An alternate tribute to Bapa Phuntsog Wangyal
NEW DELHI, India, 2 April 2014
I am an ardent admirer of the typical Tibetan tendency of kindness in day-to-day situations. Be it a common Tibetan’s compassionate attitude towards a street dog or liberal cash alms even to an obvious cunning, professional beggar, I’ve always found my Tibetan friends more kind than I could have been in a similar situation. But one thing which I’ve always found too difficult to swallow is the community’s, especially its leaders’, tendency to dole out liberal praise to undeserving individuals. At times, this praise goes to the limit of obnoxiously kind certification of such deceased Tibetans who have been publicly notorious for working against the Tibetan national interests in the most vulnerable moments of Tibetan history.
Every time I ask questions, I am told politely that “We are Buddhists. We must have compassion even for our enemy. In the event of a death we must be kind to the deceased.” These are those few moments when I feel happy for not being a Buddhist. Just a humble, reasonably devout Hindu who would be content with offering only a kind, non-committal, and cautiously-worded tribute to a person who did not live a life of my liking. I take pride in the Indian tradition of keeping the anti-national traitors far away from the space of social acceptability.
Whenever Tibetans, especially the Tibetan statutory organs like the Kashag, Chitue (Parliament), or some senior leaders enthusiastically load a well-known national villain with some totally undeserved adjectives, I have been at total loss to understand whether the villain is being posthumously rehabilitated or the Tibetan society is being officially advised to ask their children to follow the deeds of the notorious man? Having lived in a traditional socio-political Indian environment, my mind is programmed to treat such undeserving praise for a traitor as an insult to the great patriots of our history who stood up to their salt even in the most difficult situations and happily suffered the consequences. On the passing away of comrade Bapa Phuntsog Wangyal, I am once again finding myself standing in the corner, reserved for confused and idiot friends of Tibet.
Having been already an unkind (and unfortunate) witness to Dharamshala’s Kashag paying profuse homage to Ngapo Ngawang Jigme as “a great Patriot” of Tibet, I am not surprised to see attempts at bestowing a similar “greatness” on comrade Bapa Phuntsog Wangyal. I am surprised to note that these glowing tributes reached the public within a few hours of the news of his death broke. You rarely observe such great efficiency in the functioning of Tibetan bureaucracy in Dharamshala.
For the benefit of the uninitiated reader, I must point out that this is the same comrade Phuntsog who was the top-most Tibetan communist and collaborator of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) when Mao’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) “liberated” Tibet in the 1949-1951 period. In modern Tibetan history he holds the unique distinction of being the front-line guide and flag bearer of the first PLA Platoon that marched into Lhasa, the occupied capital of his colonised motherland, called Tibet, in 1951.
In a stream of obituaries and tributes to the late comrade, most of Tibetan leaders have enthusiastically, but selectively, remembered only the words that Bapa Phuntsog spoke in later years, which were music to Tibetan ears. They quite conveniently forgot his real sin of siding with, rather guiding and supporting, the enemy at a crucial moment of Tibetan history when every Tibetan was expected to rise above ideological and personal considerations.
In most of the obituaries Bapa Phuntsog has been quoted through his recent book A Long Way to Equality and Unity, where he appears to be trying to convince his communist bosses in Beijing to encourage the return of Dalai Lama to Tibet. He is quoted as saying that, “If he returned to China the antagonistic Tibetan issue that has been internationalized would change into a non-antagonistic domestic issue”. Knowing the Tibetan comrade’s love for Beijing regime and his loud emphasis on keeping Tibet under the Chinese wrap, this idea simply shows that Bapa Phuntsog is less concerned for the failed Tibetan national aspirations but is more keen to let Dalai Lama be used to promote the Chinese colonial agenda.
In his tribute to Bapa Phuntsog, one very senior Tibetan exile leader announced, “Phunwang is no more with us, but his thoughts and words will continue to inspire and guide us”. Another one, a much more senior leader from Dharamshala has endorsed the late Tibetan comrade’s vision of Tibet by appealing to the Chinese government to “take heed of the veteran Communist leader’s wisdom and far-sighted vision to resolve the issue of Tibet.” One only hopes that all this does not mean that the preparations for handing over the present Dalai Lama on a platter to the Beijing government on Chinese terms have already not started.
“Phunwang”, as he has been affectionately addressed in these obituaries by some of the top-ranking Tibetan exile leaders, was a committed and a courageous rank holder of CPC who recently demonstrated the guts to admit on public record that he was the same “Red Tibetan” whom Dalai Lama had referred to in his autobiography as the “one who led the ‘Red Han’ into Tibet”. In his autobiography (2004) “A Tibetan Revolutionary — The Political Life and Times of Bapa Phuntso Wangye”, he rather corrected the Dalai Lama by saying that, “…..To be accurate, I led the People’s Liberation Army” (p 329).
Going a step further, Bapa Phuntsog has been brave enough to commend himself and his other fellow Tibetan communists as “Good Guys” for their “historic contribution” of helping the PLA to occupy Tibet. He reiterated in this autobiography that, “… we the Tibetans who guided ‘Han people into Tibet’ or cooperated with the Han people have made more or less historical contributions to the cause and interests of our nationality and people …”. He says all this after claiming that Tibetans today are “united in the big socialist family …”, “prospering”, “masters of our own homes”, “progressing”, and are “happy”. (p 331). Interestingly, this is exactly what HH the Dalia Lama has been demanding from the Beijing masters of his occupied Tibet to close a deal with them and accept Tibet as an integral part of China under the constitution of present-day China.
I’ve consciously termed Bapa Phutsog as “brave” because these two candid statements came from this dedicated Tibetan communist even after serving an 18-year long and torturous jail at the hands of the same very Communist Party of China whom he adored more than a God (and he continued to do so till his last day). It is noteworthy that in addition to severe beatings and innumerable torture sessions, he received all the humiliation that a communist system reserves for its enemies. His cell guards in the jail used to spit in his food in his presence just to humiliate him. Interestingly, it was the same very communist party’s cadres who ransacked his family house in his absence; looted all their belongings including food; tortured his wife frequently including a public trial (dreaded thamzing) attended by thousands of people; arrested her and humiliated her to the extent that she committed suicide in captivity — leaving their five children homeless and orphaned. During his years in the communist prison, his homeless children were sent for forced labour and one of them was jailed for six years. His father died of shock and anxiety caused by these developments.
One of his dearest communist Tibetan friends, Topden, died of communist persecution, and another, Ngawang Kesang, suffered in jail and labour camps for sixteen years. All of them suffered mainly because of being close to Bapa Phuntsog. Far away in Tibet also, nearly 1.2 million Tibetans died cruel and unnatural deaths under the colonial yoke of the Communist Party of China during the same period. All these events happened under the garb of “Cultural Revolution”, which was initiated and presided over by Phuntsog’s great communist hero Chairman Mao. But in spite of all these inhuman acts of his party’s leaders and officials, comrade Phuntsog flaunts his (BUddhist ?) audacity to state that, “I was put into prison by people who executed the laws, broke the laws and violated party discipline and laws of the country. Therefore this is not the responsibility or the fault of the party; it is not my fault, but it is my misfortune….” (p 328).
Only a person with a bloated Buddhist heart — or a typical brainwashed communist stooge — can have the courage to be so obedient, subservient and respectfully slave to his comrade masters and the Party. In the flood of kind and unmindfully liberal obituaries, flowing out of Dharamshala, I see both of the species at work — in giving as well as receiving these compliments.
Bapa Phuntsog was shamelessly remorseless in keeping his love for the Communist party of a foreign country far above the lives of his wife, children, parents, dearest friends, his countrymen, his motherland’s fate, and even his own self respect. But our great practitioners of diplomacy in Dharamshala are busy finding great virtues in some so called “scientific discoveries” and communist theories of Bapa Phuntsog. They are finding great solace in some meaningless, ineffective and resultless advice which he wrote on paper to his communist masters, but are fully blind to the damage he inflicted consciously on his vulnerable motherland on moments when it hurt her most.
In a refugee society that has been of late helplessly watching its most patriotic institutions and leading patriotic figures being mercilessly tarnished and demolished in a systematic and organised manner, glowing tributes to a well-known traitor and stooge of the enemy (China) is agonising. Finding virtues in a dead enemy may be a great virtue in Buddhist practice, but it is no less than national hari-kiri in the struggle of a colonised nation that is striving hard for freedom and justice. Perhaps the real virtue lies in shedding away a slave mindset. Bapa Phuntsog could not do it — Dharamshala bosses can still do it.
About the author
Vijay Kranti is a senior Indian journalist, photographer, and Tibetologist, based in New Delhi. He blogs at VijayKranti.com and he can be contacted at v.kranti(at)gmail.com