A few days back, I posted the transcript of the 4-hour talk between Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian Prime Minister and the newly-exiled Dalai Lama (in April 1959 in Mussoorie).
Here is the Dalai Lama's version of this momentous event.
It has appeared in the Dalai Lama's autobiography, Freedom in Exile (Chapter 8 - A Desperate Year).
The fact that the Dalai Lama is calling this particular chapter, 'A Desperate Year' is telling.
One can see from the transcript posted earlier that Nehru is sometimes quite tough with the young Tibetan leader, who puts it politely "I went on in spite of the growing evidence that he could be a bit of a bully".
It is true that Nehru was under pressure from the Parliament; many legislators wanted him to do more for Tibet.
And he was stil very enamoured with 'socialist' China.
The Dalai Lama is particularly heavily quizzed on the content of the letters that he wrote to General Tan Guansan (Acting Representative of the Central People's Government in Tibet and Political Commissar of the Tibet Military area Command).
The interpreter mentioned by the Dalai Lama is Sonam P. Kazi, a Sikkimese working for the Ministry of External Affairs; he was on deputation in Mussoorie. He was the only person present during the meeting except for the Foreign Secretary (Subimal Dutt) who took the notes.
As often with people he considered 'junior', Nehru spoke tough (not to say contemptuously): "Nehru thought of me as a young person who needed to be scolded from time to time". He even banged the table.
It must have been a difficult experience for the young Lama.
He says: "I began to realise that my future, and that of my people, was far less certain than I had imagined."
And no question of Independence, hammered the Prime Minister.
It was probably the first seed of the 'Middle Path' approach.
Remember, Nehru told the Dalai Lama: "We have yet to maintain good relations with China - a middle but difficult course. Does D.L. [Dalai Lama] agree with this?" "Yes" could only answer the young Tibetan leader.
Interestingly, during the last week of March 1959, Nehru several times informed the Parliament and Indian leaders that the number of refugees from Tibet was not very large (hundred or so) and that he did not expect many to cross the border.
Apparently the Dalai Lama had fresher news. He wrote in his memoirs: "It quickly became clear, however, that we were faced with more immediate problems than the question of Tibetan independence. No sooner had we arrived in Mussoorie than we started to receive reports of large numbers of refugees arriving not only in India but also in Bhutan. Immediately, l sent some of my officials to receive them at the camps hastily opened by the Indian Government".
An important point which does not appear in the Dalai Lama's version but which was very much present in Nehru's mind: Tibet is a backward country. The Prime Minister was probably convinced by his Chinese counterpart, Zhou Enlai that a good dose of 'reforms' was necessary and the take-over by 'modern', 'socialist' China was a great opportunity for 'old' Tibet to 'reform'.
In a letter to G. Parhsarathy (Telegram to Indian Ambassador to China, April 29, 1959) Nehru said:
I am leaving Delhi for three days. Recent developments in Tibet have raised difficult problems not only for India but for China also and of course for Tibet itself. I can appreciate to some extent Chinese attitude, constituted as Chinese are at present. We realise that Tibet is very backward. Nevertheless the regimented and virulent attacks on India in China and their insistence on patent falsehoods have surprised and distressed me.Nehru could understand 'to some extent' the Chinese attitude even after the Dalai Lama had told him that tens of thousands of his countrymen have been killed.
What disturbed Nehru was the personal attacks against him in the Chinese official media. It culminated by an Editorial of The People's Daily on May 6, 1959. It was entitled: 'The Revolution in Tibet and Nehru's Philosophy'.
It begin thus:
The war of rebellion unleashed by the handful of traitors in Tibet has been quelled. With the ignominious defeat of the rebels, the sanguinary conflict they created has ended over the overwhelming portion of Tibet. Now Tibet faces a peaceful revolution, that is, the democratic reforms in Tibet referred to in the resolution of the National People's Congress and which the broad masses of people in Tibet have long expected and urgently demanded.The same longish Editorial speaks of 'Mr. Nehru Deplorable Error':
This is a revolution the continuation in Tibet of the great people's revolution which swept the Chinese mainland around 1949. Because of obstruction by the former Tibet Local Government this revolution has been delayed in Tibet during the past eight years since the peaceful liberation of Tibet. The revolution to be carried out immediately after the putting down of the rebellion will be a peaceful one, that is to say, a revolution without bloodshed. The Tibetan people will pursue a policy of redemption toward those of the upper classes in Tibet who have not taken part in the rebellion-almost the same policy adopted in the Han areas towards the national bourgeoisie. Ample conditions exist for the Tibetan people to do so, because they are backed up by China's hundreds of millions of people, who have already completed democratic reforms and the socialist transformation.
In discussing Tibetan society, although Nehru does not oppose reforms and does not deny the part vested interest played in the rebellion, still on the whole he not only fails to touch on its externally cruel system of exploitation, but virtually lumps together the vast majority of the exploited with the tiny minority of the exploiters. On this basis, he denies that a handful of upper strata reactionaries are responsible for the rebellion in Tibet, describes the just action of the Chinese people in putting down the rebellion as a 'tragedy' and expresses sympathy for the rebellion.It was indeed quite a 'desperate' situation for the Dalai Lama.
Thus, he commits a most deplorable error. As friends of India and as the people whose affairs Nehru is discussing, we deem it necessary to point out this error. If one agrees with Nehru's logic, not only the revolution in Tibet, but the whole Chinese revolution would be impermissible. It will be recalled that before liberation the area of China inhabited by the Han nationality had basically not emerged from the orbit of feudal society, although it was not serfdom. It, too, had always been called a static, unchanging isolated society...
Extracts: Freedom in Exile)
On 24 April, Pandit Nehru himself arrived in Mussoorie. We talked together for over four hours, assisted by a single interpreter. I began by telling him everything that had happened since I had returned to Tibet — largely, as I reminded him, at his insistence. I went on to say that I had done just as he had suggested and dealt fairly and honestly with the Chinese, criticising them where necessary and trying hard to keep to the terms of the ‘Seventeen Point Agreement'. I then explained that I had not originally intended to seek India's hospitality but that I had wanted to establish my Government at Lhuntse Dzong. Only the news from Lhasa had changed my mind. At this point he became rather irritated. 'The Indian Government could not have recognised it even if you had,' he said. I began to get the impression that Nehru thought of me as a young person who needed to be scolded from time to time.
During other parts of our conversation he banged the table. 'How can this be?' he asked indignantly once or twice. However, I went on in spite of the growing evidence that he could be a bit of a bully. Finally, I told him very firmly that my main concern was twofold: 'I am determined to win independence for Tibet, but the immediate requirement is to put a stop to the bloodshed.' At this he could restrain himself no longer. 'That is not possible!' he said in a voice charged with emotion. 'You say you want independence and in the same breath you say you do not want bloodshed. Impossible!' His lower lip quivered with anger as he spoke.
I began to realise that the Prime Minister found himself in an extremely delicate and embarrassing position. In the Indian Parliament, another tense debate on the Tibetan question had followed the news of my escape from Lhasa. For years now, he had been criticised by many politicians over his handling of the situation. And now, it seemed to me, he was showing signs of a guilty conscience at having been so insistent that I return to Tibet in 1957.
Yet at the same time it was clear that Nehru wanted to protect India's friendly relations with China and was determined to adhere to the principles of the Panchsheel memorandum, despite the Indian politician Acharya Kripalani's description of it as having been 'born in sin to put the seal of our approval on the destruction of an ancient nation'. He made it quite clear that the Government of India still could not contemplate taking issue with the Chinese over the question of Tibetan rights. For now, I should rest and not make any plans for the immediate future. We would have the opportunity for further discussions on other occasions. Hearing this, I began to realise that my future, and that of my people, was far less certain than I had imagined. Our meeting ended cordially enough but, as the Prime Minister left, l experienced a profound feeling of disappointment.
It quickly became clear, however, that we were faced with more immediate problems than the question of Tibetan independence. No sooner had we arrived in Mussoorie than we started to receive reports of large numbers of refugees arriving not only in India but also in Bhutan. Immediately, l sent some of my officials to receive them at the camps hastily opened by the Indian Government.
From these new arrivals l learnt that, after their initial bombardment of the Norbulingka, the Chinese had turned their guns on to the Potala and the Jokhang, slaughtering and wounding thousands. Both buildings were badly damaged. The Chakpori Medical School was totally destroyed. No one knows how many people were killed during this onslaught, but a PLA document captured by Tibetan freedom fighters during the 1960s stated that between March 1959 and September 1960, 87,000 deaths through military action were recorded. (This figure does not include all those who died as a result of suicide, torture and starvation.)
As a result, countless thousands of my people tried to leave Tibet. Many died, either directly at the hands of the Chinese, or from wounds, malnutrition, cold and disease. Those who managed to escape across the border did so in a state of abject dereliction. And although there was food and shelter for them on arrival, the relentless Indian sun began to exact a pitiless toll from them. There were two main transit camps, one at Missamari, close to Tezpur, the other at Buxa Duar, a former British prisoner-of-war camp located close to the Bhutanese border in the north-east.