body of the erstwhile UNO, claimed that the Chinese army killed more than 80 thousand Tibetans to crush the uprising. As per Dharamshala, the number of unnatural deaths of Tibetans in Chinese-occupied Tibet has crossed 12 lakh (1.2 million) over the past seven decades.
The second dream refers to the Dalai Lama meeting ‘people in white’ which, Sangay says, again turned out to be true when the Dalai Lama fled Tibet and met Indian leaders like Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru and President Dr Rajendra Prasad, who were known for wearing dazzling white Khadi.
Exploiting religious sentiments?
Citing these two ‘dreams’ of the Dalai Lama turning out to be true, Dr Sangay enthusiastically claimed about a third dream of the Dalai Lama which gives an extraordinary political dimension to this statement. That is especially so coming from the Tibetan leader whom the Dalai Lama has transferred all his political powers through a constitutional amendment. Quoting Dr Sangay, Jyoti Malhotra of the Indian Express reported, “The Dalai Lama’s third dream, Lobsang Sangay said, was of him returning to the Potala Palace filled with light and ‘reunion with Tibetan people’… This third dream will also come true by karmic design. We must all make efforts for His Holiness’ dream to return to the Potala Palace come true, Sangay added.”
Referring to dreams of an individual may not hold much meaning for outsider observers and analysts. But in a deeply religious society like Tibet where no rule is above the words of the Dalai Lama, Dr Lobsang Sangay’s statement deserves the notice of those who have stakes in future of Tibet and its relations with China.
Pushing Chinese agenda
It is noteworthy that in two major contacts between Dharamshala and Beijing, the first held during late 1970s and early 1980s, and the second in the 2002-2010 period, the Tibetan side branded these meetings as ‘Tibet-China Talks’ and a ‘dialogue’. But the Chinese side made it known to public more than once that the visits of Tibetan delegations were ‘private’ in nature and the only subject of discussion was how to pave the way for the return of the Dalai Lama to the ‘great motherland’. If followed in letter or spirit, Dr Sangay’s plans about the Dalai Lama’s return to ‘China’s Tibet’ is simple implementation of the Chinese agenda, which would mean a permanent closure of the dispute between Tibet and its colonial masters in Beijing.
Knowledgeable sources in the Ministry of External affairs (MEA), as well as India’s intelligence agencies who are keenly watching Dharamsala-Beijing contacts, believe that this announcement of Dr Sangay has further strained relations between New Delhi and Dharamshala. These relations have already been undergoing stress caused by a series of developments related to Dharamshala’s secret hobnobbing with the Chinese Government in the recent past. A couple of years ago, MEA had a serious brush with CTA, including the private office of the Dalai Lama, when it was discovered that a meeting between the Dalai Lama and a Chinese leader, holding the rank of minister, was secretly organised in Dharamshala without taking into confidence the MEA or security agencies that are responsible for the Dalai Lama’s personal security. Similarly, the recent China visit by Prof Samdhong Rinpoche, the former ‘Prime Minister’ of CTA, also did not go down well with MEA.
Both sides responsible
But it will be too naïve and unkind to Dharamshala if all the blame for such developments is heaped exclusively on the CTA or the Dalai Lama. It is no secret that over the past six decades of the Dalai Lama’s presence in India, the MEA has been at a loss to evolve a better defined policy on Tibet — not even about the status of the Dalai Lama, his activities, and the scope of cooperation between him and the Indian Government.
India abstained from and refused to support the first two resolutions in the UNO in 1959 and 1961 which condemned China for serious abrogation of human rights in Tibet. Rather, India stopped the rest of the world from raising the issue. But following the India-China war of 1962, India voted in favour of the same resolution when it was pressed the third time in 1965. Indian representative Rafiq Zakaria’s strong statement against Chinese conduct inside occupied Tibet came as a pleasant surprise to the anti-China lobbies across the world. In later years also there have been many occasions when New Delhi allowed, rather facilitated, the Dalai Lama’s visits to Arunachal Pradesh despite strong threats and reactions from China.
Indira Gandhi’s initiative
In the aftermath of the 1962 War, the Indian Government went to the extent of raising an exclusive ‘Special Frontier Force’ (SFF) in the Indian Army which worked directly under the Cabinet Secretariat and has been popularly known as ‘Establishment-22’. In the Bangladesh Liberation War, during the 1970-71 period, a sizeable contingent of Tibetan ‘22’ guerrilla soldiers were assigned to the liberation of the Tripura-Chittagong Sector. Interestingly, field operations of this covert contingent were personally supervised by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi herself.
On the day when Prime Minister Narendra Modi took oath at the Rashrapati Bhawan in the presence of all heads of state from South Asia except China, the presence of Tibetan Sikyong Dr Sangay in the VVIP enclosure gave indication that a different Tibet policy was in the offing. But later developments, especially the latest instruction of the NDA government to ignore the ‘Thank You India’ event, has confused observers, and the Dalai Lama too.
The announcement by Dr Sangay calling for the Dalai Lama’s return to Chinese-controlled Tibet has surprised many observers and institutions who have been keenly watching the Tibet-China-India triangle over the past few decades. The attention that these remarks of the Sikyong have received, has prompted some other seniors in Dharamshala to suggest that it is nothing more than an off-the-cuff retort to New Delhi’s latest humiliating decision. Responding to a pointed question about the Dalai Lama’s personal position on this issue, two prominent Tibetans, who sit on two extreme ends of the ongoing political debate among the community, disagreed with Dr Sangay’s agenda.
Faith in the Dalai Lama’s wisdom
Tenzin Tsundue is the most visible and vocal signature of the Tibetan ‘Rangzen’ Movement, which stands for complete independence for Tibet as opposed to the Dalai Lama’s ‘Middle Path’ for ‘genuine autonomy’. He says, “HH [the Dalai Lama] is still the boss, not Sikyong. Lobsang Sangay’s showing in the media, on stage being the head of CTA, has little meaning. HH calls the shots.” Emphasising his faith in the Dalai Lama’s wisdom he says, ”Please don’t underestimate HH’s political wisdom.” Prof Samdhong Rinpoche, a senior monk statesman, outrightly rejected the idea of any plans to send the the Dalai Lama back to China or to Tibet. Both of them remind that during his countless world tours, the the Dalai Lama has been always presenting India in a very positive light in his public speeches and one-to-one discussions with heads of state. Both of them opine that India could have used the international goodwill of the Dalai Lama in enhancing its own interests in world politics. The Dalai Lama has recently nominated Prof Rinpoche and Dr Sangay as his personal envoys to take ahead the Dharamshala-Beijing ‘dialogue’.
Delhi or Dharamshala — neither can afford it
Whatever be the reality behind the prevailing confusion, one thing is clear. Neither the Dalai Lama nor India can afford his slipping into the Chinese lap at this delicate moment of Tibetan history. A dramatic decision like this will leave the Dalai Lama, Tibet, and the Tibetan people completely at the mercy of the Chinese, whose previous record on their promises is only too well-known. By returning either permanently or even as a ‘pilgrim guest’ of a country (China) whose atrocities made him flee to exile, the Dalai Lama will lose his legal and moral qualifications as a ‘refugee’.
The Dalai Lama’s loss
Tibetan people may be happy to see their ‘Yeshi Norbu’ (meaning Precious-Gem, and a common name for the Dalai Lama) with their own eyes in their lifetime. But this privilege will come at the cost of losing the momentum and courage of standing up against the tyranny of their colonial masters, once they see their leader patching up with China. More than 150 Tibetans have committed self-immolation inside Tibet against Chinese rule in recent years. The international Tibet support movement which has taken roots across the world over the past six decades will die instantly and it cannot be revived in future if China ever goes back on its promises to the Dalai Lama. His visit or return will permanently seal the fate of Tibet as an integral part of China and Beijing will get the license of nominating the future Dalai Lamas too.
By segregating the political and religious titles of the institution of the Dalai Lama and handing over all his political powers to the elected representatives of Tibetans, the Dalai Lama had already given an endless shelf life to the Tibetan struggle and the institution of the Dalai Lama itself. Sadly, his return to China will kill this achievement in its infancy.
India stands to lose
For India also, two big issues are at stake in allowing influential lobbies of Dharamshala to hand over a living Dalai Lama on a platter to China. With the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet or China, all chances, whatever remote, of rehabilitating Tibet as a buffer between India and a quarrelsome China would be lost forever. But worst fall out of this Dharamshala-Beijing marriage will be the sudden transformation of the Himalayan states of India from India’s ‘first defence post’ to the Chinese base of aggression, because the local Buddhist populations have deeper religious bonds and relations with the Tibetan Buddhist system and monasteries inside Tibet than with the rest of India.
Dr Sangay’s statement has only further confirmed fears among many observers that an influential section among the exiled Tibetan leadership is desperate about cobbling up a deal with China on whatever terms. The very first negotiation point in this deal, as already declared by Dr Sangay, is bound to be the return of the Dalai Lama. Leaving the Dalai Lama to the mercy of such lobbies will be a national hara-kiri on the part of the Indian Government. Rather, it would be much wiser for New Delhi to become pro-active on this front. By taking reasonable interest in the Dharamshala-Beijing dialogue, New Delhi will not only strengthen the Dalai Lama’s hands, but will also find enough elbow room to ensure that its own interests in any prospective deal remain safe.
For New Delhi, to start with, one not-so-difficult move could be to publicly acknowledge the Dalai Lama’s personal and institutional contributions to the Indian cultural and philosophic thought process, and to bestow upon him the ‘Bharat Ratna.’ After all, if India can honour friendly foreigners like Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Teresa with Bharat-Ratna, then the Dalai Lama’s name sounds equally, if not more befitting. On the diplomatic front too, such a step will not only enhance the shelf life of Tibetan issue and the Dalai Lama’s standing in India, it will be a very Gandhian and befitting response to China’s aggressive postures against India.