Sunday, March 31, 2024

From Tibet To India: Looking Back At Dalai Lama’s Journey

The program of Nitin Gokhale ('Simply Nitin') of StatNewsGlobal quotes me.
Here is the Video...

It was this week sixty-five years ago that will remain etched in the minds of Tibetans as a watershed. On March 31, 1959, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, entered India to seek refuge. It was a particularly troublesome month for the Tibetan administration when Chinese troops marched into Tibet and took control. The Dalai Lama was barely 23 then and there was a sense that he could be arrested by PLA troops.

On March 17, 1959, the Dalai Lama, his family members and some of his close associates left the Potala Palace in Lhasa. They travelled south towards the McMahon Line (which separates Tibet from India) and the destination was India, the North East Frontier Agency or NEFA (which is now Arunachal Pradesh).

The Dalai Lama was dressed as an ordinary Chinese soldier. The journey took about a fortnight, through inhospitable terrain and mountain passes. They also had to watch out whether Chinese soldiers were on their trail.

In one of his blogs, noted Tibetologist and author Claude Arpi gives a vivid description of what followed.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Dalai Lama's arrival in Tawang: 65 years on, India-China ties remain complex and chaotic

My article
Dalai Lama's arrival in Tawang: 65 years on, India-China ties remain complex and chaotic appeared in Firstpost...

The Dalai Lama’s escape to Tawang in 1959 not only marked a significant turning point in India-China relations but also highlighted the enduring struggle for Tibetan autonomy amid shifting regional dynamics 

Here is the link...

Sixty-five years ago, momentous events took place on the Tibetan plateau; they had incalculable and incredible consequences for India, which until then had peaceful northern borders.
On 31 March, 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet crossed the Indian border at Khenzimane on the riverbank of the Namjiang Chu (river) in the Tawang sector of today’s Arunachal Pradesh.
A few days earlier, camping in Lhuntse Dzong in Southern Tibet, the Tibetan leader had sent a cable to the Indian prime minister. The Dalai Lama who had just denounced the 17-Point Agreement signed under duress in Beijing in May 1951, said: “The Government of Tibet have tried their best to maintain good relations with China but the Chinese have been trying to take away powers from the Tibetan Government and in some areas they are making preparations for war. On March 17, 1959 at 4 pm the Chinese fired two shells in the direction of my residence. They could not do much damage. [But] as our lives were in danger, I and some of my trusted [people] manage to escape the same evening at 10 pm.”
On 27 March, TS Murty, the Assistant Political Officer in Tawang received instructions about the possibility of the Dalai Lama seeking entry into India. He was immediately asked to proceed towards the border to receive the dignitary and escort him to Tawang, Bomdila and Tezpur.
An archive document from the Government of India stated: “Expecting that some such development might occur, we had instructed the various check-posts there what to do. So, when the Dalai Lama crossed over into our territory, he was received by our Assistant Political Officer of the Tawang Sub-Division. …A little later, the rest of his entourage came in. The total numbers who have come with him or after him is 80.” More than 85,000 Tibetans would come to India during the following years.

Dalai Lama arrives in India
On 31 March at 9 am, Murty reached Chuthangmu, where a detachment of the 5th Battalion of the Assam Rifles was posted. The Dalai Lama’s advance party under a junior officer had already reached the post two days earlier. Murty was told that the main party consisting of the Dalai Lama, his family, ministers and tutors was expected to enter India at 2 pm the same day.
Murty communicated to Bomdila and Shillong (seat of the Governor of Assam) that there was no sign of the Chinese pursuit.
After planting his walking stick (which since then has become a beautiful tree and is known by the locals as the ‘Holy Tree’) on the frontier at Khenzimane, the Dalai Lama proceeded to Chuthangmu check-post where Murty handed over to him the Indian prime minister’s message. The Tibetan leader was immediately treated by India as an ‘honoured guest’ and for the past 65 years, he has remained so.
This would have important consequences for India. Soon after, the first clashes took place with the Chinese on the border (the first serious skirmish happened in Longju in Subansiri sector on 25 August, 1959). It was undoubtedly for the warm welcome given to the Tibetan leader.

Today’s Chinese claims
Recently, Beijing has again started claiming the area (corresponding to the state of Arunachal Pradesh) as its own. However, it is worth noting that when the Dalai Lama and his entourage entered India at Khenzimane in 1959, the Chinese government did not protest about the location of the border or even claim that Tawang was ‘Southern Tibet’ (the term used today by Beijing to define Tawang).
They knew perfectly well that the Tibetan leader had taken refuge in Indian territory. Strangely, Beijing is today insisting that Tawang district is part of the People’s Republic of China, but it is clearly an afterthought.
Had Beijing already believed that Tawang area was part of the Chinese territory in 1959, the Chinese troops would have followed the Dalai Lama and his entourage into this area and stopped him from moving to Assam.
The Dalai Lama also clearly mentions in his autobiography that Chuthangmu was the border where he was received by a detachment of the Assam Riffles. He wrote: “I would like to state how the Government of India’s officers posted there had spared no efforts in making my stay and journey through this extremely well administered part of India as comfort-able as possible.”

Events of March 1959
The Tibetan leader’s arrival in India was the culmination of the events of March 1959 in Tibet. It included the popular uprising on 10 March. The escape of the Dalai Lama from Lhasa on the night of 17 March, the massacre of the Tibetan population during the following days and finally the so-called ‘emancipation’ (or ‘liberation’) of the Tibetans by the Communists.
In his ‘Report for the months of March, April and May 1959’ sent to the Ministry of External Affairs, Maj SL Chibber, the Indian Consul General in Lhasa recounted: “In the history of movement for free Tibet, the month of March, 1959, will be most historic …during this month Tibetans high and low, in Lhasa, capital of Tibet, openly challenged the Chinese rule … the might of [the] Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), who on March 20, 1959, started an all-out offensive against the ill-organised, ill-equipped and untrained Tibetans with artillery, mortars, machine guns and all types of automatic weapons, [the protest] was short-lived.”
Chibber continued: “On March 28, 1959, the State Council of the Peoples Republic of China dissolved the local Tibet Government and transferred all its functions and powers to the Preparatory Committee for the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR).”
Another account was given by the Chinese author, Jianglin Li in her book, Tibet in Agony. She used Chinese sources to describe the crackdown in Lhasa. Jianglin wrote: “From March 25 to April 5, the CPC’s Central Committee held an enlarged politburo meeting, and the seventh plenary session of the Eighth Central Committee in Shanghai. Pacification of rebellion in Tibet and relations with India were two of the issues discussed. Wu Lengxi, who was then head of Xinhua news agency and chief editor of The People’s Daily, revealed a glimpse of Mao’s thinking on the China-India relationship in his memoir: ‘Let the Indian Government commit all the wrongs for now. When the time comes, we will settle accounts with them’ [would have said the Great Helmsman].”
The accounts were ‘settled’ three years later (in October 1962) when the 7Th Infantry Brigade was decimated on the slopes of the Thagla ridge.
Since then, Beijing has used its propaganda machinery to paint the dramatic events of 1959 in white when they were black.

Propaganda continues
As recently as 21 March, 2024, China Tibet Network republished an interview of Anna Louise Strong, the author of A Million Serfs Stand Up. She, like Edgar Snow, falls in the category of what Lenin described as the ‘useful idiots’, i.e. foreigners defending all the actions of the Communist Party of China, including during the Cultural Revolution.
In August 1959, she was one the first foreign journalists to arrive in Tibet after the massacre of the Tibetans (prosaically called ‘democratic reform’ by Beijing); she wrote: “The air on the plateau is thin, and the entire nature seems to be soaked in sunlight. Snow peaks, rocks, cliffs, and long sloping pastures all have very bright colors, which are more dazzling than any scenery I have ever seen." She added, “Maybe instead of trusting others, it’s better to go and see for yourself.”
The Chinese website said: “In the next months, she visited Norbulingka, Jokhang Temple, Potala Palace, Drepung Temple, walked into the fields, and walked into the former serfs …She interviewed monks and former serfs, celebrated the Fruit Festival with farmers and herdsmen, and felt the joy of the harvest.” Strong celebrated the Communist ‘emancipation’ of the Tibetans.
Sixty-five years later, Beijing still uses Strong’s propaganda writings to justify their 1959 actions, forgetting that according to Chinese own records, 87,000 Tibetans were killed during these few weeks of March and April 1959, though according to China Tibet Network: “[Strong] did a lot of homework, analyzed the background of democratic reform, and also carefully observed and recorded the situation of democratic reforms in Lhasa, Shannan, Shigatse, Nyingchi and other places, and completed When serfs stood up in Tibet.”

End of a way of life
RS Kapur, another Indian official posted as Indian Trade Agent in Gyantse, wrote in his usually emotionless Annual Report for the Year 1959: “While heart of Tibet was bleeding the free world only made speeches. With the end of the debate on Tibet in the United Nations, Tibetans lost all hopes of their survival, stare at the sky with the blank eyes and ask: Where is God? Where is Buddha? How can world witness such brutal acts on a race that has always wanted to live in peace?”
Kapur added: “Buddha, the Tibetans say, has disappeared from the world; [they] are fast losing hopes of survival of their race. From all appearance Tibet is finished.”
Sixty-five years of a very sad tale indeed. But we have perhaps not seen the end of the story.

Sixty Five Years Ago: The Dalai Lama crosses over to India

An article written five years ago...

At a time when China says that the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama is not his ‘personal decision’, but that he should follow the ‘Communist Party’s instructions’, it is important to remember the momentous event which took place sixty years ago in the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA), today’s Arunachal Pradesh.
On March 31, 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet crossed the Indo-Tibet border at Khenzimane in the NEFA’s Kameng Frontier Division, north of Tawang; a couple of kilometers south, he met a detachment of the Assam Rifles waiting to welcome him at Chuthangmu.
Since then, he has been an honoured guest of India.
Four days earlier, the 24-year-old Tibetan leader had sent a message to Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of India: “Ever since Tibet went under the control of Red China and the Tibetan Government lost its powers in 1951, I, my Government officers and citizens have been trying to maintain peace in Tibet, but the Chinese Government has been gradually subduing the Tibetan Government.
He further stated: “The Tibetans have great love for and faith in Buddhism and their religion is more precious to them than their lives. In order to root out Buddhism, the Chinese published some articles in the press against Lord Buddha’s teachings and circulated them widely. This has created [an] unhappy atmosphere amongst the Tibetans and they have started disliking intensely the Chinese Administration.”
The Dalai Lama told Nehru about the circumstances of his departure: “On March 17 at 4 pm, the Chinese fired two shells in the direction of my residence. They could not do much damage. As our lives were in danger, I and some of my trusted staff managed to escape the same evening at 10 pm.”
The party headed south and reached Lhuntse Dzong, north of the NEFA on March 26, after what has been termed as the Escape of the Century. The Dalai Lama observed: “India and Tibet have had religious relations for thousand years and they are like brothers without any differences;” he then requested Nehru for asylum: “In this critical situation we are entering India via Tsona [last town north of Tawang]. I hope that you will please make necessary arrangements for us in the Indian territory.”
Ever since, India has looked after the Tibetan leader’s welfare.

The Arrival in India
On March 27, TS Murty, the Assistant Political Officer was told to rush from his headquarters in Tawang to the border; on March 31 in the morning, he reached Chuthangmu in time to receive the Tibetan Lama.
The Dalai Lama’s advance party, under a junior officer, had already come two days earlier; they had informed the Assam Rifles that the main group consisted of the Dalai Lama, his family, his two tutors and three ministers; they were expected to enter India soon. Indian officials were also told that there was no sign of a Chinese pursuit; the party only needed more porters once they entered India.
A secret report sent to Delhi observed: “At 1400 hours on March 31, the Dalai Lama and his party reached Kenze Mane [Khenzimane] which demarcates the frontier in Chuthangmu area. His Holiness was riding a yak and was received by the Assistant Political Officer, Tawang. They proceeded to the checkpost without halting at the frontier.”
It was agreed that all porters, who had come from Tibet, would be sent back and that porterage arrangements thereafter would be made by the Government of India; the report continued: “It was also agreed that all pistols and revolvers, except those in possession of the Dalai Lama, his family and ministers (excluding their servants), and all rifles would be handed over to us for safe custody and that these could be collected at the frontier by those members of the body guard who were to return to Tibet after escorting the Dalai Lama to the plains or that alternatively, we would keep that in our custody and obtain disposal orders from the Government.” It is doubtful if the Dalai Lama himself had a pistol.
A reply from the Prime Minister to the Dalai Lama’s message was received through KL Mehta, Advisor to the Government of Assam on April 3: “I received Your Holiness' message only yesterday on my return to Delhi. My colleagues and I welcome you and send you greetings on your safe arrival in India. We shall be happy to afford the necessary facilities for you, your family and entourage to reside in India. The people of India who hold you in great veneration will no doubt accord their traditional respect to your person.”
Sixty years later, the veneration remains.

The Dalai Lama’s account
Let us come back a few days earlier.
In his memoirs, Freedom in Exile, the Dalai Lama narrated his last days in Tibet: “From Lhuntse Dzong we passed to the small village of Jhora and from there to the Karpo pass, the last before the border. Just as we were nearing the highest point of the track we received a bad shock. Out of nowhere, an aeroplane appeared and flew directly overhead. It passed quickly - too quickly for anyone to be able to see what markings it had - but not so fast that the people on board could have missed spotting us. This was not a good sign. If it was Chinese, as it probably was, there was a good chance that they now knew where we were. With this information they could return to attack us from the air, against which we had no protection. Whatever the identity of the aircraft, it was a forceful reminder that I was not safe anywhere in Tibet. Any misgivings I had about going into exile vanished with this realisation: India was our only hope.”
As the party was spending its last night in a small village called Mangmang; it suddenly began to rain: “This was on top of a week of appalling weather, which threw blizzards and snow glare at us by turns as we straggled along. We were all exhausted and it was the last thing that we needed, but it continued torrentially throughout the night,” remembered the Dalai Lama.
Though the young leader was very sick, he decided to move on: “I now had the difficult task of saying goodbye to the soldiers and freedom fighters who had escorted me all the way from Lhasa, and who were now about to turn and face the Chinese. There was one official too who decided to remain. He said that he did not think that he could be of much use in India, therefore it would be better to stay and fight. I really admired his determination and courage.”
It is how the Dalai Lama arrived in India sixty years ago: “After bidding these people a tearful farewell, I was helped on to the broad back of a dzomo, for I was still too ill to ride a horse. And it was on this humble form of transport that I left my native land.”
On the back of a yak!

A Report from the Political Officer
Har Mander Singh, the Political Officer (PO) of the Kameng Frontier Division received the Tibetan leader in Lumla, south of the border, mid-way to Tawang.
Har Mander informed Delhi that after crossing to India, the Dalai Lama had moved south, passed the historical Gorsam Stupa, reached Shakti village the next day and Lumla on April 3.
Here the PO had long discussions with the Tibetan officials and the Dalai Lama: “the [Tibetan] Foreign Minister [Thupten Liushar] briefly recounted the circumstances under which the Dalai Lama was forced to leave Tibet. About the relations between China and Tibet, he said: “…The Government of Tibet was, however, in possession of documents refuting Chinese claim of suzerainty over them and in support of theirs being an independent country.”
Liushar said that the Dalai Lama himself had felt that he should work in harmony with the Chinese: “Indeed during his visit to India [in 1956] he was advised by the Indian Prime Minister himself to cooperate with the Chinese in the interest of his country.”
In spite of the Dalai Lama’s effort to accommodate the Chinese viewpoint, “the Chinese interfere in the religious affairs of the Tibetans... They had desecrated several monasteries in Kham Province and had also killed several incarnate Lamas,” wrote the PO.
The Indian officials were informed how the Dalai Lama had decided to escape via the Southern route as the only Chinese garrison (of about 600) on the way was in Tsethang where the Chinese: “were surrounded by the rebel [guerilla] troops and Tibetan Government forces and could not, therefore, interfere with the movement of the party.”
Before moving on to India, the Dalai Lama had established an exile Government in Lhuntse Dzong.
Later, on the way to India, the Tibetans mentioned the aircraft flying over them near Tsona; it could well have been an Indian airplane from Squadron 106, mentioned by Wing Commander ‘Jaggi’ Nath in a recent interview to
The Tibetan ministers informed the Indian officials that: “The policy of the Chinese was becoming increasingly anti-religious; the masses of Tibet were restive and he was no longer able to make them put up with the Chinese rule; the Chinese had attempted to endanger [the Dalai Lama’s] person; Tibet should be free; his people would fight to win their freedom; he was confident that India’s sympathies are with the Tibetans; the seat of his Government had shifted from Lhasa to Lhuntse Dzong.”
The program of the party was briefly discussed, reported Har Mander Singh: “The Foreign Minister indicated that they might like to stay up to ten days in Tawang. I explained briefly the disadvantages of their prolonged stay in Tawang and said that we could perhaps make them more comfortable in Bomdi La. I made it clear, however that we were prepared to accede to the Dalai Lama’s wishes. The Foreign Minister said that it would be possible to cut down their stay in Tawang to about three days.”
Har Mander Singh assured Liushar that India would provide all facilities for travel beyond Tawang to all persons accompanying the Dalai Lama, but there was danger that stray persons escaping from Tibet may take this opportunity and come in along with the main party. He wanted a full list of persons entering India, as comprehensive and accurate as possible, he said.
During the following weeks, 12,000 refugees would cross the border; the exodus will continue for several years.
The rest is history.

Crossing the border

Assam Rifles Guard of Honour in Tawang
The Dalai Lama's Mother in Bomdila
With PO Har Mander Singh
In Tawang
In Siliguri with PN Menon, former Indian Consul general in Lhasa

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Rahul Sankrityayan’s Tibet connect debunks false Chinese narrative

Mahapandita Rahul Sankritayan and Gedun Choepel
My article Rahul Sankrityayan’s Tibet connect debunks false Chinese narrative appeared in Firstpost

Sankrityayan’s four visits to Tibet are fascinating as they are a vibrant proof of the century-old linkages between India and Tibet—a fact denied by Communist China today—and a proof that Tibet is truly a child of Indian civilisation

Here is the link...

During the annual ‘Two Meetings’ in Beijing, it was announced that China’s defence budget for 2024 would be $231.36 billion, an increase of 7.2 per cent from the previous year (about thrice the size of the Indian defence budget); it is a large increase, especially when one knows that official figures are only a fraction of the actual spending by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, told the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece The Global Times: “By 2027, the Chinese military will have the ability to effectively deal with threats brought by hegemonism and power politics in the western Pacific region, including issues relating to the Taiwan question and the South China Sea, as well as border tensions between China and India.”
It is clear that the increase in the Chinese budget is targeting not only Taiwan, the ‘rebel island’, but also India.
In these circumstances, it is necessary for Delhi to think ‘out of the box’.

One of the many alternatives is to supplement military preparedness with ‘Historical Warfare’; this would not cost much to the exchequer and would help refocus and motivate the defence forces on the border.
It would also put the boundary question in its proper historical perspective; for millennia, Northern India has been contiguous to Tibet, an independent nation till the end of the 1950s, not to China; the same is true for Eastern Turkestan (now called Xinjiang).
In this context, I recently became acquainted with the fascinating life of Mahapandita Rahul Sankrityayan, one of the greatest Indian scholars who wrote some 130 books.

He was a great wandering scholar, spending 45 years of his life away from home on Asian and Western roads.
Rahul Ji, as he was known by his followers, was born Kedarnath Pandey to an Orthodox Hindu Brahmin family in Pandha village of Azamgarh district in Uttar Pradesh on April 9, 1893. He was the eldest child of six siblings. Though he only received a formal education up to grade eight (in Urdu language in his village), Sankrityayan later mastered some 34 languages.
His maternal grandfather, Ram Sharan Pathak, an ex-soldier, with his innumerable tales of valour and adventure, planted the seed of love for travelling in him; already at the age of 9, he ran away from home ‘to see the world’ and only after having visited Calcutta and Varanasi did he return to complete his middle school.
One of his biographers wrote: “Sankrityayan’s life, work, and ideas were steeped in and spread through many cultures, disciplines, and geographies. Born in a Sanatani Brahmin family, he lived variously the life of a Vaishnava sadhu, an Arya Samaji polemicist, a Buddhist monk, an antiquarian and scholar of Buddhism, a political activist jailed for anti-colonial speeches (1920 and 1923–1925) and beaten up by the henchmen of landlords in a peasant movement in Bihar (1939), a self-professed communist, a progressive writer, a novelist, a historian, a biographer, a language activist, a linguist, lexicographer, and so forth.”

Sankrityayan indeed lived multiple lives in one, always ready to change his worldview while remaining profoundly human.
From 1914 till 1930, he lived as a Vaishnava sannyasi; in 1939, Rahul Ji converted to Buddhism; this did not stop him from participating in the freedom movement, and between the years 1936 and 1944, he was actively involved in the peasant movement. During this period, he spent 29 months in jail (1940–42) for being a member of the Communist Party of India.
When free, he extensively travelled to Sri Lanka, the Soviet Union, the Far East, Central Asia, Iran, Afghanistan, and Western Europe.
Sankrityayan’s four visits to Tibet are fascinating as they are a vibrant proof of the century-old linkages between India and Tibet (a fact denied by Communist China today) and a proof that Tibet is truly a child of Indian civilisation (as the Dalai Lama likes to put it).
It is important in the present tense context of Sino-Indian relations to not forget this.
During his trips to Tibet, this polymath managed to bring back to their land of origin some 1,619 valuable manuscripts and thankha paintings; he employed 16 mules to bring the precious loads to Bihar, where they are today kept in a special section of the Patna Museum.

In Tibet, Rahul Ji met his Tibetan ‘counterpart’, probably the greatest Tibetan scholar of the first part of the 20th century, Gendun Choepel. Rahul Ji called him ‘Geshe’ (‘Kalyanamitra’ in Sanskrit) or ‘Brother in the Dharma’. In Tibet, Geshe denoted a high degree of knowledge and was equivalent to a PhD in Buddhist studies.

The Mahapandita recounted: “My first meeting with Geshe took place in Lhasa. He was a disciple of Geshe Sherab, the most learned pandit of Drepung, the largest monastery in Tibet. Geshe Sherab was an authority on philosophy; thus, his disciple would also be a student of the same subject.”
However, Gedun was not only a student of philosophy; he was also a poet and had mastered traditional and modern Tibetan painting: “As a talented artist, he could live a comfortable life in Lhasa. However, Geshe never aspired to a comfortable life.”
Like Rahul Ji, Gedun was a wanderer, an adventurer, with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, always wanting to acquire more knowledge.
Sankrityayan recalled: “[In 1934> I realised that his depth of classical learning combined with his artistic background would be invaluable to me in the search for ancient MSS [manuscripts>… On his part, he wanted to accompany me to India and see and learn more. We became friends from that time onwards.”
Thus started the search for the lost manuscripts of Nalanda and the other great viharas of Northern India; the two pandits wanted to rediscover the centuries-old linkage between India and Tibet.
They first visited the ancient monasteries north of Lhasa, then they went to Reting monastery, established in the 11th century: “Tibet has a scanty rainfall, and at the time of our arrival, richly painted thangkas had been hung out for an airing. Geshe’s heart leapt at the sight. They were of Indian workmanship, and it is also possible that they had been brought from India.” They copied them.
In his memoirs, Rahul Ji noted: “My Tibetan journeys were a combination of bitter-sweet experiences—the bitterness as extreme as the sweet. Sometimes, animals to carry us and our goods were as readily provided as a householder’s hospitality. Sometimes, though we ourselves were willing to walk, we could not hire porters, and it was difficult to get a yard of space to rest ourselves.”
His following visit to Tibet was a great success: “I saw many dozens of ancient Sanskrit MMS. I was able to photograph many of them and copy down many by hand.”
The day of May 25, 1936, was memorable: “We were informed by Dolma Phodrang [one of the temples in Sakya monastery> that they had received the key to Chakpe Lhakhang… I had very little expectation that I would find a Sanskrit manuscript there. After arriving, I turned to the left and found the first stockroom. The door and doorframe seemed centuries old. Who knows how many years of dust must have been collected? On one occasion, dust spread so profusely that the whole stockroom was blanketed as if in smoke.”
The Mahapandita continued his exploration: “We waited a little and then moved in. There was also enough dust on the floor to make footprints. We found hundreds of scriptures there, some wrapped in cloth, while others had been left uncovered. Among them, we found scriptures as old as seven and eight hundred years. These were the texts that had been written and read by great ancient Tibetan masters and scholars. They were precious jewels of Tibetan literature and history.” They had found the lost manuscripts.
Rahul Ji continued to explore the room: “I was searching for palm leaf manuscripts in Sanskrit. After browsing here and there, I found one which was not wrapped in cloth. One, two, three, four… I found twenty manuscripts in all. I opened one and began to look at it. I was overjoyed.”

This discovery symbolises the age-old relationship between Tibet and India.
Today, it is important to remember these ancient linkages (there are many others), which bear testimony to the deep connections between the people of India and Tibet.
If these connections could be revived in any way, it could completely change the perspective of the conflict with China and Beijing’s erroneous narrative for the border ‘dispute’. In the meantime, Beijing should be reminded that Tibet has been (and is still geographically) India’s northern neighbour.
And real heroes like Mahapandita or Geshe should not be forgotten; on the contrary, they should be honoured, and a young generation of historians should be encouraged to boldly follow in the footsteps of the wandering scholars

Monday, February 26, 2024

Claude Arpi | China playing new border games close to Mt Kailash

Zorawar Singh in Western Tibet
My article Claude Arpi | China playing new border games close to Mt Kailash appeared in Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle.

A separate event needs to be noticed: the closure of the Kailash Yatra to Indian pilgrims.

Western Tibet has a rich historical background, particularly in proximity to Mount Kailash, near the trijunction between India, Nepal and Tibet.
It is the case of Purang/Taklakot and a place called Toyo, located a few kilometres away, which have gone down in history for the epic battle between the Dogras of Gen. Zorawar Singh and the Tibetans troops.
In December 1841, the Dogra troops, who had just conquered Western Tibet (known as Ngari), were defeated by the Tibetans -- and also by the winter.
The great Tibetan historian, Tsepon Shakabpa, thus described the battle of Taklakot/Toyo: “The Tibetan government quickly dispatched Ü Dapön [Gen.] Shedra Wangchuk Gyelpo and the Ü Tsang [Central Tibet] militia under the leadership of Cabinet minister Pellhün; when they arrived in Ngari, one regiment of the foreign army [the Dogras] was stationed at Rutok [near Pangong-tso], another was at Trashigang [near Demchok on the Ladakh border], and a third was at Rupshö [in Ladakh]. Secret preparations were made for the Tibetan troops to confront each [Dogra] unit. Zorawar Singh and the most seasoned [Dogra] troops, who were stationed at Taklakhar [Taklakot] Castle [in fact in Toyo] were confronted… In the eleventh month [December 1841], during the coldest weather of the year, the Tibetan troops attacked from all directions simultaneously.”
The fate of Zorawar Singh and his troops were sealed, according to Shakabpa: “Three days after the fighting began, heavy snow fell. Thus, the Sikh troops who were at Taklakot became frozen solid. Trembling under their difficulties, the Sikhs were attacked by the Tibetans in terrible hand-to-hand fighting… While Zorawar Singh was riding his horse, rushing back and forth, he was recognized by a Yasor called Mikmar. He threw a spear and Zorawar Singh fell from his horse. Leaping off of his own horse, Mikmar cut Singh’s head off and carried it into the middle of the Tibetan camp. This was seen by the Sikh [Dogra] soldiers, and they fled in whatever way they could.”
A few months later, Maharaja Gulab Singh smashed the Tibetan forces trying to invade Ladakh. Dapön Zurkhang and Dapön Pelzhi were captured and taken to Leh, where a peace treaty was signed between the Dogras and the Tibetans, confirming once more the traditional border between Ladakh and Tibet. The tomb of Zorawar Singh still exists in Toyo, which has recently come in the news, but for different reasons.
An article in the Chinese media mentions a newly-built village in Toyo: “China continues to promote the improvement of the rural living environment, paying close attention to greening [the area], beautification and [water] purification; the changes in Toyo are a concrete manifestation of the Ngari region’s efforts to build a beautiful and livable countryside.”
During the past three years, in Western Tibet alone, a total of 31 projects have been implemented to build liveable, “industrial” and beautiful villages, a local Communist Party cadre explains; in his jargon that it will be: “in accordance with the principles of beautiful leisure villages, happy and liveable villages, clean and tidy villages.”

But why a new village in Toyo?
Says Newsweek: “China appears to have completed the construction of a new dam in the country’s southwestern border regions, a project that could have far-reaching strategic implications for its southern neighbours India and Nepal.” Built on the Mapcha Tsangpo (or Peacock river, also known as Ghaghara or Saryu in India and Karnali in Nepal), it is a perennial source of fresh water water supply to the downstream populations.

What is strange is that the existence of this hydropower plant, located close to the Indian border, has not appeared in any published Chinese plan earlier.
Though satellite imagery only shows a medium river-of-the-river dam, without a large reservoir, India downstream should be concerned.
But there is more.
A new airport is coming up a couple of kilometres north of the hydropower plant and the “model” village. In June 2018, the Civil Aviation Administration of China had announced that Tibet would soon have three new airports. The Chinese-language press had given some information about the location of these three airports: one was to be located in Lhuntse, north of Arunachal Pradesh, the second was north of a border post with Nepal and the last in Purang.
Chinese website explained: “These three airports can be used for civilian use in peacetime, military aircraft training on the plateau; direct military use in wartime, holding military operations, will be able to play a very important role.”
Though many in India had forgotten about this announcement, the airport is now functional; on November 10, 2023, videos of the newly-built airfield appeared on the Chinese social media.
These three developments (model village, hydropower station and airport) should be seen as one, undoubtedly all are for dual (civil and military) use.
A separate occurrence needs to be noticed: the closure of the Kailash Yatra to Indian pilgrims. The 6,638-metre-tall diamond-shaped mountain is considered to be the abode of Lord Shiva and also one of the most sacred places in the Jain, Buddhist and Bon religions.
For centuries, pilgrims from India have visited the holy site; since the 1990s, they could cross into Tibet via Lipulekh Pass in Pittoragarh district and later enter Tibet via Nathu-la in Sikkim.
After the Doklam incident in 2017, the Indian yatris were not allowed to use these routes anymore.
As Beijing ignored Kathmandu’s request to permit the aerial sightseeing of Mount Kailash, Nepali tour operators decided to offer the yatris an alternative and a large number of devotees started using the Nepal route from Simikot to Purang by chartered helicopters; unfortunately, the scheme was subsequently closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
After the scheme reopened for Nepalis in 2022, the Chinese authorities did not allow Indian visitors to fly to Purang, though last year alone, Nepali tour operators received over 50,000 bookings from Indian pilgrims for the sacred pilgrimage.
According to the Kathmandu Post, a new alternative has been found: a flight could remain in Nepalese territory and have a “remote” darshan of the sacred mountain: “Shree Airlines operated a first-of-its-kind aerial pilgrimage tour of the holy places, making the pilgrims’ dream come true without a Chinese visa” -- explained a communiqué last week.
It is clear that China does not want Indians to have a real darshan of the holy mountain, or even come close to the place where Zorawar Singh is buried; and these latest developments in the area explain why.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The only question is can Xi Jinping and his advisors be swift and agile enough to change the tide and restore the trust in the ailing Dragon?

My article The only question is can Xi Jinping and his advisors be swift and agile enough to change the tide and restore the trust in the ailing Dragon? appeared in Firstpost

Year of the Dragon: China's economic challenges and surging uncertainty ahead

Here is the link...

We are entering the Year of the Dragon. It is said that the next 12 months will be energetic; the year may give rise to celebrations and grandiose projects and may even be auspicious for marriage, birth and new beginnings, but it may also be a time of surprises when opportunities can be grasped or lost. Natural disturbances can also be expected.
The element presiding over the coming year is Wood which: “gives an animal mobility and vitality, a supple and balanced creative power, and a quality of softness. Wood years are years of transformation," say the astrologists.

What does it mean for the Middle Kingdom?
We shall not go for any predictions but look at some facts. The Dragon Year will certainly see some great surprises and disturbances in the coming year in China and first in the economic domain.

China’s growth
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently noted that “uncertainty surrounding the Chinese economy is high. The organization expects the world’s second-biggest economy to grow by 4.6% this year and slow down to 4% in 2025,” adding that “the ongoing housing sector crisis could further dampen private demand and confidence and lead to budget strains.”
Last year, the Chinese economy officially grew by 5.2 per cent, but the figures coming from Beijing are most of the time exaggerated.
The IMF report also warned: “Deeper-than-expected contraction in the property sector could further weigh on private demand and worsen confidence, amplify local government fiscal strains, and result in disinflationary pressures and adverse macro-financial feedback loops. Staff estimate that, in such an adverse scenario which entails a deeper and more prolonged contraction in the property sector, GDP in 2025 could be 1.8% lower compared to the baseline (of 4%).”
The IMF believes that weaker exports and lending could exert greater strain.

Housing is an issue
According to The Nikkei, China is grappling with the aftermath of its bursting housing bubble: “Given weak sales and an inventory build-up in the sector, it is now expected to take more than five years for the country to shed excess stock.”
As China’s housing demand will likely fall further due to a shrinking population and rising living standards, the world is bracing for a surge in exports of cheap building materials from the country.
The Tokyo-based publication explained: “Intense price-cutting competition is underway as the country’s housing market becomes saturated. The level of excess stock, calculated by subtracting all the residential floor space sold from the total area of homes built, reached just under 5 billion sq. meters at the end of 2023. Assuming each home has a floor space of 100 sq. meters and three family members, China now has excess space to house 150 million people, equal to about 50 million homes.”

 Gold purchase
Another sign of the weakening of the economy is that gold purchases have soared 30 per cent, mainly because of the businesses’ anxiety.
In another article, The Nikkei said: “Chinese gold purchases rose 30% in 2023, as the country’s central bank bought the commodity to replace its dollar holdings amid tensions with the US and individual investors sought a haven for their assets as the economy stumbled.”
It quoted data from the World Gold Council’s 2023 Gold Demand Trends report: “The world’s central banks acquired 1,037 tonnes of gold last year on a net basis, the second most in data going back to 1950 behind only the 1,082 tonnes for 2022. The People’s Bank of China’s net purchases totaled 225 tonnes, the highest since 1977, the earliest data available for the country.”
The article cited geopolitical risks such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which drove up gold purchases in countries like Poland, which bought 130 tonnes last year, and Libya, which acquired 30 tonnes.
It perhaps explains that gold ingots have become popular even with Chinese individual investors.

Citing the National Bureau of Statistics, Wion News Channel observed that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) experienced a 0.8 per cent year-on-year drop, marking the most significant decline since September 2009, following a 0.3 per cent decrease in December: “China encountered its deepest deflationary threat since 2009 as consumer prices witnessed a severe decline in January, highlighting the persistent challenges for the world’s second-largest economy in its struggle for recovery.” The news channel further commented: “The persistent deflationary pressure depicted in China’s CPI data underscores the urgency for decisive and swift actions by policymakers to prevent the entrenchment of deflationary expectations among consumers.”
There is no doubt that the post-COVID recovery has been lacklustre.

Foreign companies
On 24 January, the German Chamber of Commerce Abroad published a survey which found that 46 per cent of German companies operating in China believed that their Chinese competitors will become leaders in their respective industries within the next 5 years: “About 83% of German companies surveyed believe that China’s economy is declining, though 64% anticipate this downward trend being just a temporary 2-3 year slowdown.”
The next day, Lianhe Zaobao, the largest Singaporean Chinese-language newspaper said that the Germans found that “the number of German companies withdrawing or considering abandoning the Chinese market has doubled in the past four years. The survey’s findings, which come as China’s economy continues to weaken, highlight the challenges facing German companies operating in China. Top concerns cited by German companies include increased competition from local Chinese companies, unfair restrictions on market access, economic headwinds and geopolitical risks.”
The same Singapore publication commented on the vacancies of office place in Beijing; it observed: “Demand for office space in Beijing has fallen as China’s economy weakens and companies are becoming more conservative about expansion.”
Citing the Chinese economic publication, it added that the vacancy rate for Beijing office space has hit a 13-year high of 20.4 per cent, the first time in recent years that the rate has goes over 20%: “The shrinking technology industry in Beijing, coupled with conservative growth strategies and cost-cutting measures adopted by companies facing stiff economic headwinds, have combined to dampen office rental demand.”
The Caixin explained that the trend was attributable to companies relocating their headquarters out of Beijing, downsizing and taking less rental space, and an overall lack of new demand to replace surrendered office space.

Not overtaking the US
In an interview quoted by Reuters, Cornell University professor Eswar Prasad pointed out the fact that China’s economy “faces a variety of fragilities” and the Middle Kingdom’s economy may not overtake the US’ soon. “The likelihood of the prediction that China’s GDP will one day overtake that of the US is declining,” said Eswar Prasad, who served as an IMF official in charge of China.
When asked about his forecast, Prasad answered: “China faces a variety of fragilities, including undesirable demographics, a collapsing real estate market, deteriorating investor sentiment at home and abroad and the lack of clarity over a new growth model. Even a 4 per cent-5 per cent growth rate will be difficult to sustain over the next few years. The likelihood of the prediction that China’s GDP will one day overtake that of the US is declining.”
It is a fact that the Chinese stock market has been continuously declining since mid-2023, reaching new lows as the Shanghai Composite Index fell below 2,700 points on 2 February.

How to vent frustration?

On 3 February, the Epoch Times noted an interesting development; many investors who suffered heavy losses flooded the comments section on the official Weibo account of the US Embassy in China.
As the official propaganda machinery controls the Chinese Net, they found a way to vent their frustration, some even imploring the United States to take over the Chinese stock market.
One Chinese investor commented: “We know they are lying, and they know they are lying. They know we know they are lying, and we know they know we know they are lying. But they still keep lying. Can you tell me which ‘glorious era’ this description refers to?”
Another post by the US embassy about the Third Anniversary of the Military Coup in Myanmar was flooded with messages from Chinese stock investors asking for help from the US: “America, please come and rescue the hundreds of millions of A-share investors in deep trouble,” another wrote “Save the poor Chinese stock investors. I love America,” while someone said: “The official media doesn’t let us speak. I come here to request rescue.”
It is certainly not the US which will save the Chinese investors; the only question is can Xi Jinping and his advisors be swift and agile enough to change the tide and restore the trust in the ailing Dragon? One can seriously doubt it.

Monday, January 29, 2024

China is preparing for ‘history warfare’ that India must counter

My article China is preparing for ‘history warfare’ that India must counter appeared in Firstpost

Through 'history warfare', Communist China will try to prove that it has always occupied the Tibetan plateau and that the border areas (whether Tibet or Xinjiang) have always been under Chinese possession 

Here is the link...

Recently, news circulated that after the Galwan incident which claimed the lives of 20 Indian soldiers and some 40 Chinese soldiers in June 2020, new clashes would have taken place between India and China on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). This probably explains why External Affairs Minister, Dr S. Jaishankar often mentions that the relations between the two Asian giants are ‘not normal’.
Clashes would have taken at least twice on the LAC during the past three years, China would have attempted to violently attack some Indian Army checkpoints (probably not in Ladakh) between September 2021 and November 2022.
General Manoj Pande, the Chief of Army Staff, himself stated that the situation on the border with China was ‘stable, yet sensitive’.
While these incidents need to be taken seriously (and they are, by the Indian Army), they show the limits of the Chinese ability to militarily create mischief on the northern border.

Opening New Fronts
In this context, there is no doubt that Xi Jinping’s regime will try to open new fronts, perhaps not so visible, but which could lead to serious consequences if India is caught napping.
One of these is what could be called ‘History Warfare’, through which Communist China will try to prove that it has always occupied the Tibetan plateau and that the borders areas (whether Tibet or Xinjiang) have always been under Chinese possession.
Earlier this month, The Global Times, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party asserted: “Half-decade-long frontier archaeology yields major discoveries, reveals diverse yet united Chinese civilization.”
The article says that in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, nearly 80 archaeological projects were taken up between 2019 and 2023.
Why is Chinese control suddenly projected far from the historical frontiers of the Middle Kingdom (represented by the Great Wall of China); the answer is clear, all these areas are part of China since immemorial times: “archaeological projects in Xinjiang, along with other discoveries made in North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Southwest China's Yunnan Province, and other parts of the country, have contributed greatly to the enrichment of the current research landscape of China's frontier archaeology.”
A new term has come into being ‘frontier archaeology’; in fact a China Frontier Archaeology Symposium was recently held in Beijing; its declared objective was “to facilitate discussions about future topics in Chinese archaeology.”

Ethnic cultural diversity
The Symposium looked into questions such as ‘ethnic cultural diversity’ or ‘ancient Silk Road cultural exchanges’. A ‘frontier’ archaeologist, Chen Hurong told The Global Times that this reflects “the unique value of frontier archaeology. …Compared with many inland archaeological projects, frontier histories can often vividly depict ancient China's exchanges with other cultures.”
Another Chinese ‘expert’ affirmed that apart from Xinjiang and Xizang autonomous regions, northern China is also the birthplace of many ‘frontier sites’. Note that ‘Xizang’ is the new name for ‘Tibet’, a century-old nation which no longer has a name of its own.
According to Party’s mouthpiece: “Extending the Chinese frontier archaeological landscape to Southwest China's Xizang [Tibet] Autonomous Region, more than 10 research sites have been investigated in the last five years including the Nwya Devu and Sang Kar Gang sites.”
The Nwya Devu (Nyadeu in Tibetan) is an archaeological site located in the eastern Changthang region of Nagchu Prefecture, at the altitude of 4,600 m (15,092 ft) above sea level. It is the highest known archaeological site from the Paleolithic area; it is supposed offer evidence for one of the earliest known presences of humans at high-altitude …around 40,000-30,000 BP (before present era).
The conclusion of the research will undoubtedly be that Tibetans are ‘Chinese’ since 30,000 or more years, and the 1950 invasion was simply a forced ‘return to the motherland’.
Another site has witnessed extensive excavations by the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research (ITP); called Sang Kar Gang, it is located near Lhasa, the Tibetan capital: “Over 1,000 stone artifacts were unearthed, providing crucial materials for the understanding of the earliest human migration into the central Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, their routes and survival strategies.”
This highly-political research explores “the process of early human adaptation to the plateau is also crucial to gaining a comprehensive and in-depth understanding of the formation and evolution of modern populations in Xizang.” Adaption from where? The answer is obviously from China.
Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia are also being excavated to show the extent of the Chinese influence, millennia ago.
To link it with contemporary China, The Global Times is not shy to admit: “Many cross-cultural frontier archaeological projects conducive to the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have been launched.“

The Situation on the Indian Side
On the Indian side, not much has been done to confront the History Warfare onslaught.
However, The Times of India recently reported a study claiming that natives of Ladakh clearly share their genetic heritage with India and Tibet, not China: “The research asserts that the three lakh natives of the region are a genetic mix of 60% from India and Western Eurasia and 40% from Tibet.” The conclusions of the research were published in the international magazine ‘Research Reports’ in the US. This is good news.
The research team comprised DNA sequencing experts from Benares Hindu University’s zoology department, led by Prof Gyaneshwar Chaubey, experts in archaeology as well as some Ladakhi scholars, including Padma Shri Dr Tsering Norbu (a retired Ladakhi surgeon), Dr Sonam Splanzin (the first woman Ladakhi archaeologist) and Dr Stanzen.
The team studied 122 samples (98 females and 24 males), all belonging to the Bot tribe, from two places in Central Ladakh.
Prof Chaubey explained: “Ladakh is the highest inhabited region of India and has unique biodiversity. With a population of nearly 3 lakh people, Ladakh is an example of long-term human occupation going back at least to the Paleolithic period.”
It was earlier unknown whether genetic and archaeological diversity in the mountainous region has developed indigenously or resulted from gene flow from distinct geographic regions.
The interesting conclusion of the research is that the genetic component of the samples is completely different from the ancestry of China.

Trans-Himalayan Archeology
Another attempt to explore the past has been conducted by archeologist Vinod Nautiyal and his team; according to them: “The Trans-Himalayan region, which runs parallel to the main Himalayan Range and south of the Tibetan Plateau, has not been explored extensively because of its rough terrain. Early work reported human burials from Leh in Jammu and Kashmir but the most significant evidence comes from Malari in Uttarakhand where a cave burial culture dated c. 200–100 BC has been identified.”
They admit that in contrast “across the Himalayas in Mustang, western Nepal, a large number of multi-storey caves used both for burial and habitat ion between c. 1200 BC and AD 1500 have been excavated.”
They quoted the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh which boasts of only two sites which can provide information on human burial; these burials have been dated speculatively to c. 2500–200 BC: “Neither of these sites, nor the human remains, have been subject to any archaeological or further scientific investigation,” they admit.
It is a fact that not much has so far been written about the migration and the trans-Himalayan relations.
Similarly, the Franco-Indian Archaeological Mission in Ladakh (Mission Archéologique Franco-Indienne au Ladakh, or MAFIL) was created in 2012. It was founded as a joint venture with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Their objective is to show in an irrefutable manner, that Buddhism was present in Ladakh in the last quarter of the first millennium AD and maybe as early as the middle of the first millennium. The only material evidence comes from rare rock inscriptions.
This is important, but it lacks the trans-Himalayan aspect.
More importantly, studies need to be conducted on the ancient kingdom of Zhangzhung; it could document the intense activities and contacts between Northern India, the Tibetan plateau and Central Asia, while these remained minimal with China.
A friend who has done extensive archeology in Spiti, recently wrote to me: “I am looking at mineral resource data for western Tibetan Plateau, as of the 2nd Millennium BCE. I have managed to convince myself that the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) used Ladakh, Zanskar and Spiti as well as Ngari as sources for minerals and other raw resources in the Bronze Age. …Gold, silver, copper, iron, lead and precious stones (eg, sapphires, turquoise, crystals, agate, steatite) would have been traded; but also wool, animal skins, and timber products. The IVC could have exchanged these items with finished metal objects.”
This is worth digging into further to counter China in this new form of warfare.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

How India and France are shaping a dynamic partnership in the changing global landscape

My article How India and France are shaping a dynamic partnership in the changing global landscape appeared in Firstpost

Here is the link... 

After 25 years of ‘partnership’ India and France have reached an unparalleled level of trust and proximity

Nobody, not even the best soothsayers or experts, can explain why the world is suddenly changing so quickly, but remember the prophesy once sung by Bob Dylan, it seems to become true, “For the times, they are a-changin'”.
A sign of the changing time, France has a new prime minister, 34 years of age of a different sexual orientation as the head of the government.
Who could have imagined this a few years ago?
Of course, in India is difficult to understand that such a young ‘inexperienced’ leader, could lead a country with multiple problems, but how old were Adi Shankara or Swami Vivekananda when they changed India in so much depth.
One can’t compare the new French leader to the two above mentioned spiritual giants, but one can hope that fresh blood will be good for France in these ‘changing’ times.

Macron back in India
In the meantime, the French President Emmanuel Macron will be Chief Guest for Republic Day.
I still remember his last State visit in March 2018; addressing a French gathering in Delhi, the President spoke of the Chinese hegemony in the region and said that France was ready to work with India on the oceans: “France is a power of the Indian and the Pacific Oceans; we are present at the Reunion, we are also there in French Polynesia and New Caledonia. And we are a maritime power, it is often forgotten but France is the second maritime power in the world. We have a strong navy, we have nuclear submarines equipped like few other powers in the world; a maritime surveillance capability through our own satellites and technologies; it is obvious we are a military and intelligence power ranking us among the first nations in the world.”
This language was surprising at that time, but one can measure how much the world has changed and particularly the great powers’ views on the Middle Kingdom in the post-Covid era (and post-Eastern Ladakh confrontation for India).
Many more countries have today realized that China can’t be left free to engulf the oceans around.

Twenty Five Years of Strategic Partnership

The 90’s saw a a tremendous boost in bilateral relations with the visits of President Chirac in January 1998 and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s trip to Paris later in the year (incidentally, the new French prime minister is Mr. Attal, with two ‘t’, though the French will not pronounce differently)..
The most striking feature of 1998’s visit was the setting up of a framework for a strategic partnership.
Using a de Gaulle-like language, Jacques Chirac saluted India, “a nation which has affirmed its personality on the world stage”. He said that he had come to show that “France wanted to accompany India in its potent march [towards the future].”
Chirac’s words were not mere political niceties.
When India conducted its nuclear tests in Pokhran in May, France was one of the few countries which did not condemn Delhi (or impose sanctions). This was greatly appreciated in Delhi and when Prime Minister Vajpayee returned Chirac’s visit in October, the new strategic dialogue could take its first concrete steps.
These events set in motion a closer collaboration.

The Deals

The French government has recently submitted a response to India's Rs 50,000 crore tender to purchase 26 Rafale Marine fighter jets for the Indian Navy; according to India Today: “India has initiated the USD 6 billion deal with France for the acquisition of 26 Rafale Marine aircraft, aiming to enhance the Indian Navy’s aircraft carrier capabilities.”
The purchase of three new Scorpene submarines is also in the pipeline.
These deals are expected to be soon finalized.

Reciprocal Collaboration
The collaboration between France and India is multiple and reciprocal. For example, the Paris Region of France is calling for more investments from India.
Valérie Pécresse, President of the Paris Region, recently met Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani and Tata Sons chief N Chandrasekaran in Mumbai and asked the Indian entrepreneurs to invest in her region. Pécresse told media: “We are on a charm offensive to win hearts and minds of Indian students, tourists, investors and film makers.”
Today Indians represent fraction of the 50 million tourists visiting Paris; for example, figures say that the number of Australians and Chinese visiting the French capital is far higher than Indians.

Local Collaboration
The collaboration is today getting delocalized. France recently set up an exclusive pavilion at the third edition of the Tamil Nadu Global Investors Meet (GIM), a two-day event from January 7, whose objective was to foster economic ties with India. The Consulate of France in Puducherry and Chennai coordinated the French participation; France was a country partner for the event. The French Pavilion showcased many Paris-based companies including Michelin, Precia Molen, Valeo, Cryolar and Numeric among others.
A communiqué explained: “France is a major source of foreign direct investment for India with more than 1,000 French establishments already present in the country. Tamil Nadu, boasting the second largest economy in India with a Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) exceeding USD 300 billion, stands out as India's most industrialised state, housing over 130 Fortune 500 companies.”

Student Exchange: the Future
Last July 14, during his visit as guest of honour of France during the National Day, Prime Minister Modi among other announcements, mentioned bilateral cooperation, research and higher education. He announced that Paris has accepted to welcome in France 20,000 Indian students by 2025 and 30,000 by 2030.
A roadmap said that the cooperation will be centered on ‘a union of forces’; it will make “sciences, technologic innovation and university cooperation [the] vectors for progress and independence for our two countries”.
A chapter of the roadmap is dedicated to ‘human partnerships’.
France and India are “determined to develop their university bonds and encourage exchanges between students”.
To give a concrete shape to the project, Mumbai University (MU) has decided to join hands with a French university for dual degree program. Students will have to spend six to nine months in France at the University of Troyes on fellowship training as per the dual degree program.
According to a MU communiqué: “The combined expertise from both institutions may lead to potentially groundbreaking research outcomes in nanoscience and nanotechnology. Students enrolling with the Department of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology at MU for postgraduation (PG) will now get dual degree — jointly awarded by the MU and the University of Technology of Troyes in France.”

The Ideal Partners?

During Macron’s 2018 visit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of “Five S”, Samman (respect); Samvad (dialogue); Sahayog (cooperation), Shanti (peace), and Samriddhi (prosperity). Paris certainly still agrees with this.
Today, most commentators converge to say that France and India are the ideal partners; in US-based The National Interest, Don McLain Gill wrote: “Among Western countries, France has often been the first to illustrate a mature understanding of India’s position on varied issues ranging from nuclear tests to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine War.”
Shishir Gupta said in The Hindustan Times: “PM Modi and Macron share a very close chemistry. They often talk to each other about major positions. …When Macron comes to India, the centerpiece will be Atmanirbhar Bharat.”
Gupta mentions the joint research and development of small modular nuclear reactors: “These are nuclear reactors that produce less than 300 megawatts. These reactors are fundamental to nuclear energy. They are also fundamental to the green hydrogen project.”

Joint Development

After 25 years of ‘partnership’ India and France have reached an unparalleled level of trust and proximity; this should translate into something not easy to do, even for European partners, i.e. joint developments in new fields of science or technology.
Already public sector giant Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has opened a new design and test facility at its Aero Engine Research and Development Centre (AERDC) in Bengaluru which will be used to test helicopter engines to be co-developed between the French firm Safran and HAL; the engine is to be fitted in the new 13-tonne Indian Multi-Role Helicopter (IMRH), which will replace the Russian Mi-17 helicopters.
In February 2023 HAL and Safran had announced a tie-up to produce the engine for the 13-ton helicopter; HAL will participate in the design, development and production of the core engine components. Safran already has a joint venture with HAL to manufacture engines for the advanced light helicopter (ALH), weighing 5.5 tonnes.
Apart from the dream to develop together an engine for the Indian jets, high-tech drones could be another field of future collaboration. Recently, the Indian Navy received its first indigenous medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) drone, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) built by Adani Defence and Aerospace at its Hyderabad facility (with Israeli transfer of technology).
Why can’t Paris and Delhi decide to develop the drones of tomorrow? Not an easy proposal, but perhaps worth trying.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

We were told that the Chinese will come in waves

2ns Lt A J S Behl, second from right, at Tsangdhar in early October 1962

The first part of my interview with Brig Amar Jit Singh Behl is posted in

'I will say with pride that at no stage did any of my jawans suggest to me that we should withdraw or tried to run away from the fight... not even one of my men deserted.'
'We had fired all our rounds and the Chinese were coming in. We had only our LMGs and guns. We did whatever we could, but ultimately, we had to surrender.'

Brigadier Amar Jit Singh Behl (retd) speaks to Claude Arpi in an exclusive interview, continuing our new series on the India-China War, 50 years later.
Fifty years after the debacle of the Namkha chu river, very few survivors remain to tell their side of the story of the 1962 India-China war.
Claude Arpi met one of them, Amar Jit Singh Behl, then a young and 'carefree' second lieutenant from the 17 Parachute Field Regiment.
After retiring as a brigadier, Behl lives with his wife in Chandigarh, where he is an avid golfer.
He spoke to about the most harrowing three weeks of his life on a plateau in NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh), dominating a small, but now famous rivulet, the Namkha chu.
Behl and his men fought well, but were ultimately taken as prisoners of war to Tibet, where for seven months they ate boiled radish.
This is the story of a brave para gunner in a war which inflicted lasting scars on the country.

I joined the elite 17 Parachute Field Regiment on July 2, 1962 at the end of an officer's course at Agra cantonment. I was put through my probation tests, which included very high standards of physical efficiency tests, tactical and technical tests.
I was then allowed to wear the paratrooper's prestigious maroon turban. I also completed my parachute basic course which consisted of six day jumps and one night jump. By September 6, 1962, I was a full-fledged paratrooper with a wing on my right sleeve.
I reported to Captain (later Major General) H S Talwar for orders. He commanded the troop called 'E' troop, from 52 Parachute Field Battery. I was feeling very proud to be given a chance to go to NEFA with my troops.
On September 24, 1962, we were ordered to join the 7 Infantry Brigade with guns for fire support in the Operation Zone.
Captain Talwar was the troop commander and I was the GPO (Gun Position Officer), looking after the firing of the guns and the overall administration of the guns.
The troops with the equipment and 4 guns were loaded in five C 119 Fairchild Packet aircraft and one AN 12 aircraft. Captain Talwar travelled in the latter.
The rest of us moved to NEFA via Lucknow, Barrackpore and Jalpaiguri.
On October 3, we reached Tezpur where Captain Talwar received us.
We were given a briefing by Major Narender Singh, the General Staff Officer (GSO 2, OPS) of the 4 Infantry Division. We were told that the Chinese will come in waves, but there was nothing to worry about, because they were not well equipped.

You mean it was known that the Chinese will come in waves?

It was the normal doctrinal tactics of the Chinese in Korea and elsewhere, it is how they proceeded. After the briefing, I was given a sketch of the area.

Not a proper map?

No a blueprint only, a sketch of the Thagla ridge, Dhola Post, Namkha chu (river), etc. We were told that we will go to Tawang by road and later we will be airlifted.

The plans were changed and when we reached Bompu, we were told to come back to be airlifted.

It seems there were two beautiful girls, said to be locals, but later suspected to be Chinese spies, at this place.

Yes, I saw them. Everybody wanted to meet them and have a cup of tea in their teashop.

The next morning we were sent to Dirang near the Bhutan border in an Otter aircraft and the next day, we left for Ziminthang by MI 4 helicopters.

Ziminthang was the tactical headquarters of the 4 Infantry Division. I met Major General Niranjan Prasad, my old brigade commander of the 50 (1) Para Brigade, who was the GOC (General Commanding Officer) of the 4 Infantry Division.

Because he knew me, he called me though I was only a second lieutenant. He asked me to put up my best show. He expected very high standards from his para gunners.

The next morning, with my troops (43 men) we moved on towards our assigned positions, without acclimatisation and porters.

The first night we stayed at Karpola pass (16,000 feet). The next day, we reached Tsangdhar where I was to establish my gun position.

Tsangdhar is a flat plateau dominating the Namkha chu. The Dropping Zone (DZ) was a bit ahead; the idea was to bring the equipment as close as possible from the Namkha chu.

Unfortunately, some of the equipment went into Chinese hands and deep ravines.

It means the Chinese were only occupying the Thagla ridge, not places south of the Namkha chu.

Yes, though the 9 Punjab (regiment) was patrolling parts of the Thagla ridge. I established my gun position in two days; it was done by October 8.

Unfortunately, we had recovered only two guns out of four and 80 rounds out of 250 rounds.

It was because the terrain was very tough, there were many trees. But my men did well, they recovered the guns, assembled them, we were ready to launch an attack or defend the 7 Brigade, whatever the scenario would be.

Lieutenant General B M Kaul, the 4 Corps Commander, had planned to take back the Thagla ridge on October 10 (Operation Leghorn).

I don't know about October 10 or 8, but Pandit Nehru on his way to Sri Lanka made a statement: 'The Indian troops have been ordered to evict the Chinese; the time is left to the discretion of the Army.'

It is in this connection that General Kaul said that we will evict the Chinese on October 10. His plans eventually collapsed.

When did General Kaul visit Namkha chu?

Around October 8, when I was putting up my guns in Tsangdhar, 2 to 3 hours walking distance from the river. Later General Kaul went back to Delhi because he was not keeping well.

I believe he told the government that the operations should be called off and that Indian troops should only maintain a defensive posture.

But as a junior officer, I did not know about these things.

Did you meet General Kaul?

I met him on October 3 at Tezpur airport. He saw me, called me and ordered me to ensure that I should be in Tsangdhar before October 10. I said: "I will do it, Sir."

Had he any notion of the terrain and the respective positions?

I was too junior to question him (laughing), I had only nine months of service and he was a very senior officer.

But we completed everything on October 8, collecting the guns, assembling them, digging the gun pits, the ammunition pits, securing the area with machine guns, etc.

We were ready in time. We were 2, 3 hours walk above the Namkha chu.

On October 10 there was a clash in Tsangle (on the north of the river). Orders was that Tsangle should be held at all cost, we did know what it meant (as it was an isolated place).

After October 10, (presumably after General Kaul met with various people in Delhi), it was decided that we should go on a defensive posture.

He must have briefed Pandit Nehru and (then defence minister V K ] Krishna Menon who had selected him for the task (for evicting the Chinese). It was an impossible task.

What happened on October 20?

In fact, it started before October 20.

On October 19, with naked eyes, we could see troop movements in certain gaps between Chinese defences.

The Chinese were not trying to hide themselves; in fact they wanted to show: 'Look we are here in large numbers.'

At night, they lit up fires; their objectives were to prove their strength and show that they had come in the rear of our defence too.

All our telecommunication lines were cut. They had infiltrated through and gone to our rear.

You have to realise that the bridges on the Namkha chu were nothing else but a few logs of trees assembled together. They were not bridges in the real sense.

On the night of October, the message was clear, 'We are here.'

That day, my nursing assistant died of pulmonary oedema. Before that, in spite of treatment, my two JCOs and one havildar major were evacuated by helicopter due to high altitude sickness. I was left with 38 halvildars and my jawans.

The communications had been cut the night before, and we could not even use the wireless set due to very thick trees along the Namkha chu.

I had nobody senior to direct me. I could not get through to my commander, Captain Talwar, who was with Brigadier John Dalvi at the Brigade HQ. There was no communication with anybody.

On October 19, I went to Major Panicker who was with the OC (Office Commanding) of the brigade supply depot and asked him: "I don't know what is happening. I have no communication."

That night, I had my dinner, checked the sentries and went to sleep. The next morning (October 20) at around 4:30 am, even before I could check my trenches, the shelling started.

At around 9 am, while the shelling was going on, I saw a helicopter coming, but it did not take off. I sent a small patrol of two people to see what had happened. It was about 400 yards down to my gun position.

My patrol came back and said: "There is a Sikh officer with a maroon turban (Major Ram Singh of the Signals) and a non-Sikh pilot (Squadron Leader Vinod Sehgal)". They were dead.

After one-and-half or two hours, another helicopter came, the pilot went half way through and left.

I later learnt that it was Squadron Leader Arnold Williams; he must have gone back after seeing what was going on. He never landed; he went straight from Bridge II to Ziminthang.

Though we had no communication with anybody, I ordered my guns to start firing direct. There was a prominent area, the Black Rock, where we saw a number of Chinese, we kept firing there.

We fired 20, 30 rounds and kept quiet for a moment. There was one of our mortar batteries not far from us, the havildar major came to see me and ask what was happening. He was hit by an LMG (Light Machine Gun) burst and died.

By that time, troops had started withdrawing from Namkha chu and Tsangle area. These people were telling me, "Don't move, keep firing" (to protect their retreat). There were officers, JCOs, jawans running away. The brigade had altogether 3,000 people.

I was a young second lieutenant; I held my post, kept firing in direct roll, also using my LMGs and guns to control the situation.

I felt ashamed of those who were running away. I felt proud of my troops, everybody wanted to fight it out.

I will say with pride that at no stage did any of my jawans suggest to me that we should withdraw or tried to run away from the fight, though three jawans had died by this time, they all obeyed me till the end.

They saw a large number of all ranks running past our gun position, but not even one of my men deserted.

At about 3:30 or 4 pm, we had fired all our rounds and the Chinese were coming in. We had only our LMGs and guns. A large number of them came by waves.

We did whatever we could, but ultimately, we had to surrender.

In this period of 10, 11 hours, I had lost three jawans, two were seriously wounded, 6 or 7 were more lightly wounded.

I saved two seriously wounded soldiers: Gunner Awtar Singh and Operator Chamkaur Singh had got serious splinter hits. I tried to take them to the ADS (Advance Dressing Station), but it was not possible due to shelling.

I told them, "I have a bottle of brandy, I will give you 2 to 3 large doses and pour one on your wounds. Then, keep your tongue between your teeth."

I cleaned my hands with brandy and pulled out the big shrapnel and tied up a dressing on the wounds. We kept this bandage for one month. Later, the Chinese medical officer treated them in the PoW's camp; today, they are perfectly alright.

I got a splinter in my leg, but I never bothered about it.

By 4:30 pm, the whole thing was over, before this I reluctantly gave order to dismantle the guns and throw important parts in the nullah, so that they couldn't be used again.

We were not free soldiers anymore. I was shocked to realise that I was a prisoner of war, but felt consoled that all my jawans had stood by my orders and fought to the last.

The entire picture in the area did not show any signs of organised action, but showed a state of ad hocism.

Click to read Part II...

Saturday, January 6, 2024

Claude Arpi | Why Pak politicians need to study Kashmir history

My article Claude Arpi | Why Pak politicians need to study Kashmir history appeared in Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle

Pakistan’s politicians started crying foul over J&K's status, saying that the Indian government’s decision had “no legal value”.

On December 11, 2023, India’s Supreme Court upheld the August 2019 abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution, which revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and bifurcated the state into two Union territories of Ladakh and Jammu & Kashmir. Pakistan’s politicians immediately started crying foul, saying that the Indian government’s decision had “no legal value”.
Jalil Abbas Jilani, a minister in the country’s caretaker government, said that “Kashmiris have an inalienable right to self-determination in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.” Mr Jilani, like most of his colleagues, has probably never read the relevant UN resolutions: we shall soon come to that.
The Pakistani media too believed that this was a “grave injustice” and an “unjust verdict”. On December 12, Dawn said that it was an attempt to rewrite history: “The court’s decision may strengthen India’s stranglehold over Kashmir, but it cannot extinguish the Kashmiris’ strong desire for freedom and dignity.”

So let us speak about history.
While working on the Nehru papers a few years ago, I came across a “Top Secret” note written in the early 1950s by Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai, then secretary-general of the ministry of external affairs and Commonwealth affairs. It was entitled “Background to the Kashmir Issue: Facts of the Case”; and it made 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; the ruler’s offer of accession of the state to India supported by the National Conference, a predominantly Muslim though non-communal political organisation, on October 26, 1947; acceptance of the 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 fulfilment 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.”
The note also mentioned the invasion of the state by Pakistan regular forces on May 8, 1948; the conditions were clear and in two parts: first the Pakistani troops or irregulars should withdraw from the Indian territory that they occupied and later a plebiscite could be envisaged.
Commenting on the entry of Pakistanis on Indian territory, the note said: “One of the grounds for this [Pakistani] military operation, as disclosed by Pakistan’s foreign minister himself, was a recommendation of the commander-in-chief of Pakistan [a British national] that an easy victory for the Indian Army was almost certain to arouse the anger of the invading tribesmen [raiders] against Pakistan.”
The note also 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.”
Pakistani politicians (and many others) often quote the UN resolutions; very few have read them. The UN resolutions of January 17, 1948, August 13, 1948, and January 5, 1949 (UNCIP Resolutions) made it amply clear that “Pakistan cannot claim to exercise sovereignty in respect of J&K”.
In 2019, the abrogation of Article 370 by the Indian government had triggered a lot of comments from Indian as well as foreign journalists. Most of the scribes were ill-informed about the legality of the issue; while the Indian press dealt with the subject rather decently, it was not so with the foreign press. Why this perennial misinformation or disinformation?
The Government of India is probably to be blamed; the external affairs ministry should have long ago “educated” the media by giving a full historical briefing on all facets of the issue.

But there is yet more: the case of Gilgit.
An interesting announcement appeared in the 1948 London Gazette mentioning that the King “has been graciously pleased… to give orders for… appointments to the Most Exalted Order of the British Empire…” The list included “Brown, Major (acting) William Alexander, Special List (ex-Indian Army)”. Who was this officer?
Maj. Brown is infamous for illegally “offering” Gilgit to Pakistan in 1947.
The British paramountcy had lapsed on August 1, 1947, and Gilgit reverted to the Maharaja’s control. Lt. Col. Roger Bacon, the British political agent, handed his charge to Brig. Ghansara Singh, the new governor appointed by Maharaja Hari Singh. Maj. Brown remained in charge of the Gilgit Scouts.
Despite Hari Singh having signed the Instrument of Accession and joined India, Maj. Brown refused to acknowledge the orders of the Maharaja under the pretext that some leaders of the Frontier Districts Province (Gilgit-Baltistan) wanted to join Pakistan.
On November 1, 1947, probably under order from the British generals, he handed over the entire area to Pakistan.
At the time, the entire hierarchy of the Indian and Pakistan Army was still British. In Pakistan, Sir Frank Messervy was commander-in-chief of the Pakistan Army in 1947-48 and Sir Douglas Gracey served in 1948-51; while in India, the commander-in-chief was Sir Robert Lockhart (1947-48) and later Sir Roy Bucher (1948). It is only in June 1948 that Gen. K.M. Cariappa took over. Let us not forget that Sir Claude Auchinleck (later elevated to Field-Marshal) served as the supreme commander (India and Pakistan) from August to November 1947.
Who can believe that all these senior generals were kept in the dark by a junior officer like Maj. Brown?
It is obvious that Maj. Brown’s British bosses were aware of his “gift” to Pakistan. The fact that he was appointed to the OBE is further proof. The King does not usually appoint “deserters” or “rebels” to the august order.
Amazingly, six years ago, the British Parliament passed a resolution that confirmed Gilgit-Baltistan was part of Jammu and Kashmir. The motion was tabled on March 23, 2017 by Bob Blackman of the Conservative Party. It reads: “Gilgit-Baltistan is a legal and constitutional part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, India, which is illegally occupied by Pakistan since 1947, and where people are denied their fundamental rights, including the right of freedom of expression.”
It incidentally also means that the agreement signed on March 2, 1963 between Pakistan and China about the Shaksgam Valley of the Gilgit Agency being transferred to China is also legally invalid. In 2024, Beijing should plainly be told this and Pakistani politicians should learn their history.