Sunday, August 18, 2019

Is there a way forward for India-China in Ladakh?

My article Is there a way forward for India-China in Ladakh? appeared in Rediff.com.

Here is the link...


'The best trust building measure would be to undo what was done in 1954 and reopen the Demchok-Tashigang route on the border for trade as a first step; the next one would be to let the pilgrims visiting Kailash-Manasarovar use this route,' says Claude Arpi.

On March 23, 1954, after three months of tough negotiations, the Indian and Chinese representatives were still far from an agreement on trade between India and Tibet (a month later, it would become the infamous Panchsheel ‘accord’, which saw India surrendering all its rights in Tibet without getting anything in return, not even an agreed border).
On that day, Ambassador N. Raghavan cabled Delhi about the routes in East Ladakh, the Chinese were reluctant to concede Rudok (near the Panggong lake) or Rawang (further east) simply because China was building ‘military installations’, wrote Raghavan (the Aksai Chin road would be ‘discovered’ four years later).
Was the fact that China was building this important axis on Indian territory known to the Indian negotiators? Perhaps not, Indian diplomats were living on their own cloud.
The Indian ambassador observed: “As Ladakh traders [are] already going to Tashigong [the first Tibetan village south of Demchok] besides Rudok, their trade may not suffer if Chinese themselves anxious to develop this trade. There is however some risk which only future developments can confirm or remove.”
Soon India discovered that China was not interested to keep the trade between India and Tibet alive; further, they wanted to hide from the Ladakhis the development occurring in the area; as a result, the traditional ‘silk road’ between Ladakh and Western Tibet was closed (and till date, it has not been reopened, though China speaks today of a grandiose Border and Road Initiative).
A month later, on April 24 in the morning, Raghavan informed the Foreign Secretary about a fight which took place between him and Zhang Hanfu, his Chinese counterpart: “It was royal fight from beginning to end;” the agreement, with its lofty Panshsheel preamble was however signed in the afternoon; but in the process, the Indian diplomats had discovered that China had a big problem with Ladakh. It was never publically said.
In Article IV, while India insisted on the inclusion of the words “along the Indus from the Indian border to Shershang – Tashigong – Gartok” at the end of paragraph 7, China virulently objected to this route been included in Agreement; they quoted an oral understanding “they would not like in writing even by implication to have any reference to Ladakh.”
Why? Because, the mountainous region was for them a disputed area.
Since Ladakh was part of Indian territory and even though this was not in the draft agreement, the route should be mentioned as its omission would be invidious, argued Raghavan, but the Chinese remained adamant.
The Indian Ambassador informed his counterpart that India would be prepared to accept another formula, for example, “customary main route leading to Tashigong along valley of Indus River.” After ‘considerable’ argument, Zhang agreed but subsequently changed his views, “He now suggests he would consider exchange of letters which will not form part of Agreement concerning routes, including route to Tashigong.”
That was at the end of 4 months of intense talks. The route has remained closed since then; Ladakh remains for Beijing a disputed area.
One can understand better why after India announced the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution and the creation of a Union Territory for Ladakh, China saw red.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying chose to issue two statements, one calling on India and Pakistan to peacefully resolve their disputes through dialogue and second, more damaging for the relations between India and China objecting to the formation of Ladakh as Union Territory, while putting forward China's claims over the area: “China always opposes India's inclusion of Chinese territory in the western section of the China-India boundary under its administrative jurisdiction," Hua said, adding: “The recent unilateral revision of domestic laws by the Indian side continues to undermine China's territorial sovereignty, which is unacceptable and will not have any effect.”
Not only does this type of uncalled for statement have a negative effect on the forthcoming summit between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jingpin, but it shows that China still has a problem with the Western Sector of the Sino-Indian boundary.
It is in these circumstances that Dr Jaishankar, India’s Foreign Ministry paid a two-day visit to China (his trip had been finalized before the J&K State was bifurcated into two union territories on August 5 and the unacceptable words of Ms Hua Chunyin).
The Hindustan Times reported before the visit: “Beijing is nevertheless expected to raise its concerns about the situation, especially because its all-weather ally, Pakistan, already sent its foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi last week to discuss the issue with Wang.”
Apart from finalizing the details of President Xi Jinping’s forthcoming visit to India in October for a second ‘consensus summit’ with Prime Minister Narendra Modi (the first one was in Wuhan in China in April 2018), the two foreign ministers co-chaired the second meeting of the “High-Level Mechanism on Cultural and People-to-People Exchanges”.
It was Dr Jaishankar’s first visit as foreign minister to China where he earlier served as India’s ambassador; it was also an occasion for the two ministers to discuss bilateral and international issues such as India’s serious concern about the trade deficit ($57 billion last year in India’s disfavor) for an overall trade touching $100 billion in 2019.
But the on-going trade war between China and the US is definitively secondary to this basic respect of India’s territoriality; Beijing’s Ladakh stand needs to be clarified.

Reopening the Old Road in Eastern Ladakh
Is there a way forward?
The best Trust Building Measure would be to undo what was done in 1954 and reopen this route on the border for trade as a first step; the next one would be to let the pilgrims visiting Kailash-Manasarovar using this route.
Remember the skirmishes at the end of the 1960s in Sikkim!
When the Nathu-la pass was officially reopened to trade in July 2006, it had the effect of ‘fixing’ the border, thus drastically reducing the tensions in the area.
Considering the ‘Nathu-la’ effect, reopening the Demchok-Tashigang route could be an excellent Confidence Building Measure between India and China in Ladakh.
For years, the people of Ladakh have also asked for the reopening of the ancient route. Why can’t China allow the devotees wanting to visit Kailash-Manasarovar to use the easiest route via Demchok? But to do, China will have to drop the disputed territory tag over the area.

An alternative to Demchok
If China refuses to open Demchok, for whatever reasons, an alternative site would be Dumchele.
Very few in India have heard of Dumchele, a place located east of the Indus river, on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China; it used to be marked as a ‘grazing ground’ on old maps of the British Raj.
Though Dumchele is one of the 12 places where India and China have a difference of perception on the location of the LAC, this is not an insurmountable difficulty.
If the political leadership decides so, Dumchele could also become a new Border Personnel Meeting (BPM); presently the meeting points between the Indian and Chinese armies in Ladakh are located at Chushul and Daulat Beg Oldi.
Demchok, the historical landport could temporarily be set aside in favour of Dumchele which was the main smuggling center between India and China in Ladakh till 2016, when it was stopped for security reason.
The opening of Demchok or Dumchele would boost the local economy (both sides) and satisfy the local Indian sarpanches …and one day, one can dream of a new route (without crossing a single pass) to Mt Kailash. It would then become the fastest and easiest access to the holy mountain.
It could be an important step on the path of peace and would show China’s sincerity to open its frontiers with its neighbours …build a Border and Road Initiative.
If China is adamant to tag Ladakh as ‘disputed’, India should start raising the issues faced by of the people of Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Chinese Panchen Lama on the Indian Border

Interesting developments have recently taken place in Western Tibet (Ngari
Prefecture).
The Chinese Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu is said (by the Chinese media) to have conducted an 'inspection tour' of the region, including a village bordering Ladakh.


Extensive Media Coveage
Hundreds pictures were published showing the Chinese-selected 11th Panchen Lama touring areas such as Purang/Taklakot, Mt Kailash, Manasarovar lake, Minsar, the monasteries in Tholing/Tsaparang, Ngari town, Rutok, the Panggong tso Lake and even a village on the Indian border in East Ladakh.
He visited monasteries, villages, and larger towns such as Tholing, Nagari and Rutok; he ‘inspected’ many projects i.e. an Ecological Agricultural Industry Park of Gar County.
The Chinese media extensively covered his two-week long visit.
Norbu had come to Ngari prefecture five years ago, but he then had remained in Purang and Kailash area.
China Tibet Online reported that on July 26, Gyalsten Norbu (called Choskyi Gyalpo by the Chinese media) traveled to Jaggang Village in Rutok County “for survey and research”; he paid a visit to two Tibetan families named as Wangdul Phuntsok's and Tashi Dundrup's.
The Chinese website said that “Jaggang Village is located in the southern part of Rutog County, 70 kilometers away from the county town. It is a typical plateau village.”
But it is not an ordinary village, it is also known as Chagkang or Chiakang and situated very close to Demchok in Ladakh.
It seems that it is the first time, that such a ‘senior’ religious leader, adventures himself on the Indian border, which China says is ‘disputed’.

A 'disputed' border?
One still remembers that three weeks earlier, some ‘Tibetans’ (probably PLA soldiers in disguise) protested against the Ladakhis and Tibetans in Demchok/Koyul/Dungti area of India who had celebrated the Dalai Lama’s 84th birthday.
China Tibet Online wrote that Gyaltsen Norbu went inside the home of one Wangdul Phuntsok and ‘carefully’ asked about the family's production and living conditions. "Are there changes between your past and present life?" "Are you keeping well; what about your knees?" "Do you go out for a travel?" "How do you keep warm in winter?" "How do the livestock sustain when it snows?" "How many TV channels do you get?"
The website reported that Norbu chatted happily with Wangdul Phuntsok and his family.


Everything seemed scripted, including the tape-recorder on the table. Wangdul Phuntsok would have said: "The previous generation of our family were all nomads, and living conditions were very poor. Now we live a happy life. And our life has improved a lot."
The discussion continued, Norbu learnt that there is a college graduate in Wangdul Phuntsok's family who hoped to stay in his hometown (village) and find a good job, Norbu advised: "Your generation has already grown up, you should return home and contribute to the development of your hometown."
Later, the Lama visited the home of one Tashi Dundrup, probably a Communist cadre in the village: "Our family used to live in a mud brick house, but look at this big house where my family lives now. I only paid 60,000 yuan (8,500 US dollars), and the rest of the money was paid by the government,"
Tashi Dundrup informed the Lama about his financial situation: "This amount of money was no burden on my family. Because the government gives us grassland subsidies, border resident subsidies, and forestry subsides, this earns us around 50,000 yuan (7,120 US dollars) per year."
It is interesting to note that the villages bordering India are getting ‘border resident subsidies’.
Incidentally, there is no forest in the area as it is located above the tree-line.
According to the news article, the 63-year-old Tashi Dundrup's most important task was to take his grandchild (courtesy one-child policy!!) to school and bring him back home every day.
Gyaltsen Norbu advised: "You must prioritize education and educate your children well, because the future development depends on the next generation. This way, future generations will live happy lives one after another. I will pray for you every day and pray for your happiness and health. When I have the chance, I will come visit you again."


This raises serious questions:
  1. Norbu's visit was probably a message to Delhi and Dharamsala; Beijing has already done a lot of homework on the ‘succession' of the Dalai Lama. Norbu will be projected as the next Tibetan leader by Beijing.
  2. China has decided to fully play the card of Gyaltsen Norbu in the years to come. Today, Norbu is a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee and vice president of the Buddhist Association of China.
  3. Beijing trusts Norbu enough to let him visit the border with India. And let us not forget that China today claims large parts of Ladakh.
    Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently told his Indian counterpart Dr. Jaishankar that the Indian government's announcement of the establishment of the Ladakh Union Territory, "involves Chinese territory, [it] has posed a challenge to China's sovereignty and violated the two countries' agreement on maintaining peace and stability in the border region".
    The fact that the Chinese Panchen Lama visited this area a few days before Jaishankar’s trip to Beijing, should not be over-looked by Delhi.
  4. China banks on the fact that the system of ‘succession’ by reincarnation’ is a poor system of governance, as it has a gap of 20/25 years between the passing away of a Lama and the time, the 'returned' one is capable to ‘rule’ spiritually or otherwise.
    Even if China selects its own Dalai Lama (with the help of Gyaltsen Norbu), the latter will continue to ‘rule’ on behalf of the Communist Party for decades (provided, the Communist Dynasty lasts this much).
  5. On July 21,Gyatsen Norbu visited the Chuguo (Trügo) Gompa near Mt Kailash, on the southern banks of Lake Manasarovar. He is said to have held a grand lake worship ceremony: “Hearing that the 11th Panchen Lama would come to Chuguo Temple, local people dressed in festive clothing and came one after another, waiting for the 11th Panchen Lama to receive his blessings.” If the photos are to be believed (see below), a large gathering welcomed him.
    From July 24 to 25, he visited Toling Monastery in Zanda (Tsamda) County “to worship the Buddha and gave longevity empowerment to local Buddhist followers. During his stay, the 11th Panchen Lama also visited the site of the Guge Kingdom ruins and visited local farmers,” said the Chinese media.
  6. Incidentally, Norbu also visited a Nyingma monastery (Tirthapuri Gompa) in the vicinity of Mr. Kailash. This shows that China plans to use him as ecumenical leader, not just a Lama of the Geluk School of Tibetan Buddhism..
  7. Let us remember that the 10th Panchen Lama was also ‘fake’ (because recognized by China, groomed by China and trained by China) and later in his life he became one of the most patriotic Tibetans.
  8. Later, Gyalsten Norbu visited Nam tso and Nagchu prefecture where he witnessed the Ling Kesar Horse race. He was then accompanied by Danko, a Tibetan member of the Standing Committee of the Tibetan Autonomous Region’s Communist Party and United Front Dept Head (and TAR CPPCC Vice Chairman).
  9. China is clearly putting people/system in place for the succession of the Dalai Lama. Though the Dalai Lama may hopefully remain on this planet to guide his people for many years, it would seem prudent to have something in place at the earliest to counter China in the Great Reincarnation Game; Dharamsala should take a decision at the earliest and tell the world which direction it wants to go and announce it.








Model Village of Chiagang on the border
In Indian border villlage

Add caption

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

August 15, 1947: The saddest day in Pondicherry

Seven years ago, I wrote this paper on the 'saddest day' of Pondicherry.  
What happened was very unfortunate indeed!

The attendant of the rishi, Sri Aurobindo, who had given his life for the Freedom of India, was killed by supporters of a political party in front of the Ashram.
On Day 1 (August 15, 1947), goodaism was already part of the Indian political life.
Despite the French police's reputation, nothing happened to the criminals who were never arrested.

...The British Consul General reported that he had heard “rumours of a clash between the Socialists and some passers-by and that some of the Ashram buildings were stoned.”
He informed Delhi that one unconfirmed report mentioned that one member of the Ashram had died as a result of injury inflicted by a stone.
This incident is the most tragic of a day otherwise marked by joy and patriotic fervor. The death of Mulshankar, Sri Aurobindo’s attendant deeply blurred the Independence Day celebrations.
Mulshankar, a young Gujarati had come to the Ashram in the thirties and soon started serving Sri Aurobindo as an attendant and a masseur.
On the fateful day, Mulshankar was stabbed in the neck by local goondas; when he reached the Ashram main door, he was profusely bleeding, and ultimately, he could not be saved.
The press reported: “In the evening of 15 August 1947, the day of India’s independence, armed rioters attacked the Ashram, killing one member and injuring several others.”

Click here to read the paper...

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Foolish trust in Mao and Zhou

A review of the third volume of my quadrilogy on the relations between India and Tibet (1947-62) has appeared in The Statesman.
It is entitled  Foolish trust in Mao and Zhou and written by Ambassador Krishnan Srinivasan, former Foreign Secretary of India.

Here is the link...

The narrative starts with Zhou’s visit to Delhi in 1954 and ends with the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet after the Buddha Jubilee in 1957, a tale of lost opportunities due to Nehru’s false assessments… A review.

The third of four volumes of Claude Arpi’s definitive compilation reveals the extent of India’s loss and Tibet’s loss of autonomy, in India’s foolish trust in the China of Mao and Zhou Enlai. The narrative starts with Zhou’s visit to Delhi in 1954 and ends with the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet after the Buddha Jubilee in 1957, a tale of lost opportunities due to Nehru’s false assessments. China consolidated its hold on Tibet after the India-China Agreement of 1954 and incursions started the first at Barahoti in 1954 itself, then Shipkila in HP in 1956 and Spiti in Punjab. A flurry of diplomatic notes began between India and China that continued until the Chinese invasion.
India was complicit in this, since the Chinese never adduced any evidence for their claims; they just said they did not agree. India claimed the 1954 Agreement could not have been concluded unless both governments had precise knowledge of their common boundary. India thought that by the Agreement identifying six passes in the middle sector for trade and pilgrims, they had delineated the entire mutually accepted border; the reality was quite otherwise, and China as successor authority in Tibet, had claims in all sectors. The Chinese were in no hurry; these were “not ripe for settlement.”
In 1957 China reported the opening of the road across Aksai Chin, about which the Indian people were told in 1959, the same year as the Chinese incursion in Longju in the North-east. But as early as 1955 the Indian army knew the Chinese were building a road from Tibet to Xinjiang across Askai Chin. It is unbelievable that Nehru was not informed.
Following Barahoti, other incursions such as Nilang south of the watershed, took place. Historian RC Majumdar has written: “It is characteristic of China that if a region once acknowledged her nominal suzerainty even for a short period she should regard it as a part of her empire forever and would automatically revive her claim over it even after a thousand years whenever there was a chance of enforcing it.” But Indian diplomat TN Kaul, echoing Nehru, tried to see some western hand in sponsoring friction between China and India, which tallied with China’s propaganda in Tibet about Americans and warmongers. India compounded its weakness by a piecemeal approach to the incursions, rather than taking the overall view.
Nehru believed India had only given up in Tibet what we could not hold and what had already gone, against what was secured, a friendly and accepted frontier. Any policy to oppose China in Tibet would raise false hopes among Tibetans and lead to greater trauma for them. He urged dissidents to his policies such various Consuls in Lhasa and Political Officers in Gangtok, to have an objective understanding devoid of emotion. He told officials that the border should be regarded as definite, not open for discussion with anybody. As Arpi remarks sarcastically, “it was part of the colonial heritage India could not get rid of fast enough” - which included the 12 rest houses and escorts for Indian diplomatic couriers and officials. India-Tibet trade dwindled with communications improvements between China and Tibet, and the revolt of ordinary Tibetans distinguished them from aristocrats and clergy who by and large accepted the Chinese invasion.
Chinese maps showing parts of India as Chinese came to Delhi’s notice. In 1954 Nehru instructed Indian maps not to show any undemarcated areas, but a continuous border. Two years later he told the External Affairs Ministry that it was not desirable to raise the Chinese maps in Parliament. Arpi says, “the entire machinery …from South Block to Bomdila was living in an imaginary world as regards Chinese intentions.” During Zhou’s 1954 visit the border was not raised by India nor during Nehru’s China visit. Nehru told Zhou that India was not concerned about old maps because the boundary was quite clear; the discussion instead centred on Nehru conveying Burma’s concern about Chinese maps. During this visit Nehru met the Dali Lama for the first time. It was not a success. The Dalai Lama records: “he just stands in front of me, without speech, without moving, motionless he remained like that…I said through the Chinese interpreter I am very happy to meet you. He did not give a particular response…”
In Tibet there was no national identity or sense of a nation to be defended. The Dalai Lama was deluded into thinking the Chinese would remain in Tibet only as long as Tibetans wanted them. There had been bad government, unjust taxes, nepotism and social snobbery, but most Tibetans hoped these could be remedied without paying a price to the Chinese. As for India, Tibetans could well ask whether they were not friends of India, and perhaps closer friends than the Chinese.
Prior to independence, India’s northwest and north-east borders were hardly known. In Bhutan, the borders were not demarcated. An Indian surveyor followed the watershed principle and determined the Sikkim-Tibet-Bhutan trijunction at Batangla, the bone of contention between China and India in 2017.
The Chinese speeded up infrastructure - roads, schools, hospitals. The first plane landed in 1955 and the first train to Lhasa was in 2006. By 1956 airfields were being constructed, and a plane flew over Lhasa. In 1956 came the Tibet uprising in the east, land reforms were delayed and the two leading lamas were allowed to visit India in 1956- 7. Nehru dismissed the uprising as rumour and disbelieved the Sikkim prince who told Nehru in 1955 that the Dalai Lama was unhappy before and after his trip to China, and the Panchen Lama was unpopular for being a China stooge.
The Panchen Lama curiously seems never to have been contacted by the Consul General in Lhasa. The only picture emerges from his pilgrimage to India in 1956/7. An official recorded that the Panchen Lama was a stooge of the Chinese even in 1923, and had fled from Shigatse to China due to differences with the Dalai Lama, so there were historical precedents. November 1956 was the 2500 anniversary of Buddha’s birth and the two lamas were visiting a foreign country for the first time. Arpi quotes from the reports of Pant with the Dalai Lama, Luthra with the Panchen Lama, and Menon the outgoing Consul General. The Panchen Lama was born and raised in China. Luthra thought he was reconciled to China because they restored him to Tashilunpo monastery in Shigatse. He asserted his right to be equal with the Dalai Lama, though he conceded priority to the Dalai Lama. He felt resigned to the Chinese but thought it was possible to be independent in religion and culture. He thought the rivalry between Lhasa and Shitgatse was against the interests of both, but the Dalai Lama was under malign influences; Lhasa officials thought it below their dignity to approach Shigatse officials and the Dalai Lama’s party would be happy to see the Panchen Lama humiliated. It was easy for the Chinese to sow divisions. Since Nehru gave precedence to the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama never got a chance to clarify he was no stooge. The Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama never discussed anything serious; this being left to their retinues.
According to Menon, Tibetan officials were deeply divided between themselves, and confused the Dalai Lama. Zhou Enlai visited Delhi thrice in quick succession, in 1956/7, to counter any support India might give to the lamas and ensure they returned to Tibet. Nehru was in a needless, nervous and desperate hurry to stabilise Indo-China relations, thinking the Dalai Lama hankered for Tibetan independence and looked to India for guidance. He believed Zhou that only a small minority under foreign influence wanted an independent Tibet free from China. Nehru impatiently told the Dalai Lama, “you must realise that India cannot support you.” The Dalai Lama explained that “every time I thought I had reached an understanding with the Chinese, they broke my trust.” When the Dalai Lama met Zhou the latter was full of “charm, smiles and deceit.” He did not believe Zhou “but it was useless to argue.”
Zhou gave Nehru the impression that China accepted the McMahon Line – “it is unfair to us, still we feel that there is no better way than to recognise this Line… we should try to persuade and convince Tibetans to accept it.” Zhou also said that India and Tibet could have direct religious relations – which never happened, perhaps due to Nehru’s hesitation to do anything behind China’s back.
China claimed Bhutan as a vassal in 1910 and Tibet repeated this in 1948. A consequence of China’s invasion of Tibet and incursions of India was that Sikkim and Bhutan felt their future lay with India than with China despite the pull of religion and culture with Tibet. There are excellent maps though more would be useful since some place names could not be identified, and some photos, though the Index is less than satisfactory. The numerous footnotes are very detailed and enormously informative.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Strategic and Spiritual

India and China facing each other in Ladakh ...and talking
My article Strategic and Spiritual appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer.

Here is the link...

With Ladakh being granted a Union Territory status, one hopes that locals can finally  adopt an economically and environmentally responsible model for its development

Though divided into Leh and Kargil district in July 1979, Ladakh, the “Land of the Passes”, has the particularity of being one of the largest administrative units of the country, with only one Member of Parliament (the 36-year-old BJP member, Jamyang Tsering Namgyal). It has another distinctness: It is India’s most strategic region, facing two not-too-friendly neighbours (Pakistan and China) and it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It is also a place of spirituality, with a number of gompas (monasteries) perched on the hills in the valleys of the Indus and the Nubra.
To visit Ladakh is to experience the celebrated peace of the place, the grandeur of the landscapes and the hospitality of the Ladakhis. Over the last two decades (since I visited Leh for the first time), the region has completely changed: Alongside the majestic gompas, a myriad cement shops, symbolising daily faster development, have appeared — all due to the craze of Indian and foreign tourists for the mountainous region, and, perhaps, the publicity given by the success of the Hindi film, 3 Idiots.
During the last several decades, the Kashmir Valley, though geographically a very small portion of the Jammu & Kashmir State, has constantly drawn the attention of the world media (and the chancelleries in Delhi) for negative reasons. It is unfortunate that Ladakh was clubbed to Kashmir at the time of Kashmir’s accession to India in October 1947 but there was probably no other choice. Successive Governments in Srinagar have regularly deprived Leh of any say on its development. Hopefully, this is finally and slowly changing.
When in 1948, Karachi decided to also liberate its Buddhist “brothers” in Ladakh, two young Buddhist officers from Lahaul, Captains Kushal Chand and his cousin, Prithvi Chand, offered their services to the nation to stop the raiders. The duo managed the incredible feat of crossing on foot in winter the snow-bound Zoji-la between Kashmir and Ladakh; they were accompanied by a small caravan of men and mules carrying arms and ammunition. The young captains reached Leh safely to prepare a surprise for the raiders. Both were awarded the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC), the second-highest decoration in war time.
It was the first daring act by young Army officers, who since then, have bravely defended the Indian territory. It is worth visiting the Hall of Fame near the Leh airport, where their exploits as well as those of other local heroes, are portrayed. One should mention Col Chewang Rinchen, who was twice awarded the MVC — first for having stopped the advance of raiders in the Nubra Valley in June 1948 and the second for the bravery he displayed in the Turtuk sector in December 1971.
More recently, Major (later Colonel) Sonam Wangchuk (another Buddhist soldier to be awarded the MVC) and his Ladakh scouts recaptured some of the crucial peaks occupied by Pakistan during the Kargil war in 1999. I still have the image of Wangchuk, praying to the Dalai Lama, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, to give him the strength to defend India, his nation.
Ladakh is also the land of spirituality. A large number of Tibetan and Ladakhi Lamas visit the gompas and Buddhist institutions in summer. Prof Samdhong Rinpoche, the former Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government-in-exile, recently visited the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies (CIBS) near Leh. He stressed the seriousness of the global climate crisis: “We are moving into a dangerous period where the entire planet earth is posed with the risk of complete disintegration, of becoming unliveable. The scientists are now accepting it and have clearly accepted that science and technology may not have any remedy to these challenges,” he asserted. He further observed: “Unless the entire humanity alters or changes their way of life, the destruction of eco-balance is going to destroy the entire planet.”
Only in Ladakh is there this blend of spirituality and strategic presence. Today, it faces one the most intense moments of its history — not only because of its belligerent neighbours but also because fast development, triggered by tourism, is becoming a bane, after being a boon.
More and more tourists literarily descend on Leh. They provide employment but also created the first water crisis of the region. While the population is far better-off economically, environment is clearly in peril. How to sort out the dilemma?
Sonam Wangchuk, a Magsaysay awardee and the inspiration for 3 Idiots, believes that the solution lies in changing the pattern of tourism in space and time. He advocates bringing tourism to the villages (space) and all-year long (time).  Let us hope that it will work, though there is no easy solution.
Ladakh has an advantage over other Indian regions — it has a more responsive administration, ie, the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council and with the division status recently granted by the Central Government, the region should get a better capacity to solve such problems.
Perhaps to give a “pause” to the local population, this year tourism inflow declined by over 50 per cent due to several reasons — the Lok Sabha elections, the bankruptcy of Jet Airways, the late opening of Leh-Manali road and the law and order situation in the State.
Leh district is said to house hundreds of hotels and guest houses to cater to foreign and domestic tourists, bikers and trekkers. Hotelier Amrit Badam, told The Kashmir Times: “There is a drastic fall in the arrival of tourists to Ladakh this year. There is nearly 50 per cent fall in tourist footfall in these months as compared to last year during the same period.”
He explained: “As compared to 80 to 95 per cent of occupancy of hotels in May last year, there was only 40 per cent occupancy in May this year.” The overall tourist arrivals in Leh district in 2018 crossed three lakh for the first time. A senior official of the State tourism department announced: “A total of 3,27,366 tourists, including 49,477 foreigners, visited Leh in 2018, marking an increase of over 50,000 compared to the previous year.”
This article was written just a few hours before the long-cherished dream of the Ladakhis to be granted a Union Territory status was realised. This will, of course, open new avenues for the development of the strategic border area. Now the responsibility to make it a success or a failure will lie with the people of Ladakh. Let us hope that they will adopt an economically and environmentally responsible model.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Freedom of Ladakh

This comes to my mind the day after Ladakh finally obtained its freedom of from Srinagar yesterday.
A momentous day for the Himalayan region, now Union Territory.
This memorandum was sent to Nehru in 1949. 

Memorandum submitted by Shri Cheewang Rigzin, President Buddhist Association, Ladakh to the Prime Minister of India on behalf of the people of Ladakh

Sir,
On the eve of the grant of responsible Government to the people of Kashmir by the Maharaja, we the Buddhists of Ladakh and adjoining areas presented to him through our representatives in the Praja Sabha, a memorial, a copy of which was submitted to you for your information and consideration This memorial, which was prompted by our apprehensions for our future, based on our bitter experience of nearly a century and a quarter, embodied the following proposals:
  • That he should govern us directly through legislative and administrative machinery, proposals for which would be submitted by us at his command.
  • That our homeland amalgamated with the Hindu-majority parts of Jammu should form a separate province for which adequate safe-guards should be provided for our distinctive rights and interests.
  • That we should be permitted to re-unite politically with Tibet of which land we form part and parcel forall purpose but political.
  • That we should be permitted to join East Punjab.
Proposal (1) originated in our respect for the obligation we owed to the ruder in view of the relation which bound us to him from the day of the conquest of our land by his great grandfather.
Proposal (2) emanated from the fact that we desired to see nothing more of the adminitratosrs from Kashmir, who had mostly governed us during the past to our utter ruin, that our Cultural kinship with the Hindus encouraged us to expect a Sympathetic regard for our interests and an assured future in a Hindu majority province, and finally that historical causes bound us to the people of Jammu and not to those of Kashmir, for it was the Jammu Dogras who conquered Ladakh for Maharaja Gulab Singh in 1834, while Kashmir came into his possession in 1846, twelve years latter.
All things considered, however, proposals No. 1 and 2 were concessions to treaty obligations imposed on us by the Dogra conquest while proposal No. 3 which would come into force on the failure of (1) and (2) was put forward because it is the only panacea for all our ills, the only guarantee for our future progress and development.
No. 4 was a proposal of despair, for though we are in and of Tibet, the political and economic system of that land-our racial and spiritual home-are too archaic, antiquated and unprogerssive to suit us. We rather wish that India should exert her wholesome influence in the political and economic fields on her (Tibet) at the present day even as she shaped and moulded her spiritual and cultural life in ancient times.
The Maharajadhiraj has so far vouchsafed to us no reply and we have taken this silence of His Highness to imply the relinquishment by him of his position as a party in respect of proposals (1) and (2), a tacit recognition of our right to choose our path independent of him. We have given most anxious thought to this grave problem and after mature deliberation arrived at the decision that we should straightway merge with India.
That we have the right to determine our own future apart from other communities and people inhabiting the state and that we cannot be affected by the result of the forthcoming plebiscite in the evens of its being favourable to Pakistan is evident from the following facts:
We are a separate nation by all the tests-race, language, religion, culture determining nationality. The only link connecting us with the other people of the State being the bond of common ruler. If the Indian National Congress could persuade itself to recognise: the Muslims of India as a separate nation although they had so much m common with the other elements of the Indian population, the Government of India should have no hesitation in recognition what is patent and Scout revertible fact in our case.
Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah built up his case on the validity of the Treaty of Amritsar. This treaty bears upon the territory of Kashmir only so while the ruler has consented to the transfer of his sovereign power in favour of all his people, S. Mohammad Abdullah and the people of Kashmir can, through this transference manage the affairs of their country as they will. But they have not the power to appropriate against their will a people, a separate nation, whom a separate treaty the result of the war of 1834 twelve years anterior to the treaty of Amritsar-bound to the ruler in a special relationship, in which, the people of Kashmir, who came into the picture later, naturally, did not figure at all.
The right of self-determination claimed by us cannot lie claimed with equal force by the people of Baltistan including Skardu the parts of Kargil tehsils predominantly peopled by Muslims, as they are connected by ties of religion with the majority community in Jammu and Kashmir, nor by tile people of Gilgit who came under Dogra rule through conquest after the annexation of Kashmir and whom not only identity of religion but of race as well binds to the majority community of Jammu and Kashmir. It may be added that at the time of the conquest of Ladakh by Zorawar Singh, the entire area comprised under the Tehsils of Leh and Kargil acknowledged the suzerainity of our Raja, while Baltistan had several Rajas of its own.
In case the result of the plebiscite is favourable to India, we simply go a step further than other people of the State in seeking a closer union with that great country and in case it is otherwise, our verdict stands clear and unchallengable. When we have decided to cut ourselves from the State itself, the question of our forming part of Pakistan cannot arise at all.
We have indeed made up our minds to join India; but what is our decision worth until India is prepared to accept it ? We certainly make the offer for our own advantage; we see in our merger with India the only hope of our salvation. But India, too, will not be loser by this arrangement. The Tehsil of Leh alone covers 23,000 Sq. miles and, if we add to it the other areas predominantly inhabited by Buodhs, viz.
Zanskar Bodhkharbo, Mulbek, Fukar, Darcik Garcon, in Kargil Tehsil and Padar in Kishtwar, the total acquisition of territory to India not probably measure less than 33,000 Sq. miles. It is true that the whole of this area is undeveloped and most of it at present barren. But it must also be remembered that its economic potentialities are tremendous and in the hands of a great country like India it is bound to be transformed into a smiling garden and a source of immense wealth and power. Its strategic and commercial importance too cannot be underrated. The Tehsil of Leh has Tibet and China among its neighbours and the town of Leh is the nerve centre of Central Asian trade.
The British Indian Government took Gilgit on lease from the Maharaja for military reasons for no consideration in return. The Indian Government has already incurred an expense of crores of rupees for the protection of Kashmir, not to speak of the great sacrifice of military personnel which the process has involved. It is clearly impossible for Kashmir to liquidate this colossal debt which is daily growing in magnitude. Would this not be an additional reason for India to take over the Buddhist homelands hereby offered by the Buddhists themselves for its acceptance ? Though our right of self-determination stands intrinsically unassailable, we are willing to be considered as the instrument of redemption of the people of Kashmir, heretofore our fellow citizens, if that purpose can be automatically served by India's acceptance of our offer.
There is nothing in our offer which is in any way incompatible with the high idealism which characterises India's international policy. We might even say in positive terms that it is perfectly consistent with it, for has not India repeatedly declared that it stands for the right of self-determination for all nations and are we not a nation whose right of self-determination it should uphold and to whom it should extend the protection it seeks ?
Tibet is a cultural daughter of India and we of lesser Tibet seek the bosom of that gracious mother to receive more nutriment for growth to our full stature in every way. She has given us that we prize above all other things-our religion and culture and it is the experience of having been the recipients of such precious gift which encourages us to ask for more. The Asoka wheel on her flag-symbol of goodwill for all humanity and her concern for her cultural children calls us irresistibly. Will the great mother refuse to take to her arms one of her weakest and most forlorn and distressed children a child whom filial love impels to respond to the call ?
Sir, the absence of a reply to our previous references on the subject of our future has depressed us greatly.
We beseech you with all earnestness to be so kind as to vouchsafe a line in reply to this our last prayer on the subject.
Before we close, we wish to make it clear that our desire to be absorbed into the body politic of India does not imply any reflection on the present National Government of Kashmir. Far from it, we have no hesitation to say that we have full confidence in the present Prime Minister, S. Mohammad Abdullah. The step we have taken has been dictated solely by the instinct of self-preservation which governs all men and nations alike, as also by the desire to find swiftly deliverance from the misery, sqalor and stagnation in which we have been sunk for generations past.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Tourism is changing Ladakh: It’s a boon, but it also creates new crises

My article Tourism is changing Ladakh: It’s a boon, but it also creates new crises appeared in Asian aAge/Deccan Chronicle

Here is the link...

Scholars do not agree on the etymology of the word Ladakh. For some, it is the 'Land of the Passes' (la); for others, it is the 'Land of the Lamas.' Whatever the correct interpretation, it is, for both reasons, certainly one of the most stunning places on earth.
Visiting Leh last week, I had the opportunity to experience once again the celebrated peace of the place and the hospitality of the Ladakhis.
The region has however completely changed since my first visit in 2002: along with the majestic gompas (monasteries), you can now see a myriad of cement shops symbolizing daily faster development; all due to the craze of the Indian and foreign tourists for the mountainous region.
Though the Kashmir valley constantly draws the attention of the world media and the chancelleries in Delhi, it is geographically a very small portion of the state and Ladakh is far more strategic for the nation, with two unfriendly neighbours on its borders.
At the time of Kashmir's accession to India in October 1947, political and economic power was offered to Sheikh Abdullah's National Conference government in Srinagar despite the fact that Ladakh covered 70 per cent of the area of J&K under India's administration. Dominated for the past 70 years by the successive Srinagar governments, Leh has for decades been deprived of any say on its own development. It is finally slowly changing.
Soon after Independence, when the Pakistani hordes’ motto was: 'Let us liberate our Muslim brothers from the yoke of the Hindus’, Ladakh seemed at first safe. It was without taking into account the infinite greed of the new Pakistani leaders. According to their 'two nations' theory, Muslim dominated areas of the subcontinent were to become part of Pakistan and the Hindus, Sikhs and others were to remain with India. But the theory was thrown to the winda when Karachi decided to also liberate their Buddhist ‘brothers’ in Ladakh, not for ideological reasons, but for the treasures of the Buddhist gompas which became a lure for a finance-starved Pakistan.
It is then that two young Buddhist officers from Lahaul, Captains Kushal Chand and his cousin, Prithvi Chand offered their services to the nation to stop the raiders; the duo managed the incredible feat of crossing on foot in winter the snow-bond Zoji-la between Kashmir and Ladakh; they were accompanied by a small caravan of men and mules carrying arms and ammunitions. Though Buddhists and believers in ahimsa, they risked their lives to save Ladakh. Without the knowledge of Army Headquarters - which would have been reluctant to permit such a risky operation - the young captains crossed the pass and reached safely Leh to prepare a surprise for the raiders.
They fought the weather, the altitude and the hordes of invaders to defend their co-religionists, both were awarded the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC), the second-highest decoration in war time.
The Lahaulis’ was first of a long saga of daring acts by young officers who, since then, have bravely defended Indian territory.
It is worth visiting the Hall of Fame, near the Leh airport where their exploits, as well as those of other local heroes, are depicted.
 One should mention Col Chewang Rinchen, who was twice awarded MVC - first for having stopped the advance of raiders in the Nubra Valley in June 1948 and the second for the bravery he displayed in the Turtuk sector in December 1971.
More recently, Major (later Colonel) Sonam Wangchuk (another Buddhist soldier to be awarded the MVC) and his Ladakh Scouts recaptured some of the crucial peaks occupied by Pakistan during the Kargil war in 1999. One still has the image of Wangchuk, praying to the Dalai Lama, the incarnated Bodhisattva of Compassion, to give him the strength to save India, his nation.
Immediately after J&K Accession to India, Ladakhis took the stand that their future was linked with India, though culturally, racially and linguistically they were closer to Tibet.
In May 1949, the first 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.”
Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, the head Lama of Ladakh and long-time minister in Srinagar was another one who, as early as in the 1950s, defended the rights of the Ladakhis. Bakula never chose the path of confrontation; he always tried to get a greater autonomy by working with the system. As his method did not fully succeed, faced with Delhi's decades-long apathy and the 'larger issue of Kashmir', in 1989, the Ladakhis had no alternative but to resort to an agitation, a concept alien to Buddhism. A greater autonomy and closer links with India were not granted till the Ladakh Buddhist Association organised a non-violent movement; after many frustrating decades, Ladakh was finally offered an Autonomous Hill Development Council as a compromise in 1995. Though the chairman and his executives councilors (ministers) have vast executive powers on paper, they often face a frustrating situation with Srinagar.
But Ladakh is changing. Today Tourism is a boon …and a bane.
Last year more than three lakh tourists literarily descended on Leh, providing employment, but also creating the first water crisis of the region. While the population is far better-off economically, environment is clearly in peril. How to sort out the dilemma?
Sonam Wangchuk, a Magsaysay awardee and the inspiration for one of the characters of Aamir Khan’s movies, The Three Idiots, believes that the solution is changing the pattern of tourism in space and time; he advocates bringing tourism to the villages (space) and the all-year long (time).
It may work for a time, though there is no easy solution, whether it is in Ladakh, Uttarakhand or Himachal Pradesh, mass tourism has too many negative aspects.
Ladakh has an advantage over other regions, it has a more responsive administration, i.e. the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council and with the Division status recently granted by the Central Government, the region should get a better capacity to solve such problems.
On the strategic side, though the Fire and Fury Corps of the Indian Army is watching, the enemy is still at the border.
The opening of a new landport for trade with China at Demchok or Dumchele could be an important confidence building measure with China; hopefully, it will be discussed during President Xi Jinping’s visit to India in October?
If the political leadership decides so, Demchok or Dumchele could also become a Border Personnel Meeting (BPM) where the Indian and Chinese armies meet. It would be the third one in Ladakh.
The opening of a new landport with China would boost the village economy, and satisfy the local population …and one day, one can dream of a new route (without crossing a single pass) to Mt Kailash. It would then become the fastest and easiest access to the holy mountain.
In the meantime, Ladakh needs to control its too-fast development.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Reopening the Old Borders

Indus river in the vicinity of Dumchele
We are often hearing questions about what could be suggested as possible Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) between India and China.
I give here a few suggestions for the border in East Ladakh.
One could add joint patrolling in 'semi' disputed areas; by 'semi' disputed, I mean areas where both parties agree on the area disputed (which is often not the case).  

Reopening Demchok
A way forward could be to do what was not done in 1954 during the negotiations for the so-called Panchsheel Agreement: open the Demchok route for the pilgrims visiting Kailash-Manasarovar.
Of course, that would be a first step; the next one being to reopen the border for trade; it could also be done the other way round (first trade, then yatra), if both countries find it more acceptable.
Remember the skirmishes in Sikkim at the end of the 1960s !
When the Nathu-la pass was officially reopened to trade in July 2006, it had the effect of ‘fixing’ the border, drastically reducing the tensions in the area.
Considering the ‘Nathu-la’ effect; reopening Demchok route could be an excellent CBM between India and China in Ladakh.
For years, the people of Ladakh have asked for the reopening of the ancient route.
Why is Beijing, constantly speaking of Old Silk Roads, so reluctant to let people and goods flow again over the Himalaya? 
Why can’t China allow trade and the devotees keen to go to Kailash-Manasarovar to use the easiest route via Demchok?

An alternative to Demchok
If China refuses to open Demchok, for whatever reasons, an alternative would be Dumchele.
Very few in India have heard of Dumchele, a place located east of the Indus river, on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China; it used to be marked as a ‘grazing ground’ on old maps of the British Raj.
A couple of months after the 1962 border war, Dumchele appeared for the first time in the correspondence between India and China. On January 4, 1963, Delhi complained that China had an “intemperate and blatantly aggressive attitude”.
One of the examples given was that on October 22, 1962, the Chinese forces had attacked Indian posts at Chang-la, Jera-la and Demchok and occupied “fresh Indian territory upto Dumchele, east of Fukche.” Fukche was then an advanced Landing Ground (ALG) then used by India, West of the Indus.
Since then, the situation has stabilized and the Indus river has become a more or less agreed LAC till Demchok, located some 50 km South of Dumchele.
Though Dumchele is one of the 12 places where India and China have a difference of perception on the location of the LAC, this is not an insurmountable difficulty; The Hindustan Times recently mentioned the opening of a trading post which “could open as soon as the end of the year”.

From Smuggling to Trading
If the political leadership decides so, Dumchele could also become a new Border Personnel Meeting (BPM); presently the meeting points between the Indian and Chinese armies in Ladakh are located at Chushul and Daulat Beg Oldi (known as DBO).
Though Demchok, the historical landport would temporarily be set aside in favour of Dumchele which was the main smuggling center between India and China in Ladakh till 2016, when it was stopped for security reason.
The opening of Demchok or Dumchele would boost the local economy (both sides) and satisfy the local Indian sarpanches …and one day, one can dream of a new route (without crossing a single pass) to Mt Kailash. It would then become the fastest and easiest access to the holy mountain.
It could be an important step on the path of peace and would show China’s sincerity to open its frontiers with its neighbours.
Practically, it would mean, building a bridge over the Indus and build a tar road from Dungti to Dumchele. Technically, it is not a very difficult proposition.

Another possibility
Another feasible alternative would be to give Indian pilgrims access to Gunsa Ngari (Ali) airport.
Recently a two-day meeting between the representatives of the aeronautical authorities of Nepal and China was held to discuss issues pertaining to bilateral air transportation under an Air Services Agreement signed by the two countries.
According The Global Times: “As per the MoU signed between the two sides today, the Chinese side has agreed to designate eight more destinations in China for flights operated by Nepali Airlines, in addition to the existing seven destinations viz., Beijing, Shanghai, Lhasa, Guangzhou, Kunming, Chengdu and Xi’an.”
But more interesting for our purpose, the Chinese tabloid notes: “The two sides also reached a common understanding that after the development of adequate technical facilities at Gunsa Airport in Tibet, flights of Nepalese airlines would be allowed to land at that airport while circumnavigating Mt. Kailash as part of mountain flight.”
Then only a few hours will be necessary for the yatris to reach the base camp of the pilgrimage (via the beautiful G219 highway).
Opening Gunsa airport to Indian flights could be a serious alternative for the Kailash-Manasarowar yatris (especially old ones); the Indian pilgrims could fly from Dehra Dun (Uttarakhand) or Leh (Ladakh) airports after proper acclimatization in the lines of the ones, organized by the Government of India in Pittoragarh district for the Lipulekh-la route or near Gangtok for the Nathu-la one.
This would give a boost to the economy on both sides of the frontier, and show China’s goodwill.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The succession challenge

The Chinese Panchen Lama (here near Mt Kailash)
is used by Beijing's propaganda
My article The succession challenge appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer

Here is the link...

The Lama had made it clear in 2011 that he shall leave clear instructions about who should succeed him. This should clear doubts and cut out the Chinese propaganda

China has mastered the Art of Information Warfare.
We saw it during the Doklam episode, though caught on the wrong foot on the ridge at the border of Sikkim and Bhutan, the Chinese spokespersons managed to convince many Indian scribes of the validity of a defunct 1890 Convention between the Manchus and British India.
More recently, the Dalai Lama was the victim of the Chinese propaganda; for the purpose, Beijing used some Indian journalists ‘invited’ to Tibet for a trip, to ‘see the facts’ for themselves.
On their return, one of the correspondents, quoting the Chinese authorities, wrote: “The successor of the Dalai Lama has to be decided within China and any interference by India on the issue will impact bilateral ties.”
The message that Beijing wanted to pass was faithfully reported by the gullible Indian scribe who quoted one Wang Neng Sheng, Director General (of Propaganda) in the Tibet Autonomous Region’s administration: “The current Dalai Lama was recognized by Beijing and his successor must be found through the ‘draw of lots in golden urn process’ within China. The Dalai Lama’s reincarnation is not decided by his personal wish or by some group of people living in other countries.”
The ignorant Wang was probably unaware that no golden urn was used for the selection of the present Dalai Lama; but propaganda does not need to stick to facts.
Another official, Zha Luo, director of the China Tibetology Research Centre in Beijing confirmed that “any refusal by India to recognise the next Dalai Lama to be chosen within China will impact bilateral ties.”
In other words, if Delhi does not kowtow to Beijing’s choice, there will be ‘consequences’.
It was enough to provoke a flurry of reactions from Dharamsala, the headquarters of the Central Tibetan Administration and from elsewhere India.
A Tibetan official, Tsewang Gyalpo Arya stated: “The Chinese officials pointed out two things as important historical criteria for the selection of the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation. First, the selection should be within China based on the 200-year old historical process. Second, it should have the approval of the Chinese Central government.”
Arya argued that the Golden Urn procedure and the approval of Chinese central government were not mandatory for the recognition of a Dalai Lama: “It is an aggressive and ignominious attempt on the part of the Chinese leadership to distort the ancient religious tradition of Tibet to serve its current political agenda.”
The problem is that the sometimes mischievous Dalai Lama has in the past given ‘controversial’ statements to the press. One, which recently made the headlines, was to Rajini Vaidynathan, a BBC journalist, who was obviously more interested by her audience rating than by a deeper understanding of a complicated question.
When Vaidyanathan asked the Tibetan leader about ‘returning’ as a female, the Dalai Lama said with his characteristic humour that his successor could be a woman, but she ought to be ‘attractive’.
Vaidyanathan used her Twitter account to spread excerpts of the ‘controversial’ video in the social media; the Tibetan leader had to sadly apologize for his ‘misogynist’ remarks.
I remember asking him this question about a female Dalai Lama more than 15 years ago; he had smiled and explained that it was possible, there was no bar on this in Tibetan Buddhism and he had added that if it was useful for the Buddha Dharma and the Tibetan cause, “why not?”
The issue remains that his Office should be aware that the world has changed, and today rogue journalists are only interested in sensationalism.
In any case, Chinese propaganda and ‘modern’ journalism do not help to clarify the complicate issue. The succession is indeed a serious affair, not only for China which has been working hard to prepare a post Dalai Lama scenario with a few pliable Tibetan Lamas presently living in Tibet, but it is also crucial for the Tibetans (in exile and in Tibet) and for India as well.
The succession process could go two-ways, first a ‘traditional’ reincarnation with the huge problem of having a child and later a teenager for two decades at the helm; the other solution would be an ‘emanation’; the latter system is favoured by many as it would bring some stability in the system (and disarm the Chinese ‘religious fervours’); it practically means that the Dalai Lama would ‘emanate’ in a young boy and groom him as his successor.
Though the Indian government would probably not interfere, it still has vital stakes in the outcome (particularly in relation to the Himalayan populations from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh).
After the BBC incident, the Dalai Lama declared: “One day you will hear that the Dalai Lama has passed away, but I will come back, even if the institution of Dalai Lama is no longer recognised. I will be back.”
That is the real question: will Tenzin Gyatso come back as a Dalai Lama?
In another statement to The Week, he said that the rule-by-reincarnation system is feudal and may be discontinued.
The result of all these declarations is that the Chinese are confused; but for them to bank on their own Dalai Lama may be risky.
They should also remember the case of the Tenth Panchen Lama, who in May 1951 was forced on a weak Tibetan government by China, against a candidate selected by Lhasa. From his early years, the boy was groomed by Communist China as a ‘model lama’. But slowly over the years, he became his own man. In 1964, a few years after the Dalai Lama had taken refuge in India, in a speech in Lhasa, the so-called puppet Panchen Lama told a large audience: “Long Live to His Holiness the Dalai Lama”. He was immediately arrested and only released in 1978 with the help of Xi Zhongxun …President Xi Jinping’s father.
Again in 1989, while visiting his monastery near Shigatse, he questioned the 30-year occupation of China; a few days later, he died of a heart attack.
The case of the Tenth Panchen Lama proves that China would be wrong to take a Tibetan for granted, even if he is chosen by the Party.
In 2011, the Dalai Lama had clearly stated: “I shall leave clear written instructions about this.”
It is perhaps time that he announces that instructions about his ‘succession’ have already been given, thus removing the doubt in everybody’s minds and cutting out the Chinese propaganda.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Chinese Trains are India's Bane

A Train to Yatung, near Sikkim?
My article Chinese Trains are India's Bane appeared in Mail Today on July 15.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) walked into Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, in September 1951. Immediately, the generals leading the ‘Liberation of Tibet’ put their troops to work; they had to build motorable roads on two main axes, Lhasa-Sichuan and Lhasa-Qinghai, as well as on feeder roads towards India’s border, particularly the southern route, Lhasa-Gyantse-Yatung, near the Sikkim border. The PLA managed this feat in five years.


Challenge at Nyingchi
Since a few years, Beijing seems to be caught by a comparable frenzy, but this time, it is trains that China is planning to bring onto the Tibetan plateau; the Communist leadership noticed the success of the Qinghai-Lhasa railway which reached Lhasa in July 2006, for developing the plateau, as importantly, ‘stabilizing’ the restive Tibetan populations …and defending the borders against India.
On July 9, Xinhua announced: “The building of the Sichuan-Tibet railway is picking up steam, with construction work on nine new stations on the Lhasa-Nyingchi section in the Tibet autonomous region to begin soon.”
Let us not forget that Nyingchi prefecture faces Arunachal Pradesh.
The laying of track on the 435-kilometer line is the easiest part of the Sichuan-Tibet railway; Xinhua said that “trains travelling at 160 kilometres per hour are expected to begin running by 2021.
The news agency further explained that the Sichuan-Tibet railway was first proposed more than a century ago, “the idea was revived after the foundation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, but various hurdles prevented it from progressing.”
Today trains are already running on the section between Chengdu and Ya'an in Sichuan province.
The toughest and most strategic section (and worrying for India as it can bring troop reinforcement in a short time to any Himalayan front) is from Ya'an to Nyingchi, “one of the world's most challenging railway projects because it winds through the Sichuan Basin, Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau and Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, climbing from 600 meters above sea level to nearly 4,500 meters.”
Zhao Jian, a professor of rail transportation at Beijing Jiaotong University, told Xinhua: “It will go through complicated geological conditions fraught with avalanches, landslides, earthquakes, heat, karst caves and underground streams.”
According to Peng Qinghua, Sichuan’s Communist Party Secretary, “Bridges and tunnels will cover over 90 percent of the line, which means there will be nearly 800 km of tunnels and more than 100 km of bridges."  It is hard to believe. Can China succeed is another question.
In the meantime, China is building a railway line to Nepal which will reach Kathmandu in a few years.
The think tank The Third Pole questioned: “China-Nepal railway: fantasy or reality?” The reporter noted: “The world’s toughest rail route, from Kerung (or Kyirong) in Tibet to Kathmandu, is struggling to get off the ground amid growing fears of debt, earthquakes and benefits bypassing local communities

Track to Kathmandu
In Rasuwa Gadhi, the small village located at the Nepal-China border, 170 kilometres north of Kathmandu, Chinese workers are already busy building a bridge that will link the two countries. The article observed: “The border only opened after the devastating Nepal earthquake in 2015 led to China closing the badly damaged Kodari route. It is also where the new railway will enter Nepal from Tibet;” it further commented: “locals have dubbed the project kagat ko rail (paper railway) and sapana ko rail (dream railway).”
But as it is part of the Chinese Dream of the Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, dear to President Xi Jinping, it is bound to be implemented!
The Global Times, the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, asserted: “Most importantly, China's development has made it impossible for any force to make Nepal a pawn in strategic arrangements to counterbalance China's influence.” The tabloid points a finger at the US influence in the land-locked country: “China's development has provided Nepal with the potential of benefit sharing. The China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative has brought the country unprecedented opportunities by linking it to its surrounding areas and the world. Nepal will no longer be closed and poor, but will be an essential hub to connect East, South and Central Asia.”
This remains to be seen, but the train to Kathmandu is undoubtedly a tool to realize this dream-program.

After Tibet, Sikkim?
On the eastern front, a rail route linking Lijiang to Shangri-La, the tourist spot in Tibet (both are located in Yunnan Province), should start operating at the end of next year; the 139-kilometer Lijiang-Shangri-La line will link Kunming, capital of the province and Chengdu in Sichuan Province, via the Kunming-Dali rail line, allowing passengers to make round trips between Kunming and Shangri-La within one day.
An even-more worrying project for India is the railway line to Yatung, near the Sikkim border.
In 2017, a 'Tibet-South Asia' promotion meeting for travel agents was held in Lhasa; the theme was ‘crossing Himalaya, rambling paradise in the clouds’. What was the objective of the gathering?
Travel agencies made some recommendations for outbound ('out of Tibet') tourism products for Nepal …and other South Asian countries.
According to Qiao Zhifeng, director general of Yatung Tourism, the County has rich touristic resources. The train planned between Lhasa and Yatung would drastically increase this potential …and help India, said Qiao!
In July 2015, Ananth Krishnan wrote in The Daily Mail: “Local officials in Yatung say a line running to the India border could transform the currently paltry $15million border trade, which relies on a small border market in Yatung.”
The problem is that India has not been consulted.
In 2018, Yatung already received 1.2 lakh Chinese tourists, an increase of 43% over the previous year. Once the train comes, several lakhs of visitors will come within a short distance of the Indian border and let us not forget that the infrastructure in China is dual use, military and civilian.
What would happen in the case of a new Doklam incident?

Friday, July 12, 2019

Son, roll down this nalla

On the occasion of the Kargil Vijay Day, I re-post my  interview with Param Vir Chakra, Jogender Singh Yadav entitled, Independence Day Special: The Hero of Tiger Hill is posted on Rediff.com.

Click here to read...

Yogender Singh Yadav survived 15 bullets while capturing Tiger Hill in the Kargil War and was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, India's highest award for gallantry.
On the eve of Independence Day, the 32-year-old soldier relives that night when he and his fellow commandos won one of India's most historic military victories.
Yogender Singh Yadav of the 18 Grenadiers believes that every deadly bullet has a name engraved on it. Yadav knows what he speaks about; after all he survived some 15 bullets while capturing Tiger Hill during the Kargil conflict and was awarded the highest award for gallantry: The Param Vir Chakra.
Yadav was a member of the 'ghatak' (assault) commando platoon which captured three strategic bunkers on Tiger Hill overlooking the Drass-Kargil road on the night of July 3-4, 1999.
Twenty-two highly-trained men approached the Pakistan-occupied peak via a vertical cliff at an altitude of 16,500 feet.
The Param Vir Chakra citation said Yadav 'Unmindful of the danger involved, volunteered to lead and fix the rope for his team to climb up. On seeing the team, the enemy opened intense automatic, grenade, rocket and artillery fire, killing the commander and two of his colleagues and the platoon was stalled. Realising the gravity of the situation, Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav crawled up to the enemy position to silence it and in the process sustained multiple bullet injuries. Unmindful of his injuries and in the hail of enemy bullets, Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav continued climbing towards the enemy positions, lobbed grenades, continued firing from his weapons and killed four enemy soldiers in close combat and silenced the automatic fire.'
Claude Arpi met the hero recently. Interestingly, the long list of prepared questions was soon set aside as the commando, now 32 years old, started to 're-live' his experience. It is only towards the end of the encounter that Claude could ask him a few clarifications.


Claude Arpi (CA): Some thirteen years ago, on July 3, you and your team was given the task of capturing Tiger Hill. What do you remember of these difficult days?
What were your feelings then? How do you recall the events today?


Yogender Singh Yadav (YSY): Even though 13 years have passed, I still feel that the Kargil war happened just yesterday. I will never be able to forget through my whole life the memories of Kargil.
During this war, I do not know how many comrades I lost; comrades who were even dearer than my own brothers.
Inside me live their memories and it will thus continue to be.
I do not know how many hundreds of my comrades were injured; today some among them cannot even walk or move.
Those are 13 years of memories... it is still as if it all just happened to me yesterday.
I remember, 13 years ago, on the night of July 3-4, my battalion was ordered to capture Tiger Hill top.
Tiger Hill was the highest peak in the Drass sector. To take control of it was very difficult; a height of 16,500 feet, with sheer, precipitous sides of ice and snow.
Before that we had won mastery over many hills (particularly Tololing), but our success could turn into failure, if the dominating feature of Tiger Hill was not won, all other victories could be nullified.
The senior commanders concluded that only after Tiger Hill is captured would our other gains bring a complete success.
Our battalion was then ordered to capture the top of Tiger Hill; attack plans were made. A 'ghatak' (assault) platoon was formed, with Lieutenant Balwan Singh as commander.
This 'ghatak' platoon, under the battalion, was to attack the top of Tiger Hill first. The path that we decided to take was such that the Pakistani forces could not envisage that the Indian Army would be using this path to reach the top.
The path to the Pakistani positions had sheer, vertical peaks.
We made plans on how to accomplish our task and finally on July 2, we set out to accomplish our goal. The whole battalion moved together. The attack could only happen at night as the enemy, from their heights, could observe us from afar.
If we had attacked during the day, they would have shot down our jawans; hence we could only attack in the dead of night, that too, when the moon was hidden.
After an arduous climb for two days, during the night of July 3-4, we went through a tremendously difficult path, a very small path. But hearing the stones sliding under our feet, the enemy surmised that the Indian Army has reached this area. They opened fire on us.
When the firing started, there were only seven jawans who were ahead; the others were slowly reaching up from below in a line. A bit of path was blocked and only those seven jawans had been able to reach this higher spot.
We reached up to a 8 to 10 feet level with Pakistani bunkers; 4 to 5 soldiers opened fire at us. All seven of us went on firing and sent several Pakistani soldiers into the valley of death.
We obtained victory on that ledge. But the top of Tiger Hill was still 30 to 35 metres higher. From there the enemy could see where the Indian soldiers had reached. They started firing at us so heavily that neither were we able to move higher, nor could we could come out from behind the rocks.

For five hours, the exchange of fire continued, however they were unable to estimate how many jawans were present below them.
At about 10.30 am, the Pakistanis sent some 10, 12 soldiers to check. When the enemy came close to us, we fired at them and killed them all, excepting one or two.
But by then our positions had been marked by the Pakistanis and they knew how many we were; they returned to the top to report to their commanders that there were only 8, 10 Indian soldiers below.
Within 30 minutes of getting this information, the Pakistani troops launched a counter attack on us; such a powerful attack, using several supporting weapons, throwing big boulders down on us.
As they slowly came closer and closer, they managed to damage our LMG (Light Machine Gun), our supporting weapon.
Then they got still closer and launched a hand to hand battle, during which six of my companions were martyred.
I still remember that moment, those preceding instants when we seven mates were discussing and talking together about what to do next and what was going to happen, and the instant later when all my comrades had been martyred.
I was bereft by this loss, but also glad that before losing their lives they had killed 10, 12 enemy soldiers. I too was severely wounded and was taken for dead by the enemy.
Two, three times, they returned to shoot some bullets into all the dead bodies and checked that no one was alive.
The enemy also shot bullets into my body, I was shot in the arm and leg, but had firmly resolved that unless I got a bullet in my heart or head, I would remain alive, even if they cut off my arms and legs.
It is due to that resolve and will that I am alive today.
Some 500 metres below was our MMG (Medium Machine Gun) post, the enemy then made plans to destroy it. Next to Tiger Hill was the Mushkoh valley, where their base camp was located. It is from there that the orders to destroy the MMG post came.
I heard this order; I knew that some 10, 12 of my fellow soldiers were manning the MMG post.
In my heart, a voice spoke to me and said that I must save my companions. It is true that if one remembers Ishwar (the Lord) with full faith, then Ishwar-shakti (the Lord's power) aids you. It can even appear before you.I prayed to Ishwar to keep me alive long enough to save my comrades.
Perhaps He heard my prayer.

When the Pakistani soldiers again shot at us and tried to take our weapons, I attacked them with a grenade. One of their soldiers was killed.
Another turned his muzzle at me and fired at my chest. In my breast pocket was my purse which contained some five rupee coins. The bullet hit the coins and ricocheted away; I felt that I had died.
But the next instant, when he bent to take my weapon, my eyes opened and I realised that I was still alive. Within a moment, I turned and grabbing a rifle, opened fire on them.
During the firing, four Pakistani soldiers were killed. I fired from one boulder, then rolled behind another to fire again and then a third.
They thought that some Indian reinforcements had reached from below and they ran away. I returned to my companions to check if any of them were alive, but to my deep sorrow, no one was.
I tried to see how to descend, when Devi-shakti appeared before me and told me how to go down.
My broken arm was useless at my side, I tried to tie it, I even tried to break it off with a jerk, but I could not manage. Finally, I fixed it into my belt behind my back and rolled downhill towards my companions.
I gave my mates the warning about the impending attack and told my team commander, Lieutenant Balwan Sahib the entire story.
He, in turn reported to our battalion commander that our leading section had been entirely destroyed, only one jawan had returned (Yogender Singh Yadav) and he is giving this information.
Battalion Commanding Officer Colonel Khushal Chand Thakur told them to get this jawan down to him as quickly as possible so that he could hear the information first hand.
At that time it must have been 1:30, 2 in the afternoon (of July 4). Blood was flowing from my wounds like water. Though my comrades gave me first aid, the bleeding would not stop. They brought me back to the CO and by the time we reached, it was completely dark, and I was unable to see.
The CO asked, "Son, do you recognise me?" but I could see nothing. He had me laid in his personal tent, and had 2, 3 stoves lit around me. When my body gradually got warmer, the RMO (Regiment Medical Officer) Sahib came and gave me again some first aid and made me drink some glucose.
I got some sort of energy back in my body and then the CO asked again, "Tell me now, son, what happened with you all?"
I told him the whole story and concluded that "Now Sir, they are going to attack the MMG post. Sir, you see, beyond this helipad there are stones, behind which are the living tents of the enemy, they have support weapons deployed there, and ammunition has been dumped there."
After I gave this information, RMO Sahib gave me an injection to put me to sleep.

When I woke up three days later, I was at the Srinagar base hospital. I learned that the same night, our reserve company had attacked the top of Tiger Hill, and without any casualties, had succeeded in capturing the top.
I was then shifted to the army hospital, New Delhi, and after 16 months of treatment, I could serve the army again.
It is the dream of every soldier to fight for his country and with his own blood to anoint this motherland. To be able to do this is his great fortune.
I consider myself fortunate to have taken birth on Mother India's soil and to be part of this great Indian Army, which is today considered to be one of the best in the world.
I am proud of my country and of our army and I would tell the youth of this country that we can be devoted to our nation from anywhere, but the real progress, the inner and outer protection only comes when we all come together, when we try to progress in every realm and each one tries to grow in our own sphere.
I would appeal to our youth that no matter which area you chose, you should work with honesty, straightforwardness and work hard and you should keep their devotion to their country awake, alive. Jai Hind!
You said that the Devi Ma's Shakti came to you. You had earlier already had a vision, telling you that you would be injured, but would not die. Please can you elaborate?
When, with full faith, a man surrenders everything he has to accomplish a certain task, and this, without reserve, (ulterior) motive or calculation, certainly then, an inner strength, a shakti, arises in him.
He becomes conscious of what is going to happen to him today or tomorrow or whenever.
This happened to me, I was given the awareness that I would be injured; my arms and legs would become useless, but that I would remain alive.
It is a fact that in Kargil we had surrendered ourselves fully to our task (to recover Tiger Hill from the Pakistanis), we were fully aware that we could lose our lives, but we still surrendered ourselves to the task ahead with complete faith in the Lord... then there is no question of thinking that one could fail in one's work.
The task has to be completed -- the Lord himself tests man, He tests how much a person can take, how much pain he can bear; only when one can bear the most intolerable pain does the divine strength comes (to accomplish the task).

CA: You had the certitude that you would not die, tell us more about this vision of 'Devi Ma' who showed you the way down to the MMG post?

YSY: At that time, I knew that I had to reach my comrades; it was a selfless wish, to try to save the lives of my mates, my brothers.
I had no desire to try to save my own life, in fact having witnessed my six companions sacrifice their lives, I was proud that I was now being given another opportunity to serve my motherland and follow in their footsteps.
This is the dream of every soldier, his glorious journey to fulfil the prime duty of his life.
When he returns home wrapped in the national Tricolour, his family, his country and even the whole world rejoices with tears at his self-sacrifice.
I was given that strength and She showed me the way down.

CA: The 'vision' told you which way you must take?

YSY: Yes, absolutely, in front was a being in white who said, "Son, roll down this nalla (gully)."

CA: Have you seen LOC Kargil, the Hindi movie made about your action?
They did not interview me for that. But the movie, LOC Kargil has my role played by Manoj Bajpai.
Did you see the movie? How did you find it?


YSY: I liked it. They have highlighted the task that I and my companions performed; our sacrifice for the good. The world could see this. It made the general public aware of the difficulties a soldier has to endure to do his duty successfully. I liked it very much.

CA: Thirteen years later, would you do it again?

YSY: Yes. Many citizens wants to join the army, (not all are selected), but those who are, feel they are blessed that out of so many aspirants they are the chosen few who will serve to protect their country.
A soldier's ultimate wish is that he should be allowed to do this job of protecting his country, and even if he has to lay down his life to do it, that is not too big a sacrifice.
I have merely shed some of my blood for my motherland, only put a tilak with my blood on her land, but I am still alive. But if I were given the chance, I would put down this life for her.

CA: Since that time, there have been a lot of changes in the army?

YSY: The Army is the Army.
At that time, there were many shortages in the army, lack of equipment, ammunitions, adequate clothing, etc. Has the situation improved?
At that time (in 1999), the war was declared all of a sudden. In those areas (Kargil-Drass sectors), there was little army deployment. The units which had to be called in from other parts of India, from the plains and they did not have the right clothing.
But the main need of the hour (during the war(, was neither adequate clothing nor right equipment available, but to accomplish the task at hand, and this, with whatever means we had.
It is a matter of pride that the Indian Army jawan has a dedication, a patriotism not present in any other army of the world.
It is only because of this that we were able to vanquish the enemy at those impenetrable mountain heights.

CA: It is said that a soldier believes that every bullet carries someone's name on it. Do you believe that too?

YSY: Of course. See, I am a soldier, and so is the man fighting against me, we are not bothered by which bullet carries whose name.
Definitely each bullet carries a name, just as we say that every morsel of food bears the name of the person who must eat it.
Similarly, for a soldier, he has a bullet with his name on it, the one which will kill him; perhaps the bullet with my name was not made and as a result, I am still alive.

Though not mentioned in this interview, one of the motivations of the jawans and officers during the Kargil conflict was the barbarian behaviour of the Pakistanis.
On May 15, 1999, India sent a patrol to ascertain if some parts of her territory were occupied by intruders.
The patrol was ambushed on the Indian side of the LoC and the patrol leader, Lieutenant Saurabh Kalia and five of his jawans were captured and tortured.
Their mutilated bodies were returned on June 9. Yogender and his companions knew this. It motivated them further to recapture Tiger Hill.
Before the attack on Tiger Hill, Yogender Singh Yadav's battalion had been involved in the battle for Tololing, another peak occupied by Pakistan. They fought for 22 days.
Many Indian jawans and officers lost their lives in the battle. Yogender who was just married and could only reach his battalion a few days after the battle had started was given the task of supplying ammunition to the forward troops.
The 19-year-old Grenadier managed to climb the peak twice a day to supply his companions.
In a booklet on his life, he stated: 'It was gruelling and back-breaking work. My officers noted that I had tremendous stamina and could climb these treacherous steep and snow-covered slippery slopes almost constantly for 2 days carrying heavy loads. Please see: Our Heroes: Param Vir Chakra, Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav, Shyam Kumari, Vraja Trust, Pondicherry, 2011.
It is why he was selected to lead the final assault on Tiger Hill.


Claude Arpi gratefully acknowledges the help of Mrs Shyam Kumari, Lieutenant Colonel Uma Tewari (AMC, Retd) and Abha. The interview was conducted in Hindi.