Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Why Ladakh needs special status

My article Why Ladakh needs special status appeared in Mail Today/DailyO

Here is the link...

The tragedy is that for decades the leaders of the Valley and now of Jammu, have had a step-brotherly attitude towards Ladakh.

On November 20, news from the high plateau of Ladakh said that Thupstan Chhewang, the lone local MP had resigned from his Lok Sabha seat; hardly a month earlier the BJP had failed to win a single ward in the civic polls in the mountainous region.
Chhewang blamed his own party; he said that his “position became morally and politically untenable because the Centre failed to deliver on promises made during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.”

Union Territory

In a letter to PM Narendra Modi, the former MP wrote: “All my pleas fell on deaf ears.” He spoke of delay in executing electoral assurances; Chhewang particularly mentioned the Union Territory (UT) status for Ladakh, the plank on which he had been elected (with a thin margin of 36 votes). He reminded the PM about the strength of slogans of five years ago, which now "sound like empty rhetoric".
Chhewang was particularly upset by the fact that the J&K State President Ravinder Raina had declared that the MP was 'opting for spiritual isolation'; “This is far from truth,” he asserted.
The tragedy is that for decades the leaders of the Valley and now of Jammu, have had a step-brotherly attitude towards Ladakh; for most politicians "one" seat is not so important and promises can be broken. These "leaders" forget that Ladakh is perhaps more strategically important than the Valley or Jammu; to neglect the border populations has never been a healthy practice for a nation. China knows this and in recent months has been trying to woo the Tibetan populations on their side of the LAC by building model villages with all sorts of amenities.
The demand for UT status has been a long-standing one. Already in 1949, a delegation of the Young Men’s Buddhist Association of Ladakh led by Kalon Chhewang Rigzin met Nehru in Delhi and presented him a memorandum: “We seek the bosom of that gracious Mother India to receive more nutriment for growth to our full stature in every way. She has given us what we prize above all things — our religion and culture.”
The Ladakhis were delighted to see the Ashoka chakra on the Indian flag; it was the Buddhist symbol of "goodwill for all humanity and India’s concern for her children". Unfortunately, Indian leaders did not respond to Ladakh’s appeal.
In 1989, the Ladakhis had no alternative but to resort to an "agitation", a concept alien to Buddhism. In 1995, after a long struggle, Ladakh was finally offered a Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) as a compromise. Though the chairman and his Executive Councilors (ministers) have vast executive powers on paper, they are often faced with Srinagar holding the purse strings.

Promises broken
Since then, the big-brotherly (not too say arrogant) politics from Srinagar has continued. When the Government of India constituted a three-member interlocutor group to find out the way forward, a proposal separating Ladakh from the Kashmir Division and granting it divisional status was made, but this never materialised. Despite its crucially strategic location, the region has kept its low administrative status.
Another genuine demand from Ladakh has been a university for Ladakh. There is no doubt that a full-fledged university in Ladakh region is needed.
In a letter to the editor in The Daily Excelsior, a young Ladakhi wrote: “In absence of this university, the student community suffers a lot. Students usually have to go other places like Jammu, Kashmir, Delhi and other parts of the country for higher education. This entails a lot of money, which every aspirant here can’t afford.”
While Jammu and the Valley have their own State and Central Universities, Ladakh does not. It is not that the centre has not tried to disenclave Ladakh. Take the Zojila tunnel, the country’s longest Zojila tunnel – once it's completed.
Unfortunately, India’s leading infrastructure finance company (IL&FS), which is responsible for the project, is over Rs 91,000 crore in debt and recently defaulted on payments. Some have suggested rebidding, whatever decision is taken, the project will be delayed.

Urgent requirement
This brings serious doubts about the proposed all-weather motorable road from Manali through Zanskar, though a Border Roads Organisation (BRO) official recently affirmed that the cold desert region will be accessible in all weather conditions. Again an electoral promise?
It is certain that the future of Ladakh cannot be left to the local politicians, whether in Srinagar or Jammu.
Ladakh needs a special status with a chief secretary rank officer posted in the district. Just think that the Army 14 Corps Commander responsible for Ladakh’s defence is headed by an officer of lieutenant-general rank, with some 38 years of experience in the Indian Army. His civilian counterpart is the DC who would be the equivalent of a captain or a major at the most; to make things worse, the DC is also the chief executive officer of the LAHDC, making the situation even more ridiculous.
In these circumstances, the Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA) organised a mega rally on November 26 to demand "Union Territory Status with Legislature for Ladakh". The meeting pledged that besides the UT demand, inclusion of Bhoti language in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution, declaration of Ladakh as a Tribal Area and establishment of a Central University in Ladakh.
The importance of Ladakh is that due to its geographical location, it has to face two enemies — the Chinese "Liberation Army" in the north and west and Pakistan in the east. It is high time that Delhi wakes up and realises that Ladakh is a "special" place requiring some nurturing.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Archaeology and politics

My article Archaeology and politics appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer.

Here is the link...

China’s new-found fondness in preserving ‘evidence’ and ‘conserving’ relics makes for a good preparation to bring millions of tourists to India’s border but it is sadly mistaken

China has lately become very fond of archaeology though it is mainly a ‘political’ archaeology. On December 1, Xinhua published an article titled: ‘Qinghai-Tibet Plateau first conquered by humans at least 30,000 years ago.’ Does this mean that China conquered Tibet much earlier than thought? History books tell us that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) entered Eastern Tibet on October 7, 1950.
The news agency explained the earlier ‘occupation’: “Thousands of stone artifacts recovered from a paleolithic site in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in southwest China indicate that humans might have conquered one of the highest and most ecologically-challenging places on the globe.”
A total of 3,683 stone artifacts have been discovered from the 30,000-40,000-year-old site, including blades, flakes, chunks and tools, the last of which range from scrapers, awls, choppers, notches and burins. Though the environment then was much warmer and more humid, Gao, a researcher from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), admitted that humans did not settle down permanently on the plateau at that time.
Xinhua concluded: “Most agree that the discovery enormously prolonged human history on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau with indisputable archaeological evidence.”
Another article in Science mentioned a location where the CAS team found pieces of stone artifacts, pottery shards as well as animal bones. It was in a village in Nyingchi in the TAR. What is interesting (and worrying) is that these researches come close to the disputed Indian border. The same phenomenon is happening elsewhere on the Indo-Tibet border. For example, in Ngari Prefecture of Western Tibet. China is probably trying to establish its political bonafide in the region.
Last month, Xinhua reported: “Chinese archaeologists have excavated more than 20 tombs thought to be around 2,000-year-old in southwest China’s TAR”. The conclusion was: “ancient tombs provide clues to mysterious civilisation in Tibet.”
 
The idea is to prove that Tibet has not always been Buddhist (which is true), sidelining the importance of the religious Buddhist hierarchy, particularly the Dalai Lama.  In early July, a project was launched by Sichuan University — Huo Wei, head of the School of History and Culture of the university announced that “more than 70 artifacts have been found in these tombs in Peyang Tunggar [Dungkar] ruins [near Tholing, the capital of the former Guge Kingdom], including bronze mirrors, fabric, pottery, and accessories. We found millet in a pottery cup and tea in a wooden box, which are believed to date back between the Han Dynasty and Jin Dynasty.”
Huo explained: “The discoveries showed that there was a long stage of civilisation in the Peyang Tunggar region, and the civilisation had close ties with the surrounding areas. Before Buddhism was introduced to Tibet in the seventh century, there was a period called Shangshung culture according to historical recordings.”
Why is it important for India? It appears that Beijing is going to duplicate in Ngari what it did in Nyingchi area and the excavations give China a political legitimacy — it is the first theoretical step, the road infrastructure leading to the border and a string of model villages are the next practical stages.
Moreover, three new airports will soon be constructed in these frontier areas — Lhuntse (in Lhoka prefecture, north of Arunachal), Tingri (in Shigatse City, close to the Nepal border) and Purang — which is located at the tri-junction with Nepal and India on way to the Kailash-Manasarowar yatra in Ngari prefecture. But that is not all.
A few days ago, China Tibet News reported that the TAR’s Preserving Institution of Cultural Relics had completed some archaeological work on Relics of the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty at Yatung in the Chumbi Valley, near Sikkim, an area which witnessed the Doklam incident last year.
The so-called occupation of the Chumbi Valley by the Manchus is a new way to rewrite history and show that these areas close to the Indian border have always belonged to China …and are part of the Silk Road, dear to Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The website speaks of “an irreplaceable section of South Asian corridor on the Silk Road, Yatung Custom Relics has been recognised as the witness of the Central Government’s [Beijing] valid ruling over Tibet and China's claim on sovereignty.”
‘Valid’ ruling is a new term, at a time when nobody disputes China’s occupation of Tibet any longer. The TAR ordered the ‘repairing-for-salvage work’ of the relics and the TAR Cultural Relics Bureau set up a joint expert group and conducted a field research, “during which six buildings and roads linking the buildings have been discovered.”
The press release mentioned: “The whole relics were filled with collapse piles, and a large number of porcelains, iron and bronzes were unearthed, too. Analysis on layout, scale and interior structure of these buildings has preliminarily shown that they have been used as working offices, dormitories for workers and garrison, the Temple of Guan Yu, customs clearance place, as well as daily goods trading center.”
Did the Manchus ever occupy the Chumbi Valley? Nobody has heard of this before. China now wants to preserve the ‘evidence’ and conserve the relics. The Yatung County’s Communist Party committee and the Yatung County Government jointly formulated an Emergency Protective Repair Plan with working priorities for the preservation.
Chinese ‘experts’ affirmed that the Yatung Custom Relics “carries a lot of historical memory. Preserving the relics has significant practical and historical significance to study border culture, develop patriotism, carry forward fine traditions, safeguard national unity, as well as develop local tourism and economy.” A good preparation to bring millions of tourists (soon by train) to India’s border! But there is another angle omitted by Xinhua and its other associate websites.
India had a beautiful Trade Agency in Yatung. The building belonged to the Government of India. It was visited by the Prime Minister of India in September 1958. It was destroyed by the Chinese PLA after the 1962 war. Did not the Yatung Relics Committee look for the vestige of Indian presence in Tibet? Their approach then seems rather selective!  The Yatung Relics Department should be asked to excavate the area and open it to pilgrims, passing through the Chumbi Valley on their way to the Kailash Yatra. But perhaps the Wuhan consensus does not allow such requests. Rules of engagement should be fair.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Jai Jai Jai

The planet is passing through difficult times. Even the most optimistic are aware that the environment is degrading fast and it may be difficult to stop the ecological downfall; at the same time, one has rarely seen so much tension among nations.
There are however solid reasons to hope that global solutions can be found through dialogue. One such occasion is the yearly G20 (or Group of Twenty).
Collectively, the G20 economies amount for some 85% of the gross world product, 80% of world trade and two-thirds of the world population.
The G20 came into existence during the 2008 planetary financial crisis, when the world leaders had no choice but to collectively address issues.
Before his departure for Buenos Aires, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated: “The G-20 seeks to promote multi-faceted cooperation among the twenty largest economies of the world. Through the ten years of its existence, G-20 has strived to promote stable and sustainable global growth.”
Though the theme of the Summit was “Building Consensus for Fair and Sustainable Development”, the world press was mainly excited about the ‘Dinner’.
Chinese President Xi Jinping was sharing a supper with his mercurial US counterpart, who has given him sleepless nights since several months, trying to ‘rebalance’ the world economy and principally the trade between the two largest world economies.
The South China Morning Post wrote: “Chinese and American officials may have spent weeks preparing for the high-stakes summit between Xi Jinping and Donald Trump, but any hopes of resolving the current trade war may ultimately hinge on their personal chemistry.”
The ‘successful dinner’ was the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders since Trump started a trade war with China.
More than the Summit itself, it is perhaps the sideline encounters which had to be watched, they could ultimately help redesigning the political geography of the planet.
One was of particular significance for India as well as Asia.
Narendra Modi met Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for their first trilateral exchange to discuss major issues of global. It assumed significance at a time China is flexing its muscles in Asia, now known as the Indo-Pacific region.
After the meeting, Modi asserted that the three nations will "continue to work together on shared values. …If I put it diffirently, Japan, America, and India is ‘JAI’, meaning success. We are making a new beginning. …I believe, [JAI] will play a big role in promoting world peace and prosperity.”
While the Indian Prime Minister spoke of the convergence of vision between the three nations, Abe affirmed that he was happy to participate in the ‘first ever JAI trilateral’; as for Trump, he appreciated India's growth story.
The three leaders noted their cooperation on all global issues such as better connectivity, sustainable development, counter-terrorism and maritime and cyber security.
As another strong message to China, the JAI leaders spoke in a free, open, conclusive and rule-based order in the Indo-Pacific region, based on respect for international law and peaceful resolution of all differences.
Let us remember that China claims almost all of the South China Sea, rejecting the counterclaims of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
It is today crucial for Delhi to ‘balance’ China, who has shown strong hegemonic tendencies, particularly in the South China Sea …and on Indian borders.
Modi, Trump and Abe have now agreed to cooperate in various ways and they stressed the importance to continue with the ‘Trilateral Format’ at multilateral conferences.
Incidentally, a RIC (Russia, India and China) meeting also took place and Modi had earlier a good meeting with Xi Jinping.
Delhi bats for pragmatic multilateralism, while defending its own interests.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Where is the Indian Trade Agency?

China Tibet News recently reported that the local Preserving Institution of Cultural Relics of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) had completed some archaeological work on Relics of the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty at Yatung in the Chumbi Valley, which witnessed the Doklam incident last year.
The so-called occupation of the Chumbi Valley by the Manchus is a new way to rewrite the history and show that these areas close to the Indian border always belonged to China …and of course, it is linked to the Silk Road!
The website speaks of “an irreplaceable section of South Asian corridor on the Silk Road, Yatung Custom Relics has been recognized as the witness of the central government's valid ruling over Tibet and China's claim on sovereignty.”
‘Valid’ ruling is a new term.
The TAR ordered the ‘repairing-for-salvage work’ of the relics and the TAR Cultural Relics Bureau set up a joint expert group and conducted a field research, “during which six buildings and roads that linking the buildings have been discovered.”
The press release mentions: “the whole relics were filled with collapse piles, and a large number of porcelains, iron and bronzes were unearthed, too. Analysis on layout, scale and interior structure of these buildings has preliminarily shown that they have been used as working offices, dormitories for workers and garrison, Temple of Guan Yu [?], customs clearance place, as well as daily goods trading center.”
Did the Manchus occupy the Chumbi Valley?
China wants now to preserve the 'evidence' and conserve the relics.
The Yatung County’s Communist Party committee and the Yatung County Government jointly formulated an Emergency Protective Repair Plan with some working priority.

Safeguarding National Unity
The ‘experts’ said that the Yatung Custom Relics “carries a lot of historical memory. Preserving the relics has significant practical and historical significance to study border culture, develop patriotism, carry forward fine traditions, safeguard national unity, as well as develop local tourism and economy.”
A good plan to bring millions of tourists (soon by train) to India’s border!


Waiting for the Prime Minister (1958)
The Indian Trade Agency in Yatung
There is another angle omitted by Xinhua and its branches.
India had a beautiful Trade Agency in Yatung.
The building belonged to the Government of India.
It was visited by the Indian Prime Minister of India in September 1958.
It was destroyed by the Chinese PLA after the 1962 war.
Apparently, the Yatung Relics Committee did not look for the vestige of Indian presence in Tibet?
Were their excavations selective?
Incidentally, a Memorandum presented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing to the Embassy of India in China on December 29, 1962 accused some Indian officials of looting of the Indian Agency at the end of the 1962 War.
The Chinese communication says: “According to reports from China's Tibet local authorities, when the former Indian Consul-General in Lhasa AR [Arvind] Deo and his staff withdrew from Lhasa and were passing through Yatung, they seriously damaged property within the premises of the former Indian Trade Agency in Yatung in the afternoon of December 15, 1962. For instance, they demolished several motor-cars, broke up a diesel generator, cut open several dozen barrels of gasoline, diesel oil and machine grease with hatchets, broke down doors and windows.” All pure lies.
Why should Indian officials destroy India’s property?
The Memorandum adds: “On the eve of their withdrawal from Lhasa, the staff of the Indian Consulate-General there also smashed the glass on the doors and windows of the Consulate-General building in Lhasa.”
But China alleges further, “It must be pointed out that the above-mentioned acts of the staff of the Indian Consulate-General not only constituted a breach of the local public order, but obviously harboured an ulterior motive, that is, to shift the blame on the Chinese side. The Chinese Government sternly condemns these despicable acts of the former Indian Consulate-General and its staff and reserves the right to look into this matter further.”
The Indian Consulate General in Lhasa had been closed a few days earlier and Arvind Deo was rushing to Gangtok to report about the difficult times he had go through during the previous two months.
Why should an Indian diplomat loot the Indian Trade Agency?
A few years later, the building was later completely destroyed by China and India kept quiet. Why? Presumably not to ‘irritate’ China.
The Yatung Relics department should be asked to excavate the area and open it to the visitors going on the Kailash-Manasarowar Yatra, when the pass through the Chumbi Valley.
But perhaps the Wuhan consensus does not allow such request. It is very sad.