Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Sun has gone!

The Lessons of Tawang

Despite Chinese protests, the Government of India cleared the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang allowing him to journey to Arunachal.
What lessons can we draw from this event which has been extensively covered by the national media?
The first message is that, though it has ‘upset’ the Chinese, nothing dramatic happened.
Most of the so-called Indian experts who are regularly taken for lavish trips to China had prophesized that Hell would break loose if the Dalai Lama were permitted to go to Tawang; it has not been the case.
On the contrary, as Saibal Dasgupta reported from Beijing for The Times of India: “China tried to be deliberately subdued… The Chinese foreign ministry restricted itself to expressing strong dissatisfaction with India on the issue.”
For India, it has been an occasion to discover that even if the Chinese are ‘upset’, it is not the end of the world. This has apparently percolated the Government’s psyche; the media and the general public are also gradually becoming aware of it.
Till recently, if India opened an airport or had to send troops to its northern frontier or if the Prime Minister had to visit Arunachal, the Chinese would inevitably be ‘upset’.
But if India dared to say anything about an infrastructure project in Tibet or about Beijing’s plans to built huge dams on the Brahmaputra, the Chinese spokesman would immediately forcefully state, “Please, it is our internal affair, don’t interfere”.
This is called double standards.
It seems to me that this constant rage is not healthy; the Chinese leadership has a serious problem. Could someone suggest to them to take some lessons in vipasana and equanimity from a Buddhist teacher?
While it is good that India always keeps her proverbial cool and practices samata, usually at the end of the day, the Ministry vacillates under Chinese pressure. This time, it remained firm; it did not budge under the veiled threats or melt under sweet smiles.
Unyielding under the pressure, Delhi has reiterated its decade-old position on the border. It was already enunciated in 1959 by Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister in a letter to Zhou Enlai, his Chinese counterpart.
Nehru stated: “Contrary to what has been reported to you, this line was, in fact, drawn at a Tripartite Conference held at Simla in 1913-1914 between the Plenipotentiaries of the Governments of China, Tibet and India. At the time of acceptance of the delineation of this frontier, Lonchen Shatra, the Tibetan Plenipotentiary, in letters exchanged, stated explicitly that he had received orders from Lhasa to agree to the boundary as marked on the map appended to the Convention. The Line was drawn after full discussion and was confirmed subsequently by formal exchange of letters; and there is nothing to indicate that the Tibetan authorities were in any way dissatisfied with the agreed boundary.”
It may seems strange today (particularly after the pre-visit noise from Beijing), but Zhou Enlai had told Nehru in 1957 that he had no objection to the McMahon Line (he just did not like the British connotation of the name), but that the Tibetans were unhappy about it).
Nehru rightly pointed out: “There is no mention of any Chinese reservation in respect of the India-Tibet frontier either during the discussions or at the time of their initialling the Convention [in 1914].”
The Indian Prime Minister reminded Zhou: “In our previous discussions and particularly during your visit to India in January1957, we were gratified to note that you were prepared to accept this line as representing the frontier between China and India in this region and I hope that we shall reach an understanding on this basis.”
It is much later that the Chinese, wanting a bargaining chip to legalize their occupation of the Aksai Chin, decided to play the ‘Tawang card’ and started clamouring about Arunachal. For a time, they even argued that the local Arunachal residents did not need Chinese visas to ‘visit their own motherland’.
By allowing the Dalai Lama to visit Tawang, Delhi has made clear its position on the border. It will be greatly helpful when the Special Representatives MK Narayanan and his Chinese counterpart Dai Bingguo meet the next time.
But there is another lesson from the visit: it demonstrated the magnitude of the popularity of the Tibetan leader amongst the Himalayan belt’s population. As The Times of India put it: “What this tour, just like his other visits, has proved, is the Dalai Lama's immense popularity across the Himalayas, a fact that may never allow New Delhi to completely distance itself from the Tibetan cause; this despite India's recognition of Tibet as an integral part of China.”

People not only from the North-East, but also from Ladakh, Lahaul, Spiti, Kinnaur or Sikkim often feel (rightly or wrongly) that they are second class citizens in India. This sentiment has been prevailing for a long time and is accentuated by Delhi-centered policies which have often ignored the feeling of these populations.
By agreeing to let the Tibetan leader visit Arunachal Pradesh, the Manmohan Singh Government has offered a wonderful gift to the local people. Can you imagine the entire population of a district stopping all activities for four days to listen to a leader preaching the tenets of their own culture? The Dalai Lama’s words resonated in the ears of each man or woman who had come to hear the spiritual leader speaking about their Buddhist roots.
On the last day, a friend sent me a message: “His Holiness left for Itanagar this morning; almost everyone was crying. A Monpa housewife told me ‘this could be the last time that we are getting his blessing, Guruji's visit to Tawang is always made difficult. Look at the weather now; there is no sun today, how sunny and pleasant it was yesterday and the previous days when he was here!’
Their sun had gone.
Chinese always speak of ‘the masses’, but has the totalitarian regime in Beijing the faintest idea of what ‘masses’ mean?
To give a lesson to President Obama about Tibet, Beijing now quotes the uprising of the Tibetan people in March 1959, when the entire population of Lhasa rose against the colonizer; according to Reuters: “In an attempt to convince U.S. President Barack Obama of its claim to Tibet, the Chinese government has likened the 1959 Communist takeover of the area to the American Civil War, inferring that Mao freed Tibetans from slavery.”
Qin Gang, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman stated that the US President should understand China's Tibet policy better: “he is a black president and he understands the slavery abolition movement. In 1959, China abolished the feudal serf system [in Tibet] just as President Lincoln freed the black slaves.”
Unfortunately for Beijing’s lame arguments, the masses have shown where their hearts turn for solace and advice.
While the Indian media was busy covering the Dalai Lama's visit to Tawang, not far away, in Gangtok several Tibetan and Sikkimese NGOs organized a Tibet Festival. Incredible crowds thronged the venue. The opening ceremony was attended by no less than three ministers of the Chamling Government and on the last day, it is the Chief Minister himself who declared the Festival closed.
While Tibetan culture is being erased in Tibet, the Cultural Renaissance in the Himalayan Belt is a fact. It is mainly due to the presence of the Dalai Lama in India who for the past 50 years has been teaching tolerance and non-violence.
One can imagine what would happen if the Dalai Lama was allowed to cross the McMahon Line and visit his native land.

No comments: