Sunday, September 15, 2019

Will Xi Dada visit Tibet?

But who is X Dada?
A few years ago in China, a song went viral on the internet; showing the growing personality cult around President Xi Jinping or ‘Xi Dada’ (Uncle Xi).
Xi was painted as a strong, wise, great leader (‘The People’s Leader’ in his new avatar, equaling Chairman Mao) “who is decisive in acts and is serious in all his work; no matter whether it’s flies or tigers, monsters and freaks, he will get all of them down and never let them go,” said the song. It referred to the high and low-level corrupt officials that Xi Dada has been sending to jail.
He was even the perfect husband: “If you want to marry, marry someone like Xi Dada, a man full of heroism with an unyielding sprit; no matter how the world changes and how many difficulties lie ahead, he will insist and keep moving forward,” said the lyrics.

A visit to Nepal?

Now, it has been rumoured that Xi will soon visit Tibet and Nepal.
The visit to the former Kingdom may pause problems.
According to The Annapurna Express, a Chinese delegation lead by Foreign Minister Wang Yi was not pleased when it visited Kathmandu last week: “It had come to Kathmandu to prepare the ground for President Xi Jinping’s much-discussed Nepal visit. But neither could it get the Nepali side to finalize the BRI projects Nepal wanted China to help with, nor was it assured about the ‘security preparations’ for Xi’s trip.”
Worse, possible protests in Nepal by pro-Tibet activists or the local Muslim community over China’s treatment of its Uighurs could be expected, it was reported.
The Nepali newspaper continued: “The Chinese delegation would not have been reassured by the small protest in front of the Chinese Embassy by a group of women, on whatever pretext, when it was in town. This is perhaps the first time that there has been a public protest in front of the Chinese Embassy during the visit of a high-level dignitary from China. The Chinese were left wondering: Even with its supposedly foolproof preparations, how could Nepal Police have failed to guard the embassy periphery?”
What about Xi’s visit to Tibet to ‘celebrate’ the so-called the emancipation of the Tibetan serfs, sixty years ago. I have often written about this during the past few months. It is a cruel joke on the Tibetans who were massacred in March 1959 and the Dalai Lama who had to flee his country.

A rare press conference
Preparing to receive Xi Dada
A development probably linked to a probable visit of Xi Dada to the Roof of the World, is the press conference given by Wu Yingjie, Tibet Autonomous Region’s (TAR) Communist Party of China chief and Che Dhala, chairman of the regional government at the State Council Information Office on September 12 in Beijing.
Both took questions from the Chinese and foreign media.
On the side of the press conference, artists told the story of King Ling Kesar, a 11th century Tibetan hero “who defeated enemies on horseback and helped to save his people (i.e. the masses).”
An exhibition was also organized on the site and Tibetan “cultural and creative products and specialties” were displayed.

The press conference was said to ‘celebrate’ the 70th anniversary of the founding of New China.
Incidentally, 70 years ago, all the Chinese living in Lhasa were thrown out by the government of the then independent Tibet (and repatriated via Chumbi Valley and Kolkata). This has obviously been forgotten by Xi’s China.
Hu Kaihong, director of the Information Bureau of the State Council Information Office, presided over the press conference.
Wu Yingjie gave his usual lecture: “Tibet is a special frontier ethnic region and is known as the ‘Roof of the World’. It is an important national security [border with India] and ecological security barrier, an important strategic resource reserve [water and minerals], a plateau living on agricultural products and an important cultural reserve of Chinese national characteristics.
Wu elaborated that Tibet is an important world tourist destination and an important channel for opening to South Asia.
Does it mean that Wu wants to start opening trade routes with India, at a time when even Nepal is lukewarm?
Does it mean that now as the ‘border is stabilzed’, people could circulate freely from Tibet to South Asia? It would be interesting!
Wu continued his tirade: “The Party Central Committee has always attached a great importance to Tibet's Work. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, our party adopted a series of major policies for Tibet. The Party Central Committee held six Tibet Work Fora. Each forum introduced major measures, which have effectively promoted Tibet's economic development and promoted Tibet's social stability.”
Stability has been all the Chinese leaders’ leitmotiv whenever they speak about Tibet.
Wu explained that since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2012, General Secretary Xi Jinping has always shown concern for Tibet and the people of all ethnic groups in Tibet, “creatively inheriting and developing our party’s theory of governance for Tibet’s economic and social development and long-term stability.”
The Party boss in Tibet reiterated Xi’s often-repeated slogan “for governing the country, one must rule Tibet and to rule Tibet, one must look at the border first".
Wu reminded the journalists that Xi himself presided over the Sixth Central Tibet Work Forum and “delivered an important speech, clarifying the guiding ideology, objectives, tasks, important principles and focus of Tibet's work in the new era.”
Xi is said to have formulated “a series of special preferential policies, planned and implemented a large number of key projects, and raised the important strategic position of Tibet's Work in the overall work of the party and the state to an unprecedented height …and injected a strong momentum.”
Wu Yingjie praised Xi Dada again and again: under the strong leadership of the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core, “we adhere to the guidance of Xi Jinping's new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics and carry out the Communist Party's 18th and 19th National Congress and the 6th Central Tibet Work Forum.”
He spoke of Xi Jinping's important discourse [I presume all the speeches of Xi are important!!] “on the regulation of borders, upholding and improving the system of regional ethnic autonomy, strengthening the ‘Four Consciousnesses’, strengthening the ‘Four Self-Confidences’, and achieving ‘Two Maintenances’.
It is doubtful if the journalists present understood what he was saying, but it was not the purpose of the press conference.
Under the leadership of Comrade Xi, “Tibet should firmly grasp the correct political direction, resolutely safeguard the motherland's reunification and national security, continue to promote economic and social development, focus on improving people's livelihood, unite people's hearts, focus on building beautiful Tibet, do a good job in ethnic and religious work, comprehensively strengthen and improve the Communist Party leadership, and rely on all ethnic groups.”
Wu further asserted that the cadres and the masses “have promoted the prosperous and comprehensive progress of all undertakings, and achieved historic achievements and historic changes.”
In other words, under the guidance of Xi Dada, Tibet has become: “a society with prosperous economy, harmonious society, good ecology, national unity, religious harmony, consolidation of frontiers, strengthening party building, and people's happiness.”
That is a new Tibet that Xi will visiting.
In these circumstances, why China is so shy to open its borders with India and allow fact-finding delegations from Dharamsala to visit Tibet, like Deng Xiaoping did in 1979/80?
And let the Dalai Lama visit his now-happy native land!
But the reality is probably different from the propaganda.

Here is an extract from one of my book ('Tibet: The Lost Frontier')

The Expulsion of the Chinese from Tibet
On July 8, 1949, Chen, the acting head of the Chinese mission in Lhasa, was called by the Kashag and informed that he and his staff as well as all Chinese working in schools and hospitals had to leave Tibet. The pretext was that the Chinese Mission no longer had any relations with the Nationalist Government and was not accredited with the new government. In fact, the Tibetan Government was afraid that some (if not all) members of the Chinese mission in Lhasa would switch over to the new Communist regime in Beijing ‘for bread and butter’, as Richardson put it. The Chinese were swiftly expelled by the Tibetan Government and their bank accounts were frozen in India on the request of the Tibetan Government.
The remarkable feature of the expulsion order was that this secret had not leaked out of the Kashag Office. It was a record of sorts for a small village like Lhasa.
The Indian Mission was later informed about the fait accompli. “It was a complete surprise for the Indian Mission” Richardson commented later.
However the Chinese were expelled with courtesy and a band accompanied them until they were outside of Lhasa.
The cable that Nehru sent to the Political Officer in Sikkim demonstrates the position of the Government of India vis-à-vis Tibet in 1949 and makes interesting reading:
2- …Their wholesale expulsion will naturally be regarded as an anti-Chinese rather than anti-Communist move. And the Government of India, by letting them into India without any travel papers in contravention of all passport regulations, will be regarded as privy to this move.
3. We can however understand the desire of the Tibetan Government to get rid of persons suspected of subversive tendencies and officials sympathizing with them. From the Tibetan Government's own point of view it would seem better for Tibetans to expel these suspects rather than all Chinese officials in Lhasa.
Nehru was ready to help to a certain extent when he informed the Political Officer in Sikkim that “there are many difficulties in the way of the Government of India receiving and looking after these suspects. Nevertheless, in view of our friendly relations with the Tibetan Government, we are considering the possibility of giving them passage. We would be gravely embarrassed if they stayed in India.”
He concluded by suggesting: "The Tibetan Government are the best judges of their own interests but to us it would seem unwise on their part to take any steps which in effect mean the forced discontinuance of the Chinese Mission in Lhasa."
It is clear that a few months before the Fateful Year, the Government of India, “in view of [its] friendly relations with the Tibetan Government”, was ready to help Lhasa with its security concerns. Not only did Delhi treat Tibet as an independent entity, but the Government of India accepted that they were the best judge of their problems.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

China readies for Next Dalai Lama

China objects to the Dalai Lama's birthday being celebrated in Ladakh
My article China readies for Next Dalai Lama appeared in Mail Today and DailyO

Here is the link...

The Dalai Lama’s answers about his succession often make the headlines; in some cases, his words were even misinterpreted. But, on August 18, a video addressed to members of the Minnesota Tibetan Association which received a wide circulation on social media, brought joy to his followers; the Nobel-laureate said that he was presently in the best of health and would live to be 110 years old.
Concerns were raised about his health in April, when the 84-old leader was flown from Dharamsala to Delhi where he was admitted to a private hospital for a serious chest infection.

Fears allayed

In his talks with the American Tibetans, he recalled a dream in which Goddess Palden Lhamo, the special protector deity of Tibet, while riding on his back, proclaimed that he would live for 110 years. "Tibetans have not forgotten me, and I will not forget you," asserted the Dalai Lama.
At the same time, on the other side of the Himalaya, the Chinese are actively planning for the return of his reincarnation.
The Global Times, the mouthpiece of the atheist Communist Party, recently reported that some 100 Tibetan Buddhist monks attended “a training session on reincarnation for a living Buddha in Tibet Autonomous Region, which includes government regulation on management of the reincarnation system, and was hailed by Chinese experts and officials as a necessary method to maintain religious harmony in the region.”
‘Living Buddha’ is a term invented by China to designate the tulkus, the Lamas who consciously return to this world to continue what they have not achieved in their previous life; Beijing appears busy making preparation to appoint its own 15th Dalai Lama.
According to The Global Times, the training session which was organized by the Institute of Socialism in Tibet, the Tibet Buddhist Association and regional authorities, covers the history and rituals for the reincarnation of Living Buddhas. The course lasted some 10 days; at the end of it, the newly-educated monks were received by Wu Yingjie, the Party boss in Lhasa.
Sonam Rinchin, a deputy secretary of the regional Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, explained that the reincarnation system was "never a religious-only issue or a living Buddha's personal right" but an important representation of the Communist Party of China's strategies and policies in the region. It meant that for Beijing, it is a Party affair, to be decided by the Communist leadership.
The "Management measures for the reincarnation of living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism" were notified on July 13, 2007.
Article 1 spoke of “protecting religious concord and social harmony, and protecting the normal order of Tibetan Buddhism.”
It asserted that: “Reincarnating living Buddhas should respect the religious rituals and historically established systems of Tibetan Buddhism,” insisting on an old ritual rarely used, the Golden Urn which can easily be manipulated, …further “Reincarnating living Buddhas shall not be interfered with or be under the dominion of any foreign organization or individual.”
This is practically a ban on the Dalai Lama to return from India.

Chine eyes succession
Pema Lhamo, head of the South Asia Institute of the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences explained that holding such a training session helped the process of reincarnation, “written in government regulations and embedded in Tibetan Buddhism …to be carried out properly and not affected by any individual or the Dalai Lama's separatist clique.”
China wants a reincarnation of the Dalai Lama without Dalai Lama’s involvement!
But the Chinese preparations are not limited to ‘convert’ a few monks to a ‘socialist’ Buddhism, the Chinese-selected Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu has been conducting an extensive 'inspection tour' on the Tibetan plateau, including a village bordering Ladakh, trying to assert himself as the heir apparent to the Dalai Lama.
Norbu toured areas such as Purang (near the trijunction Nepal-Tibet-India), Mt Kailash, Manasarovar lake, the monasteries in Tholing, Ngari town, Rutok, the Panggong Lake (of The Three Idiots’ fame on the Indian shores) and even a village on the Indian border; all these areas are close to the Indian border.

Norbu's Border Tour
The Chinese media extensively covered his three-week long visit.
China Tibet Online reported that on July 26, Gyalsten Norbu traveled to Jaggang village in Rutok County “for survey and research”; he paid a visit to two Tibetan families. 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 Chiakang and situated close to Demchok in Ladakh.
It is the first time, that such a ‘senior’ religious leader, goes himself the Indian border, which China claims as ‘disputed’.
Norbu's visit was probably a message to Delhi and Dharamsala; Beijing is doing its homework on the ‘succession' of the Dalai Lama. For at least the next twenty years, Norbu will be the face of Tibetan Buddhism in China, which seemed decided to fully play the Gyaltsen Norbu card against the Dalai Lama.
Even if China selects its own Dalai Lama (with the help of Norbu), the latter will continue to ‘rule’ on behalf of the Communist Party for decades (provided, the Communist Dynasty lasts that long).
Incidentally, Norbu also visited a Nyingma (old school) monastery (Tirthapuri Gompa near Mt Kailash). This shows that China plans to use him as ecumenical leader, not just a Lama of the Geluk School of Tibetan Buddhism.
China is clearly putting people and systems in place for the succession of the Dalai Lama.
One can hope that that Palden Lhamo’s prediction is right and the Dalai Lama will continue to live a healthy life for many years. It is important for Tibet, but for India too, particularly for the Himalayan region where he brings a great harmony, stability and a refreshing presence.

Monday, September 9, 2019

The legend who inspired 3 Idiots

My interview The legend who inspired 3 Idiots appeared in

Magsaysay Award winner and teacher extraordinaire Sonam Wangchuk tells Claude Arpi about his journey, his fights, his hopes and how he became an inspiration for the Bollywood blockbuster.
A Teacher's Day Special.

Here is the link...

Ladakh has recently been in the news after the government decided to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution and create a Union Territory for Ladakh.
This seems to have rattled Beijing no end.
Today Ladakh is euphoric; its 70-year-old demand has finally been fulfilled by Delhi.
Over the last decades, while waiting for the Great Day, some individuals have slowly changed the face of the region. One of the most prominent among them is Sonam Wangchuk (not to be mixed with his homonym, the Maha Vir Chakra awardee).
In 2018, Sonam was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award, an annual award established 'to perpetuate former Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay's integrity in governance, courageous service to the people, and pragmatic idealism within a democratic society'.
Over the years, Sonam has been instrumental in changing the education scene and bringing a deeper environmental consciousness in the mountainous region.
Sonam's lastest project is in higher education; he is in the process of setting up the Himalayan Institute of Alternatives, Ladakh (HIAL).
The project will be unique in several ways.
First, it will deal with the issues of the mountain context. Secondly, the university will combine academics with entrepreneurship in which the students will learn by doing and will be earning as they learn.

The two legendary Sonams. Left: Magsaysay Award winner Sonam Wangchuk
right: Colonel Sonam Wangchuk (retd), Mahavir Chakra,
'The Lion of Ladakh' (photo: Abha Tewari)

Claude Arpi: Sonam, you are wearing different hats; you are an educationalist, an environmentalist, a social reformer, a Magsaysay Awardee. Tell us how your adventure started.

Sonam Wangchuk: My journey has mainly been driven by empathy towards people who I thought were suffering.
When I started my engineering, I had to support my education expenses; I was then studying in what is now the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar.
As I had to finance my education, I decided to teach students.
Not that I did not have any other skills, but I loved teaching students, sharing with them my knowledge in sciences, maths or languages.
So during vacations, I started teaching students in Ladakh.
It is where I learnt about the current educational system.
At the beginning, my main purpose was to finance myself; in a way, I did it too well.
I thought that I would need one year to finance my studies, but it was so successful that in just two months I made enough money to finance my three years in Srinagar by teaching a number of Ladakhis.
This experience changed my life.
Firstly because I earned so much money, I got rid of my craze for money.
I thought that money could be made any time, if required.
I also realised that there were more important things to do than make money.
It was a blessing for me, because most young people, especially engineers at that age, are crazy about money.
Luckily, I got relieved of (this craving).
The second thing that I realise was that there was a challenge, right in front of me: the students that I taught during this winter were very bright, they could understand everything, and yet 95% of these students failed in their exams.

Claude Arpi: Why was the level of education so low?

Sonam Wangchuk: Degrees were like your passport for higher education and still 95% of the students regularly failed.
At that time, everybody would blame the students, whether it was the teachers, the parents or the bureaucracy.
I immediately realised that it was not the fault of the students, there was nothing wrong with them; in fact, they were really eager to learn.
There was something wrong with the system.
In a mountainous place like Ladakh, the text books were in Urdu.
The mother tongue was completely disregarded; after 8 years of teachings in Urdu, they would switch to English.

Claude Arpi: Do you mean to say that Ladakhi language was never taught.

Sonam Wangchuk: Yes, no Ladakhi language.
Another problem was that the teachers were totally untrained and text-books were completely irrelevant to the region.

Claude Arpi: The text books were the same as used in the Kashmir Valley?

Sonam Wangchuk: Yes, books were about tigers, elephants, there was nothing about snow leopards or apricots.
The children did not relate to them; so, I discovered that it was the system which had failed.

Claude Arpi: That was the seed for SECMOL (The Students Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh).

Sonam Wangchuk: Yes, though trained as an engineer, I shifted to education as I realized that the system needed to be changed; I saw so many of the bright minds caged.
Empathy for the students drove me to try to reform the system.

Claude Arpi: Did you face a lot of hurdles, obstacles from the administration, the establishment in general?

Sonam Wangchuk: Though we should have, initially I did not.
We used a strategic approach.
I found like-minded people and we started SECMOL.
We knew that as 21-year-old youth we could not go to the office of the commissioner or to a minister and tell them 'your system is not working'.
They would have just said: 'Get lost!'

Claude Arpi: At that time there was no Ladakh Hill Council representing the Ladakhis?

Sonam Wangchuk: Yes, it was before the creation of the LAHDC.
Initially, we started SECMOL in 1989, we were so naïve that we just tried to help the students to pass their exams, we were just teaching maths and sciences.
But soon we realized that it was not the solution, we could teach maths and sciences for 50 years, it was just repairing a broken system again and again.
Then we saw that the root of the problem should be addressed, that is the rural, the village schools.
It is where the foundations were built and these foundations were weak.
We had to work with the government to bring about changes in primarily schools.

Claude Arpi: You had to work with the government in Srinagar?

Sonam Wangchuk: No, we just said: 'let us work in one school'.
We thought that if we show some results in one school, we could advocate some larger changes.
We couldn't just say that we will perform miracles.
We chose a school called Saskpol; it was the first prototype where we experimented; we changed what is taught, the way it was taught, we trained the teachers and organized the villagers.
When this worked, we went to the government.
Luckily at that time, there was governor's rule.
More sense usually prevails during governor's rule in J&K in terms of devolution, at least for Ladakh.
The advisor to the governor who came to see our work was very impressed and he adopted our text books for government schools.
This text book is still used today.
It is how the movement for education reforms started.

Claude Arpi: Tell us about 3 Idiots. How did you become an inspiration for one of the legendary roles in a Bollywood film?

Sonam Wangchuk: Well, it is a very interesting story.
You asked me if we got problems from the establishment; I said initially not.
After a few years, our program became very very popular; it was a household name in every village in Ladakh.
Everyone was talking of Education, Education, Education.
We helped the Ladakh Hill Council to do well in the education field.
It was good, but the politicians got insecure; they thought: 'We are supposed to be the leaders, these people (SECMOL) are more popular than us.'
Similarly the bureaucrats became very upset; newspapers were writing too much about us.
They felt that we had become the masters of the government schools.
They were more jealous of our popularity.
At a point in time, they came together and gave us a hard time to the extent that I branded as anti-national with Chinese connections.
One district commissioner accused me to be anti-national.
Their idea was to scare me and get me to my knees, and that I will fall in line.
But I am not of this material.
I stood against them, I took the bull by the horns; I went to court against the government; I also went to the media about the high-handedness of the bureaucracy.
I called a press conference in Jammu to show the attitude of the bureaucrats.
I refused to just submit; I took up arms.
The press conference was attended by many media persons.
Some got interested in our work.
The correspondent of CNN-IBN studied my work and a few months later, I was chosen for their 'Real Hero Award'.
On one hand, it was alleged that I was an anti-national element with connections with China, and on the other, I received the Real Hero Award.
It was in 2008.
I went to Delhi to collect the award; there was a big function in Delhi where I met Aamir Khan.
We talked, he asked me about my work, my background; he saw the documentary that the channel had made about me, it was about an engineer who had gone to Ladakh to change the education system.
But about the film (3 Idiots) it was never disclosed to me.
I had just shared some interesting ideas with Aamir Khan.
One was about the Siachen glacier, where we spend one million dollar a day for a piece of ice; I suggested that the people on both sides of the glacier, in Nubra and Baltistan, should come on the road and stop both armies to get in that zone, they may get upset initially, but they would realize that it was a man-made issue; one side is there because the other side is there.
People from both the regions could defuse the issue and part of the money spent on the glacier could be used for education of the children who are living in pathetic conditions.
I told Aamir Khan, can you inspire people by doing a film on that.
We exchanged such ideas and a few months later, I left to France to study architecture.
One year later, I suddenly got many e-mails and phone calls, people saying the film about you is super, great, etc.
I had no idea.
It was not a biopic.
They just used my story as an inspiration and changed the script which they have been working on.

Claude Arpi: How did you shift from being an educationist to an environmentalist?

Sonam Wangchuk: It was not a shift.
I believe that today, education should be mostly about environment.
Education is about solving people's problems.
Environment is today the biggest problem in the world.
Not only here in Ladakh, but everywhere in the world; our education system shouldn't be centered on consumption ad production, which caused the present mess.
It should about solving the mess.
Education is a great medium to prepare young people to deal these problems.

Claude Arpi: In Ladakh, tourism has developed extremely fast.
In one way it is good as it brings good revenue to many, but it also endangers the environment.
What is the way out of this dichotomy?

Sonam Wangchuk: Tourism itself is not the main problem.
The main problem is management of tourism, we have really mismanaged it.
What is happening today in the name of tourism in Ladakh?
Three lakhs of people descend on an area of 5 sq km, i.e. Leh in a 5 month-time.
That is a very concentrated dose for any place!
It is where the problem starts, such a large number of people, in such a small area, in such a short time.
My solution is to spread it out and increase the carrying capacity both of space and time.
In space means out of Leh, in rural areas, so that rural people do not have to come in Leh to benefit from tourism.
Make home-stay, farm-stay in rural villages, make these places more attractive for the young people to live.
Tourism benefits should come to the doorsteps of rural Ladakh; they can sell their milk, handicrafts etc, to visitors from all-over the world; people should not be uprooted to the cities.

Claude Arpi: Do you have large scale migration in Ladakh like in Uttarakhand?

Sonam Wangchuk: It is different.
In Uttarakhand, they migrate out of the State, here they come to Leh, they remain within Ladakh.
It is slightly better, but not good.
Leh is exploding being over-populated, in the villages it is the opposite, it is an implosion.
We should spread tourism in geography (space).
Make the villages in Kargil, Zanskar, etc attractive for the young Ladakhis to live.
Supplement agriculture with tourism in the villages.
Then in time, spread tourism through the whole year, don't make it a toxic concentration during five months.
Promote winter tourism, ice tourism, ice sports, ice art, many things are possible; Spring tourism about apricots blossoming, wild roses etc.; then Autumn tourism, all year round there should be a moderate number of tourists.
Not only in Leh, but all-over Ladakh, then it won't be such a problem.
It will be good to the people; remote areas will benefit from it too; it is what I call a better management.

Claude Arpi: How did the Magsaysay Award change your life?

Sonam Wangchuk: I never thought much about awards.
There are good aspects and bad ones.
On one hand it gives you recognition, on the other hand, people who also had worked hard, are left out.
On the positive side, the Magsaysay Award is highly respected in our country, it opens many doors.
It makes things less difficult to deal with the government.
You don't have to spend so much time convincing people of a good idea, with this recognition.
It is also a great responsibility.
One should not misuse it.

Claude Arpi: A word about your ice stupas.

Sonam Wangchuk: It is an effort of the mountain people to not give up, when faced with climate change.
It is still at an early stage of development, it is not at the stage of solving problems, but it has great promises.
Apart from being an attempt to solve the water issue, it is also the symbol of an SOS from the people of the Himalaya.
It is not something we want to brag about, but it is something that we are forced to do.
We have to do our own glaciers, because the life-style in big cities is melting our glaciers.
It is a message to the people in the big cities: 'If you live simply in the big cities, we will live better in our mountains! In the cities, you have to be caring about other people. We are the first victims of your behavour, but it will soon catch up with you too.'

Claude Arpi: A last question about, about the strategic location of Ladakh, with two neighbours, Pakistan and China, at your doorstep. Do you think that opening the borders could help?

Sonam Wangchuk: There are small border disputes for few kilometres here and there; it should become smaller and hopefully completely go one day.
The countries involved should settle for something mutually agreed and then remove the military build-up.

What I want to say to the world is that India and China fighting with each other is like two neighbours fighting when an avalanche is coming.
The environmental threat is so big for both sides, that instead of getting involved in conventional disputes (and this is valid for all countries of the world), the two countries should spend their budget for mitigating, if not stopping, the effects of climate change.
We all have to work towards solving climate change.

It is the challenge of the 21st century.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

India and France: Enduring, reliable partners

My article India and France: Enduring, reliable partners appeared in The Asian Age and The Deccan Chronicle.

Here is the link...

India undoubtedly needs all its energies, resources and friends to fight on these two separate fronts.

L’Affaire Rafale had been in news in the national press for months thanks to the then leader of Opposition, who alleged hanky-panky in the intergovernmental deal signed between India and France for acquiring 36 off-the-shelf Rafale multi-role fighter planes.
Of course, l’Affaire was just an electoral plank, with no connection with the reality of the deal itself. As a result, since May, nothing further was heard about the French jet; now the flagship of Dassault Aviation, Safran and Thales is back in the media; this time for the good reason.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and the Chief of the Air Staff, BS Dhanoa will receive the first plane on September 20 at Dassault’s factory in France. The first four planes will however arrive in India only in May 2020. The other jets will then follow in quick succession.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) has already started training 24 pilots in three different batches to fly the Indian custom-made combat aircrafts, which will be deployed (one squadron each) at Ambala airbase in Haryana and Hashimara in Bengal.
The news was released as Prime Minister Narendra Modi left for a State visit to France (and to attend the G7 meet in Biarritz in South France, where he was Macron’s special invitee).
It came at a time when India faced a difficult time on the international scene, with two of her neighbours, clubbing their forces to internationalize the Kashmir issue. China distastefully decided to support Pakistan ojcetions to the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which has surprised many.
India undoubtedly needs all her energies, resources and friends to face these two separate fronts.
Let us not forget that during a recent press conference at the United Nations, Zhang Jun, China’s Permanent Representative to the UN, said, without any legal basis, that India had changed the status quo in Kashmir, causing tensions in the region; Zhang argued that India had challenged China's sovereignty interests: “such [action] by India is not valid in relation to China, and will not change China's exercise of sovereignty and effective administrative jurisdiction over the relevant territory." He obviously meant that Beijing claims some sovereign rights over Ladakh.
In these circumstances, India needs all her trusted partners and France has traditionally been one of them.
France was the first country to torpedo the Chinese initiative to get a statement on the abrogation of Article 370 from the Security Council; further on August 21, Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs phoned his Pakistan counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi and told him that for France, Kashmir was a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. Le Drian pleaded for restraint, de-escalation and easing the situation: “It is essential to abstain from any measure likely to aggravate tensions.”
The message was clear.
In a statement before his departure for France, the Indian Prime Minister had observed: “My visit to France reflects the strong strategic partnership, which our two countries deeply value, and share.”
France has a long relation with India particularly in the domain of defence.
In the early 1950s’ India had purchased 71 Ouragans (known in India as Toofanis) from the same Dassault company; HS Malik, India's Ambassador to France wrote to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in October 1953: “All of us in the Embassy who have been working on the implantation of the contract with the Defence Ministry here for the supply of Ouragan aircraft were greatly relieved and delighted when we got the news that our four pilots with the four Ouragans had reached Palam safely.” He continued: “I venture to bring to your notice the wonderful cooperation that we have received both from the French officers of the Ministry of Defence, from the Cabinet Minister downwards, and from the French industry.”
Ultimately, India has very few reliable stable friends. After the meeting Modi-Macron, the joint statement noted that the “traditional relationship is enduring, trustworthy, like-minded, and all-encompassing. India- France relations are marked by mutual trust between two strategic partners who have always stood by each other.”
These characteristics do not apply to the all countries; after China tried to bring the Kashmir issue to the UN, US President tweeted: “Spoke to my two good friends, Prime Minister Modi of India, and Prime Minister Khan of Pakistan, regarding Trade, Strategic Partnerships and, most importantly, for India and Pakistan to work towards reducing tensions in Kashmir. A tough situation, but good conversations!” The US President still wanted to ‘mediate’ (he finally dropped his project after meeting Modi in Biarritz).
Symptomatic of the close relations, India and France finalized a closer cooperation in digital and cyber security domain: “the two leaders have adopted a cybersecurity and digital technology road map aimed at expanding Indo-French bilateral cooperation, particularly in the strategic sectors of high performance computing and Artificial Intelligence, with the target of bringing our start-up ecosystems closer to each other,” said the joint statement.
Both nations have been left far behind China and it is high time that India collaborates with friendly countries in this domain, which will determine the superpowers of tomorrow.
Modi's visit further strengthened the strategic ties in crucial sectors such as defence, nuclear energy and maritime security, and deepen the bilateral cooperation to check flow of funds for terror activities. The collaboration with France in the Indian Ocean is particularly important.
Several articles of the joint statement were consecrated to terrorism and groups operating in Pakistan, such as Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizbul Mujahideen or Lashkar-e-Tayabba were named.
Apart from defence and new fields in IT, the talks touched upon key areas such as nuclear energy, space International Solar Alliance, and joint development projects.
France, like India needs a reliable partners; Paris has also been at the receiving end of the US President’s tweets. Upset by the fact that France had decided to tax the multinationals operating from its territory, Trump shot off one of his famous messages: “France just put a digital tax on our great American technology companies. We will announce a substantial reciprocal action on Macron’s foolishness shortly. I’ve always said American wine is better than French wine!” Though Trump seemed in a conciliatory mood at the G7 Meet in Biarritz, the moody president can hardly been categorized as a dependable partner.
The follow-up of the Modi-Macron discussions by Ajit Doval, the National Security Advisor and Emmanuel Bonne, his French counterpart was crucial. The two officials have picked up the issues from where they had been left by their leaders, to give the strategic partnership a concrete shape.
According to The Financial Times, they focused on future military acquisition and manufacturing of defence equipment under the ‘Make in India’ transfer of technology. Paris has apparently offered two more squadrons (36) of Rafale aircrafts for the IAF as well as more `Scorpene’ submarine under Project 75 for the Indian Navy. This could give a boost to India’s defence preparedness and send a message across the border(s).
In a world in turmoil, France has been and indeed is an enduring partner for India.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Real Consequence

My article The Real Consequence appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer.

Here is the link...

The abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution has triggered a lot of typing on the keyboards of the Indian as well as the foreign journalists. Most of the scribes were ill-informed about the legality of the issue, but generally the Indian press dealt with the subject more decently, taking into consideration the situation on the ground, including Ladakh where the ‘liberation’ of the mountainous division was celebrated as in Jammu too; it also mentioned the tragic fate of the Kashmiri Pandits, how the Article fuelled terrorist acts, which for decades have plagued the Valley. Even the Supreme Court, who sometime does not mind stepping in the role of the executive, has handled the issue with restrain and care in the higher interests of the population concerned.
It has not been the case of the foreign press, which has once more shown not only its partisanship, its often-violently ‘anti-Modi’ bias (they hate the ‘Modi’ phenomenon which eludes their understanding), but also its abysmal ignorance of the historical background of the Kashmir issue.
Take the example of the French press: following the August 5 decision, it is difficult to say that it was the worst, because the British and the American were really bad too (particularly the BBC). In their offices beyond the seas, editorialists are stuck in their old clichés, they love to portray Modi’s India as having only one objective: to massacre as many Muslims as possible. Due to sheer ‘white’ arrogance, most of these ‘grand reporters’ do not need to study the issue before writing on it, as ‘they know’.
After the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to UAE, one French publication even wrote: “Modi has managed to escape the Muslim ire …for now”.
The Chinese factor and their indecent claims over Ladakh have also been brushed aside; the Buddhists of Ladakh and the Pandits are not worth a word. It is ironic that at the same time, the Indo-French bilateral relations have been blossoming (but journalists will probably say, “Modi has bought Macron on his side by promising to buy a few Rafales more”).
Who is responsible for this constant misinformation or disinformation?
As I said, it is not possible to change the ideological slant of the press (foreign or French), so one should let it be.
Where the Government of India failed is that it should have ‘educated’ the press by giving a full historical briefing on all the facets of the issue.
One problem is that the Ministry of External affairs functions today without a Historical Division, (in the 1990s, some smart mandarins thought they knew everything and that a division was not required); before the announcement, South Block should have prepared a “background note on the Kashmir issue and the history of the temporary Article 370 of Indian Constitution”, but nobody had probably time for such niceties.
Foreign embassies could have given this note and in turn informed their ‘all-knowing’ press; it is part of the bilateral relations, no?
The foreign press could have been told: “you are free to use the briefing, and check the facts, if you want.” One of the problems is the sacrosanct ‘freedom of the press’ which allows anybody to write anything!
These who object to this are ‘fascists’.
Now what are the facts?
A few years ago, I came across a Top Secret note entitled “Background to the Kashmir Issue: Facts of the case”, written in the early 1950s, in the Nehru Papers (the JN Collections at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library). It makes fascinating reading. It starts by a historical dateline: “Invasion of the State by tribesmen and Pakistan nationals through or from Pakistan territory on October 20, 1947; ruler’s offer of accession of the State to India supported by the National Conference, a predominantly Muslim though non-communal political organization, on October 26, 1947; acceptance of accession by the British Governor-General of India on October 27, 1947, under this accession, the State became an integral part of India; expression of a wish by Lord Mountbatten in a separate letter to the Ruler the fulfillment of which was to take place at a future date when law and order had been restored and the soil of the State cleared of the invader, the people of the State were given the right to decide whether they should remain in India or not.”
Then the note mentioned “[the] invasion of the State by Pakistan Regular Forces on May 8, 1948, in contravention of international law. One of the grounds for this military operation, as disclosed by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister himself, was a recommendation of the Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan that an easy victory for the Indian Army was almost certain to arouse the anger of the invading tribesmen against Pakistan.”
Pakistan was not interested in the plebiscite, further they wanted to grab …Buddhist Ladakh too. At some other point, the note observed “Pakistan, not content with assisting the invader, has itself become an invader and its army is still occupying a large part of the soil of Kashmir, thus committing a continuing breach of international law.”
This was noticed by Sir Owen Dixon, the UN Representative.
Pakistani politicians (and others) often quote the UN Resolutions; very few have read them. Has Imran Khan ever looked at them? I bet not.
Following the ceasefire of January 1, 1949, the military representatives of India and Pakistan met in Karachi between July 18 and 27, 1949, under the auspices of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan. Before leaving for Karachi, the delegates had a briefing from Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai, the Secretary General of the MEA, who explained the legal position in detail to the delegates. He told them that the resolution of August 13, 1948 "had conceded the legality of Kashmir's accession to India and as such no man's land, if any, should be controlled by India during the period of ceasefire and truce.” Thus, the Line of Cease Fire (now LOC) was drawn and accepted by Pakistan on this principle.
Who remembers the August 1948 Resolution today?
Similarly for Article 370, the temporary background should have been explained, particularly how it deprived Jammu and Ladakh of their administrative freedom, how it helped fuel terrorism from across the LOC; how gender-biased it was. This should be been done. It would not have removed the bias of the foreign ‘secular’ press, but they could not have said they did not know.

The Historical Note mentioned in the article. can be downloaded here.