Monday, July 30, 2012

Indian Missions in Tibet

Dekyi Lingka, the Indian Mission in Lhasa
The Indian media recently mentioned India's demand to reopen a Consulate General in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. 
For example, an article in The Business Standard affirms: "India and China are sparring over the opening of consulates in Lhasa in exchange for Chennai, in what amounts to a second round of diplomatic confrontation between Asia's largest powers, in the wake of their recent disagreement over an oil block in the South China Sea that is controlled by India, owned by Vietnam and counter-claimed by China."
Though the discussion over the opening of new consulates has, for the time being, remained within the confines of the Foreign ministries in Delhi and Beijing,it is an important topic for India, which always had and still has, 'interests' in Tibet.
One of these interests is trade.
Last week, the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies released a new report stressing the importance of increased economic engagement between India and China.
It argued that: "India should facilitate more border trade with China with better connectivity and more commerce opportunities including on the Natu La trading point in Sikkim."
The writers of the report strongly believe that India's attempt at facilitating economic exchanges with China will benefit all players in South Asia: "Moreover, intangible gains in terms of acquiring a substantial stature within the region will also be important for India."

The reopening of the Consulate in Lhasa should be seen in this context.
It is also interesting to quote from a note, written by Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian Prime Minister when he visited Paro in Bhutan in September 1958.

The note was addressed to N.R. Pillai, Secretary General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Commonwealth, Subimal Dutt, Foreign Secretary, M.J. Desai, Commonwealth Secretary, and B.N. Chakravarty, Special Secretary, MEA. A copy of this note was sent to Apa B. Pant, Political Officer in Sikkim and Bhutan, and J.S. Mehta, Deputy Secretary, MEA.
Some of Nehru's remarks, school teacher-like, may seem childish, but it nevertheless shows the importance of the Indian mission and the trade agencies in Tibet for the Prime Minister at the end of the 1950's

S. Sinha, head of the Indian Mission in the early 1950's

Indian Missions in Tibet 

During my brief stay at Yatung [Nehru stayed at Yatung ovenight on 18 September on his way to Bhutan], I met our representatives in Tibet that is, our Consul-General at Lhasa [S.L. Chibber] and our Trade Agents at Gyantse [R.S. Kapoor] and Yatung [K.C. Johorey].
At Yatung, I saw the land and buildings attached to our Trade Agency. In regard to the other two places, I was given some account of the position there.

2. We divide up our missions abroad on some basis of importance and according to the standard give amenities, etc. While this may be good enough as a general rule, it is obvious that some places require special attention. Thus, our mission in Tibet have to be considered quite apart from any other place in the world. I can hardly imagine a more dreary life, both climatically and to some extent politically, than has to be faced in Tibet. People have to live at an altitude of 10,000 to 12,500 ft or perhaps more. The winter is terribly severe and the long nights must be enough to try anyone's nerves. There is hardly any social intercourse or cultural activities.

3. The first thing to be sure about is that, in so far as possible, our representatives who are sent there are physically capable of supporting that altitude (I might mention that the present representatives did not complain to me about the altitude and apparently did not fare badly because of it). Twice at least in the past we have had trouble about our Ambassadors who were sent to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia because they had to live at an altitude of 9,000 ft. Tibet is generally much higher and the climate much more rigorous. Every person who is sent to these places must have his heart and blood-pressure examined carefully and only when he passes the test should he be sent there. On the whole, the term of a person's tenure there should not be too prolonged. I realise the difficulty of having short tenures because work in Tibet is of a very specialised kind and it may not be easy to find suitable men for it. If a person is healthy and does not suffer from the altitude or the climate, he may continue to remain there for a relatively longer period. But we should have reports about his health periodically. It should be remembered that this is not merely a question of health of the officer concerned but of his family also.

4. A certain minimum standard of comfort and conveniences should be provided. Comfort obviously includes proper residence, adequate heating and water supply and lighting. This is the barest minimum anywhere, but in these cold regions its importance is all the greater. The long cold nights require warm rooms and proper lighting for reading or other work or amusement. The water supply should include running hot water wherever possible.

5. I am suggesting the barest minimum for residential purposes. Without this life tends to become intolerable in these regions for any normal family with children. Another aspect of this is the provision of cultural facilities for all our staff and their families. These facilities include (1) radios; (2) films; (3) books and periodicals; (4) games.

6. I believe some kind of radios have been supplied through Shri Apa Pant to these places in Tibet. It is essential that properly functioning radios should be given to these missions. I should imagine that one radio is not enough. There should be one in our representative's house and one in some common room for the rest of the staff.

7. Films. These again are important, not only our documentaries which are much appreciated, but also feature films. Both these types of films are also very popular with the general population and are good publicity. Arrangements should be made for a regular and frequent supply of our documentaries. As for feature films also, more might be sent. The normal price charged by the film companies is based on some kind of competitive charges. This does not apply to Tibet at all and we ought to try to get some of these feature films at cheaper rates for Tibet especially. It would be good propaganda for them.

8. Books and periodicals. This again is very important for the long winter evenings for our people cut off from their homeland and living in an alien and sometimes even hostile atmosphere. We must build up good libraries there, principally in English and Hindi, and definitely set aside an adequate sum for this purpose. These libraries should also be available to the local residents should they require to use them. That is an important aspect, but I am thinking principally now of the members of our own missions and their families who should have not only a good basic library but new books sent to them from time to time.

9. I suggest that immediately a set of books worth about Rs 500/- each set should be sent to Lhasa, Gyantse and Yatung through our Gangtok Agency. This may form the base and should be added on annually. I am suggesting the figure of Rs 500/- as a minimum figure. I do not quite know how far that will help.

10. This Rs 500/- may be split up into Rs 300/- for English books and Rs 200/- for Hindi books. There are some very good cheap editions of English books appearing in Bombay and perhaps elsewhere too. Old Indian classics or their translations have been brought out and they cost from Re 1/- to Rs 2/ 8/- each. I suggest that full sets of these popular editions might be obtained. Once before I suggested that we should get these books to be sent to all our missions abroad. I do not know what was done about that. In any event, a full set should be obtained for these three missions in Tibet.

11. Another type of books which will of course be more expensive should be those relating to Tibet or problems of that area, travel books and others.

12. Among our books, children's books should always be included for the children of our people in the missions, both in English and in Hindi.

13. Dr Bachchan  should be asked to make a selection of the Hindi books to be sent to these three missions in Tibet.
I have suggested Rs 500/- as a beginning. It should by no means be thought that this is the ceiling.

14. Games. It is desirable to send some equipment for games, both indoor and outdoor. These are useful for the members of our missions and their families.
They are also very useful for other residents of the towns who I am told welcome them and take part in them.

15. At present, I am told, there are practically no suitable buildings for us in Lhasa and Gyantse. In Gyantse the terrible flood of two-three years ago destroyed our building and killed 60 or 70 of our people. Since then our Agent there has lived in a very unsuitable and uncomfortable hired place. I understand that there have been proposals for putting up some buildings and possibly also a dam to protect them in future from floods. As usual with such proposals, they take a mighty long time to materialise. We have to face two almost insuperable difficulties. One is on our side, the CPWD, etc. The other is on the Chinese side who even excel us in delaying matters.

16. In both Gyantse and Lhasa I understand that the land in our possession at present is both spacious and well-suited. In fact it is probably the best land in those towns. If we do not utilise it quickly, we might well find part of it slipping away from us. Therefore, early steps should be taken to finalise the buildings, etc., which have to be put up there. The plans for these buildings should be adequate and spacious, even though the en tire plan should not be given effect to immediately. We may build quickly the central part of it, leaving the rest for a future period as convenient. There is some importance in having good and solid buildings put up there. I do not attach much importance as a rule to prestige in such matters. Nevertheless, this aspect cannot be ignored in Tibet as things are.

17. This will require a competent engineer to be sent by us to these places, more especially for the proposed dam. Any such dam at Gyantse really should have been the business for the Chinese to put up. I have no idea of its extent or cost. I think that we should start at the house first and take a risk if necessary about the dam. After all the terrible accident that occurred at Gyantse was not the kind of thing which repeats itself perhaps in less than a century. It was due to a big lake in the mountains breaking its barriers and the water rushing down suddenly. So the dam may well be postponed for some time, though it must be kept in mind. The engineer could report on it.

18. So far as the dam is concerned, we must necessarily act according to the advice of the Chinese. Our first attempt should be to ask them to make it. If this does not succeed, even so we should take their advice and our engineer should work in close cooperation with the Chinese engineers.

19. I have mentioned books above. Current periodicals are essential. Our Publications Division sends some of its published literature to Gangtok from where it is distributed to our Tibetan missions. It seemed to me that a very poor supply was sent even of this output of the Publications Division which should be increased.

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