Wednesday, July 25, 2012
A Perspective on Tibet by Nehru
Unfortunately, we do not have the note of Apa Pant, the Political Officer in Sikkim, then responsible for Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet which triggered Nehru's comments.
Apa Pant had visibly a more sympathetic approach towards the Tibetans than the Prime Minister. In particular, Pant considered Buddhism as practiced in Tibet as a high form of spirituality; it was not the case of Nehru.
It is one of the reasons why Nehru did not want Apa Pant's views to be circulated. Nehru says: "I have no doubt that its factual part gives a correct representation of the present situation in Tibet. But the note goes much further than this and gives one the impression of the writer being so much impressed by certain facts as to lose perspective. The note thus ceases to be completely objective."
Pant ceases to be objective only because he admires what he has seen in Tibet.
Nehru however admits that "Tibet is under the forcible occupation of Chinese armed forces and that a considerable majority of the Tibetans resent this."
The Prime Minister had a resigned attitude from the start, he writes: "I have no doubt that any Chinese Government, whether Communist or non-Communist, would have the same basic policy though it may adopt different means to carry it out. That indeed has been the historical policy of China towards Tibet."
It always surprises me that Nehru, a man who fought against the British and colonial powers everywhere in the world, accepts so readily the 'imperialist' attitude of the Chinese in Tibet as a fait accompli.
Nehru makes then a rather surprising statement: "the very existence of national independent states may not continue. We live in a world where national boundaries become more and more anachronistic."
Well, 55 years later, borders still exist and India has still a serious border issue with China.
The Prime Minister then speaks of the colonization of Tibet by migrants. In this case, he is absolutely right, over the years, Tibet has been invaded by 'seas of Han migrants'. He writes: "Communism apart, the tremendous pressure of Chinese population will inevitably bring large numbers of Chinese to these valleys".
But for Nehru, "Tibet is obviously completely out of date".
For any independent observers, there was no doubt that reforms were needed and the young Dalai Lama was very much aware of it. Ironically, it is the Chinese who stopped him to undertake these reforms in the 1950's.
As often in his notes, Nehru was judgmental without really knowing the situation. He writes: "Shri Apa Pant appears to be enamoured of this 'traditional way of life', which is completely feudal under a garb of religion. If one thing is certain, it is this that this traditional way of life cannot continue, now that Tibet has come face to face with the modern world."
Did the Chinese represent the 'modern world'?
Probably, in Nehru's mind.
Interestingly, Apa Pant seems to have foreseen the "enormous power resources being available from the Brahmaputra". Nehru dreams when he says: "This power could be made available not only to Tibet but to India."
The Political Officer in Sikkim seems to have pointed in his note "the pressures we [India] may have to feel or to resist on our frontiers in the future."
Here again, he is not followed by Nehru. It is however not clear what the Prime Minister means, when he says: "If these pressures come, other and new forces will also arise in India or in the rest of the world."
Fifty-years later, the pressures are today stronger than ever.
One of Nehru's conclusions is: "The various factors referred to in the note are important. There appears to be, however, little thought given to the understanding of social forces or to the dynamic situation in the world today."
The problem was that the Prime Minister believed that the 'socialist world' brought by Mao Zedong was far superior to the 'feudal' society of the Roof of the World.
Nehru's views on defence were very well known. He applies them to Tibet when he says: "In Tibet there may well be fairly high development of individuals in some spiritual plane. Yet, these very individuals are driven to talk of armed resistance, etc., without knowing much about conditions in the world today. They cannot have it both ways. Spirituality by itself, if widely acknowledged, may well be a strong shield."
It was Tibet's right to defend its civilization, its culture and the Buddha Dharma, but Tibet needed support.
Further, Nehru should have understood that it was in Delhi's interest to have a truly autonomous nation between India and China. Unfortunately, he missed the opportunity with the consequences visible to all today.
Note from the Prime Minister to the Foreign Secretary
December 26, 1957
1- I have read Shri B.K. Acharya's [Joint Secretary, MEA] summary as well as the full note of Shri Apa Pant. The note is interesting not only because of what it tells about conditions in Tibet, but also because it gives us an insight into the mind of Shri Apa Pant and his broad approach to these problems.
3. What might be done, if it is considered necessary, is to prepare a brief summary which can be sent to our Ambassador in Peking. For this purpose I do not think that Joint Secretary's summary is the kind of thing that I should circulate. In preparing such a summary only the broadest reactions of our Political Officer should be given in regard to the major developments in Tibet.
4. Shri Apa Pant's report is both important and interesting, and I have no doubt that its factual part gives a correct representation of the present situation in Tibet. But the note goes much further than this and gives one the impression of the writer being so much impressed by certain facts as to lose perspective. The note thus ceases to be completely objective.
5. There can be no doubt that Tibet is under the forcible occupation of Chinese armed forces and that a considerable majority of the Tibetans resent this. Also that the Chinese Government is anxious, as any suzerain power would be, to weaken this opposition and, insofar as possible, to gain the goodwill of the Tibetan people. But even if that goodwill is not gained, the Chinese control and occupation will continue. I have no doubt that any Chinese Government, whether Communist or non-Communist, would have the same basic policy though it may adopt different means to carry it out. That indeed has been the historical policy of China towards Tibet. It is only when China has been weak that it could not enforce it. It is also, I believe, true that Tibetans have never really reconciled themselves in the past to Chinese sovereignty or even suzerainty.
6. In the past, the problem had an entirely different aspect, because however powerful the Government in China, it could not really interfere in the internal affairs of Tibet. A Chinese army could come there and subdue the Tibetan authorities and compel them to recognize Chinese sovereignty. But, in the circumstances, there could not be any effective control from China. Now conditions are different.
7. The Chinese Government is proceeding warily in Tibet. It has even lessened its interference in internal affairs because of the difficulties they had had to face. This policy may continue for some time. But it is clear that the basic policy of China will be to absorb Tibet more and more and make it accept the major pattern, in political and economic matters, which is in line with China. Whether this can be successfully done or not I do not know.
8. I would hazard the guess, however, that it will be an exceedingly difficult task for China to bring about this process of absorption and acceptance. No one can say what will happen in twenty or thirty years time because conditions in the world are changing so rapidly that the problems of today will take an entirely different shape later. For ought I know, the very existence of national independent states may not continue. We live in a world where national boundaries become more and more anachronistic.
9. I think that it is becoming increasingly difficult for communism to be imposed on people against their will just as it is equally difficult for a colonial regime to be re-imposed. Tibet is perhaps one of the most inhospitable countries that exist in the world today from the point of view of an unwanted foreigner going there. This is due more to the terrain and the climate than anything else. I have been a little surprised to read in Shri Apa Pant's note that there are "innumerable fertile and well watered valleys in the vast areas of Tibet east and south-east of Lhasa which are almost empty of human habitation and which are excellently suited for settlement." If this is so, then I might have to change my opinion about the difficulties of colonization in Tibet. Communism apart, the tremendous pressure of Chinese population will inevitably bring large numbers of Chinese to these valleys, if they are so suitable for colonization. I say this just as I might say that in the long run large areas of Australia might be colonized. Under pressure of an increasing world population, empty spaces are not likely to remain empty or uninhabited for long.
10. Shri Apa Pant repeatedly refers to the Tibetans maintaining the purity of the message of the Buddha and their attachment to dharma. The average Buddhist outside Tibet will not accept the statement about Tibetan Buddhism or Lamaism being considered the essence of Buddhism. Religion apart, the social structure of Tibet is obviously completely out of date. It has managed to last so long because of its complete isolation from the rest of the world. That isolation cannot continue any longer. With the impact of other forces from the rest of the world, that social structure is bound to crumble. If Buddhism in Tibet is tied up with this out-of-date social structure, Buddhism also will suffer. This fact should be kept in mind regardless of Communism.
11. Reference is made in Shri Apa Pant's note to the absence of any real centralized authority in Tibet except in the vaguest sense. (I am not referring to Chinese authority.) Apparently, regional councils or elected headmen were practically independent except for acknowledging the overlordship of the Dalai Lama and paying him some tribute. It is pointed out by Shri Apa Pant that the fight there is not so much against the Chinese but against this new system of Government which he says would do away with the traditional way of life. Shri Apa Pant appears to be enamoured of this "traditional way of life", which is completely feudal under a garb of religion. If one thing is certain, it is this that this traditional way of life cannot continue, now that Tibet has come face to face with the modern world. This is not merely a question of modern amenities, but rather of the basic structure of the State. There is bound to be land reform. If the monasteries, who own vast estates, resist this land reform, they will fail in doing so ultimately, and the whole structure of Buddhism based on these monasteries will also suffer. If Tibet wants to keep the essence of Buddhism, it will have to give up these accretions which have nothing to do with religion and which are opposed to modern conditions, both capitalistic and communist.
12. Shri Apa Pant refers to the possibility of enormous power resources being available from the Brahmaputra. Our own experts gave us a note on this subject pointing out that nowhere in the world was there such a concentrated source of power as in the Brahmaputra at the place where it enters India. This power could be made available not only to Tibet but to India.
13. I must repeat that I do not understand what Shri Apa Pant means by saying that the Tibetan society has been built on the teachings of the doctrines of the Buddha. I do not think that society has any particular relation to Buddha's teachings.
14. Shri Apa Pant refers repeatedly to the pressures we may have to feel or to resist on our frontiers in the future. This may well be so. But on the whole, this seems to me rather a static and even out-of-date view of the forces that are at work in the world. If these pressures come, other and new forces will also arise in India or in the rest of the world.
15. It seems to me that Shri Apa Pant has been emotionally moved so powerfully that his broad judgement of the present and the future has been somewhat affected, even though his general conclusions are correct. The danger in Tibet arises more from the false steps that the Tibetans might take than from the deliberate policy of the Chinese Government. Shri Apa Pant has himself hinted at this fact. While it is clear that the Tibetans are intensely averse to Chinese dominance, their ideas about any steps which they might take to end this are extraordinarily confused and immature. Foolish steps taken might well injure them greatly. We are naturally very friendly to the Tibetans and we are going to continue to be so. But we cannot allow ourselves to be dragged into wrong courses, wrong both from our point of view and that of Tibet. We should take every opportunity of maintaining and developing our cultural and like contacts with Tibet. But, at the same time, we should take care not to be pushed into some wrong activity because of our sympathy for the Tibetans, or under their pressure.
16. Shri Apa Pant's report is full of exclamatory marks. Presumably these denote a state of continuous surprise and wonder at what he saw or came across. This approach rather comes in the way of the balanced consideration of events. Also there is a good deal of repetition in his note. This note could have been improved if it was made more concise. The various factors referred to in the note are important. There appears to be, however, little thought given to the understanding of social forces or to the dynamic situation in the world today. These social forces, emerging out of the progress of science, technology, communications, etc., dominate the world, and Capitalism and Communism as well as intermediate forms of political or economic structures, are ultimately progressively more and more governed by them. There is no particular reason why the ethical and moral side, as represented by religion, should come in conflict with these social urges or forces. But if religion becomes too closely associated with static social conditions and vested interests, then its moral and ethical value lessens greatly and there may be a direct conflict with those social forces.
17. In Tibet there may well be fairly high development of individuals in some spiritual plane. Yet, these very individuals are driven to talk of armed resistance, etc., without knowing much about conditions in the world today. They cannot have it both ways. Spirituality by itself, if widely acknowledged, may well be a strong shield. Combined with primitive weapons, it ceases to be spiritual or effective.
18. The reference in Shri Apa Pant's note to weapons and hand-grenades being smuggled into Tibet, presumably from Nepal, deserves further enquiry.
19. As I am seeing Shri Apa Pant in another two days in Gangtok, I am giving him a copy of this note.