BY EMAIL, 23 April 2018
The Dalai Lama is once again in the news. A fortnight ago a bureaucratic circular from New Delhi barred all senior officers and leaders of the Indian government from attending celebrations being organized by the Dalai Lama and his ‘Central Tibetan Administration (CTA)’. The target event was the inauguration of yearlong “Thank You India” celebrations which are going to be held across India to express the gratitude of the Dalai Lama and fellow Tibetan refugees to the people and government of India on completion of 60 years of exile in India.
This last-minute shock forced an embarrassed Dalai Lama to cancel the main event at spacious Thyagaraj Stadium in New Delhi. Most observers interpreted this decision of the NDA government as an insult to India’s most coveted and longest-residing guest. Many believe that this move was aimed at appeasing the Beijing government in order to create a congenial atmosphere for Prime Minister Modi’s forthcoming visit to China. However, the presence of at least two prominent BJP leaders, namely Union Tourism Minister Dr Mahesh Sharma and BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav, in a much watered-down version of the celebrations at Dharamshala on 31st March, only added to the prevailing confusion.
Sending the Dalai Lama to the Potala?
But something more shocking and puzzling was to come from the Dalai Lama’s establishment in Dharamshala itself. Dr Lobsang Sangay, the ‘Sikyong’ (equivalent of ‘President’) of CTA, stunned everyone present at the function by announcing that it was time for the Dalai Lama to fulfil his long-cherished dream of returning to Tibet and to live in his traditional Potala palace of Lhasa in order to ‘reunite with Tibetan people’. Dr Sangay referred to this as the last among the three dreams which, he claims, the Dalai Lama had seen on the eve of his daring escape from the hands of Chinese army to India in 1959, and which has yet to be fulfilled.
According to Dr Sangay the first dream was about bloodshed. It turned real when Chinese army killed thousands of Tibetan in the Tibetan uprising against the Chinese, he said. The second dream of the Dalai Lama was about him meeting people in white clothes, which also turned out to be true when the Dalai Lama met Indian leaders like Dr Rajendra Prasad and Pandit Nehru wearing white khadi. And the third dream was of the Dalai Lama returning to the Potala palace ‘filled with light’ to ‘reunite 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,” he added.
In the past too there have been many occasions when the idea of the Dalai Lama’s return or going on a short pilgrimage to Chinese Buddhist shrine Wu Tai Shan was discussed. But each time this idea came from the Beijing side, where Chinese leaders have been desperate since decades to have the Dalai Lama back to their fold before he is dead and the search for his next reincarnation starts. This is the first time when the idea of the Dalai Lama’s return, that too his permanent return and to ‘reunite with Tibetan people’, has been launched by a Tibetan leader who occupies the second highest place after the Dalai Lama himself in the exile hierarchy.
Chinese enthusiasm for the Dalai Lama’s return
It was in the late 1970s when China was successful in enrolling Gyalo Thondup, one of the Dalai Lama’s elder brothers, to persuade the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet. Following his efforts, a dialogue started between Dharamshala and Beijing that had been running in fits and starts over the past four decades. In response to China’s invitation to return or visit Tibet ‘to see truth with his own eyes’, a highly sceptical Dalai Lama offered only to send his representatives to first have a feel of the ground reality inside Chinese-controlled Tibet. For he had too many example of Chinese walk-back on their promises to accept this invitation on the first go. One of the worst examples before him was that of the Uyghur leaders who were invited in 1949 for a ‘friendly’ and ‘heart to heart’ exchange of views with Chairman Mao. This was in response to fierce resistance offered by the Uyghurs to Mao’s PLA against China’s takeover of their country ‘Republic of East Turkistan’ which was later rechristened as ‘Xijiang’ by its colonial masters in Beijing. The plane carrying the cream of all major Uyghur clans exploded mid-way, and the resistance mellowed down as expected.
The Beijing leaders, consistently fed by fabricated and flattering reports from local communist leaders about Tibetan masses’ love for Chairman Mao and hatred for the exiled Dalai Lama (whom the Chinese regime has been trying to paint as a ‘gang of serf owners’) took the bait from the Dalai Lama and allowed his five delegations to visit various parts of Tibet. The visits were abruptly cancelled before the last delegation could complete its tour because Beijing leaders were shocked by the uncontrollable and mammoth, positive and loving public response to the Tibetan delegates.
The dialogue was initiated by China at least twice again in the past 35 years. The last one, which went on between 2002 and 2010, was held by Beijing after the European Parliament issued an ultimatum to China in 1999 that if it failed to settle the Tibetan issue with the Dalai Lama in the next three years it would recommend its member governments to recognize the Dharamshala establishment of the Dalai Lama as the real government of Tibet. While Dharamshala consistently termed these meetings as a Tibet-China ‘dialogue’ about the ‘future of Tibet’, Beijing snubbed it every time by stating publicly that the delegates were on a ‘private’ visit to China and the only subject of discussion was to chalk out details of the Dalai Lama’s return to the ‘great Motherland’.
Dr Sangay’s statement about the Dalai Lama’s return to Potala and to ‘reunite’ with Tibetans is nothing short of an official and public endorsement of the Chinese agenda on the Dalai Lama and Tibet by Dharamshala.
As the ‘political head’ of CTA, Dr Sangay occupies almost equal status to the the Dalai Lama himself. This followed the Dalai Lama’s decision to change the constitution and transfer his political powers to the Sikyong and the CTA. Technically speaking, the Dalai Lama is now only the supreme religious leader of Tibet. Dr Sangay’s statement is, therefore, nothing short of the official political policy of Dharamshala on future of Tibet. It is interesting to note that while forwarding this political verdict, Dr Sangay is only using the Dalai Lama’s personal dreams as the guidelines for setting Tibetan nation’s future agenda, and not any political logic.
What is the Dalai Lama set to lose?
But when all is said and done, Tibet cannot afford to decide its political future at the call of one individual whose own shelf life as the ‘Sikyong’ is only another three years. Above all, the Dalai Lama himself will have to weigh the pros and cons of his decision about returning to Tibet. He cannot forget that all his popularity across the world comes from his resilience as a fighter against the tyranny of a powerful adversary through his ideals of non-violence. He can’t ensure the same respect by surrendering to the tormentor of Tibet and Tibetans. He also stands to lose his legal and moral status as a ‘refugee’ if he returns or even goes for a visit to China or to China-ruled Tibet. He is bound to lose all sympathy and support of Tibet supporters across the world by surrendering to the same China against whom these individuals and groups have stood by him for decades. He should not hope for a revival of this support if China goes back on its words and the Dalai Lama has to start his fight again from the beginning.
Despite the most difficult conditions inside Chinese-occupied Tibet, the Tibetan masses have maintained their resistance to their Chinese masters. Over 150 self-immolations in recent years is no less a proof of this. The Dalai Lama’s shaking hands with the Chinese masters of Tibet will surely deflate this national fervour forever. After destroying Tibet’s Buddha Dharma, culture, and identity, China is now going to exploit the Dalai Lama as its main tool to present itself as the Buddhist superpower. More than anything else, China will get the license to foist its own choice on Tibet when it comes to appointing the next incarnation of the Dalai Lama. That will seal the fate of Tibet forever. In a China made up of ’56-Sisters’, shouldn’t the Dalai Lama better look at what happened to those over 50 nationalities and their identity over the past 70 years? In present-day China the total population of 55 nationalities is less than 8 percent vis-à-vis their Han masters. His hopes for a flourishing Tibetan culture after his return are going to prove naïve.
India — the biggest loser
India also has too many things at stake to sit and watch the influential lobbies of Dharamshala handing over a living Dalai Lama on a platter to China. With the Dalai Lama’s return to the Chinese fold all chances of rehabilitating Tibet as a buffer between India and a bully China would be gone forever. But worse would be the sudden transformation of the Himalayan states of India from India’s ‘first defence post’ into a 4,000-km-long belt which will become prone to Chinese machinations. Beijing will leave no stone unturned to influence the Buddhist communities of Ladakh, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, and Arunachal, who have deep cultural and religious bonds with their root monasteries and root Gurus inside Tibet.
About the author
Vijay Kranti is a veteran Tibet-China watcher, and Chairman of the Centre for Himalayan Asia Studies and Engagement (CHASE).