ON THE WEB, 27 May 2012
In March 2012, reported the Chinese-sponsored Tibet Daily, Hu Jintao encouraged a Tibetan delegation to promote the “old Tibetan spirit” when it met the President during the annual National People’s Conference. Hu explained: “It is necessary to be firm on anti-secession.” He said that the Party in Tibet must “clean up and regulate religious activities, strengthen the development of Tibet’s Buddhist institutes, tighten management of the reincarnation of living Buddhas”. Outside China, the Chinese President’s words were read to mean more restriction and repression. Hu also told the delegates that they needed to recruit and train Party leaders who were “politically reliable, capable of safeguarding national unity, firm on anti-secession, and who dare to fight against the Dalai Lama group”.
Around the same time, the official China Tibet Online published a number of postings purportedly attributed to Chinese netizens: “If the Dalai Lama could hire others to set themselves on fire, why doesn’t he burn himself?” They were referring to the spat of self-immolations in eastern Tibet. Since then, rumours have circulated that the Chinese intelligence is trying to poison the Tibetan leader.
For years, many leaders in Beijing believe that getting rid of the Dalai Lama could solve the Tibetan issue. During a recent interview with The Telegraph, the Tibetan leader disclosed that the Chinese might try to poison him: “We received some sort of information from Tibet… Some Chinese agents (are) training some Tibetans, especially women, you see, using poison — the hair poisoned, and the scarf poisoned — they were supposed to seek blessing from me, and my hand touch.”
Beijing immediately denied the charges. The official Global Times ridiculed the idea, saying: “If the Central Government wanted to eliminate the Dalai Lama, why has it waited for such a long time?” In the meantime, the Department of Security of the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamshala — whose responsibility it was to ensure the security of the Tibetan leader — affirmed that it was reviewing the Tibetan leader’s security. Ngodup Dorjee, the Secretary of the Department, confirmed: “We have already asked the Indian Government for equipment to detect harmful chemicals.”
This raises the pertinent question: Will the Dalai Lama’s death solve Beijing’s problems in Tibet? The answer to this question is an emphatic “no”.
The Chinese President’s just-quoted remarks were in response to the wave of self-immolations in eastern Tibet. It closely followed the Dalai Lama’s retirement from his political activities in March 2011.
Self-immolations began around that time: First at Kirti Monastery in eastern Tibet and then in different ‘autonomous prefectures’ of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai. Interestingly, the world media coverage of the Tibetan issue shifted from Dharamshala to eastern Tibet.
The self-immolation phenomenon is quite interesting to study: Most of the people who committed the ultimate self-sacrifice were young; they were not even born during the 1959 uprising or even the martial law in Tibet (1988-89). For the Tibetan movement, it is a new phenomenon led by the young, restless lot. These events put tremendous pressure on Beijing and badly dent its image. New repressive measures imposed by the Communist leadership may gave rise to more self-immolations in Tibet rather than stopping the process. The appalling propaganda against the Dalai Lama, therefore, cannot dissipate the Tibetans’ resentment against repressive measures.
In 1986, this writer had asked the Dalai Lama about the future of Tibet. To this, he said that the solution would not come from the exiled community, but from changes within China itself. He said: “In a way, the Tibetans have nothing to do, but to keep their culture and religion alive.” Today, one can understand — and even appreciate — this statement better.
But are the Tibetans and the Chinese bound to be enemies forever? The answer is no.
The visit of Hu Yaobang, the then general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, to Lhasa in May 1980 is a telling example. For the first time, a senior Party leader (the senior-most, to be precise) noticed that there was something wrong in Beijing’s policies towards its ‘minorities’. Not only did Hu Yaobang witness the real situation in the ‘Roof of the World’, but also he had the courage to publicly announce that China had followed wrong policies during the past 20 years. Unfortunately, Hu Yaobang lost his job soon.
China is still awaiting another Hu Yaobang, or a Chinese Gorbachev, to reform the country. The fact remains that changes in Tibet can only occur when senior leaders in the politburo have the courage to look at the situation as it is &,dash; “to seek truth from facts,” as Deng Xiaoping had famously said.
The “Tibet Work Forum” is a large gathering of senior Party members called to decide China’s Tibet policy. It occurs once every decade or so and is attended by 200 to 300 senior leaders, including members of the politburo standing committee, party secretaries working in Tibet, PLA commanders, among others. The decisions taken at these meetings are usually implemented during the following years.
In 2001, during the Fourth Forum, then President Jiang Zemin’s two priorities were development and stability for both China and Tibet. The motto was to develop Tibet by building infrastructure, while keeping a tab on the ‘stability’ of these ‘minority’ areas.
It is probably in this perspective — to bring ‘stability’ to Tibet — that soon after the Fourth Tibet Work Forum, Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama’s special envoy, and his team were invited to visit China for “talks”.
Beijing, at that time, regarded the situation in Tibet to be rather stable. It was, therefore, decided to emphasise on development programmes in order to get the support of Tibetan people, who could then “forget the Dalai and his clique”.
It did not work. The Chinese leadership realised this when the Dalai Lama gave the Kalachakra initiation in Amravati (Andhra Pradesh) in January 2006. During an audience with the Tibetans from Tibet, the Dalai Lama urged them not to wear robes and furs of endangered animals which they used to traditionally wear, especially those who came from Amdo and Kham regions of eastern Tibet. As a result of his speech, there was an immediate reaction in Tibet: Thousands burnt their chupas (traditional robes) made with animal fur. It was a big shock for the Chinese leadership, which had come to believe that it had won the Tibetans to its side by building roads, bringing a railway line to Lhasa and developing the Tibetan plateau. Meaningful negotiations between Beijing and Dharamshala probably got over after this incident.
The 14th March 2008, will remain etched in the history of protests in Tibet. What was subsequently termed as “the 3/14 incident” by Beijing, began with a minor incident: About 100 monks from Ramoche Monastery started demonstrating against the arrest of monks the previous days. They were stopped and beaten by the police. This infuriated the Tibetan bystanders. From then on, the situation went out of control. Soon, a large-scale demonstration involving tens of thousands of people led to a confrontation between Tibetans and the People’s Armed Police. Tibet was once again on fire.
As always, the blame was put on the Dalai Lama. Zhang Qingli, the then Party chief in Tibet, called the Tibetan leader a “wolf in monk’s garb”; even the mild Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, saw the hand of the “Dalai and his clique” behind the riots.
In January 2010, the Fifth Tibet Work Forum was held. A series of decisions reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution aggravated the situation. For example, it was decided to send 21,000 Han and Tibetan Party officials in teams of four to each of the Tibet Autonomous Region’s 5,453 administrative villages; they had to remain there for four years. Each team member could rotate to a new location after 12 months, but the team was assigned to the same village for at least 25 days per month. The scale of the scheme was the largest since Mao’s days.
The Party began implementing these decisions in October 2011 and promoting new schemes such as the ‘Nine Haves Monasteries’ or ‘The Six Ones’ (one of the ‘Six Ones’ is to “establish a file for every monk/nun to document in a detailed fashion their personal and family situation. This would aid in preparedness, understanding and management”).
One could, thus, understand the despair of the Tibetan youth who prefer to become ‘martyrs’ than to suffocate in these conditions.
The death of 26-year-old Jampel Yeshi represents an interesting development in the Tibetan issue. Yeshi, the 26-year-old Tibetan youngster who immolated himself on 26 March in New Delhi during a demonstration against Hu Jintao’s presence at the BRICS Summit, has become ‘Pawo’ Jampel Yeshi, a hero.
He was given a national funeral in Dharamshala, the seat of the Central Tibetan Administration. The picture of the young native of Tawu from the Kham province of eastern Tibet was splashed on the front pages of hundreds of publications around the world. The function was held at [McLeod Ganj], in front of the Central Cathedral [known as Tsugla Khang], where all important ceremonies such the Dalai Lama’s addresses to the Tibetan people or the oath-taking of a new Prime Minister are held.
As khatas (Tibetan ceremonial scarves) were placed on Yeshi’s coffin, with the Tibetan national anthem resounding in the hill town over the Kangra Valley, Dhondup Lhadar, vice-president of the Tibetan Youth Congress which spearheaded the demonstration against President Hu in Delhi, spoke emotionally about the young martyr’s last days. This was a first: The Tibetan Youth Congress presiding over a function in the central place of power of the Tibetan capital-in-exile.
Is it the Tibetan Youth Congress which now leads the Tibetan movement? Some wondered!
As for China, a new set of leaders will be selected towards the yearend. When the time comes for President Hu to prepare a ‘balance-sheet’ of his 10 years at the helm of the Middle Kingdom, his Tibetan policy will be shown in the liabilities column; it is a personal failure for someone who started his ascent to the top as Party Secretary in Tibet in 1988.
His presidency will remain the darkest for the Tibetans and other ‘minorities’. His best bet was the Dalai Lama, a moderate leader by excellence; he should have met him and discussed threadbare the Tibetan situation. A solution was certainly possible.
With the political struggle going on in China today, will we see the emergence of a new Hu Yaobang? Can a reformist leader last in the presently locked Communist system? This is the key to a solution of the Tibetan issue. A solution has to come from China.