|The Kashmiris Traders in Lhasa were harassed|
China arguing they were Chinese nationals
This time, in the Edit Page of The Pioneer.
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Those celebrating the Five Principles enshrined in the Preamble of the Panchsheel pact often forget that the the disastrous agreement with China cost India its commercial interests in and civilisational ties with Tibet
Several foreign policy ‘experts’ have suggested that India should celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Panchsheel Agreement. I always wonder if these ‘experts’ even know the name of the agreement referred to as ‘Panchsheel’. The Panchsheel Agreement is composed of two parts: The Preamble (the Five Principles) and the content. For Beijing, the title itself, ‘Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between the Tibet Region of China and India’ was the raison d'être of the accord. It was a grand victory for Beijing (and a crushing defeat for Jawaharlal Nehru): For the first time in 2,000 years, India acknowledged that Tibet was a mere “Region of China”.
India had to pay dearly, and is still paying 60 years after the agreement, for the idealist policy of it first Prime Minister, who promoted the Preamble and ignored the content. The only objective of the Indo-Tibet Agreement was to regulate trade and pilgrimage between India and Tibet. Article IV for example mentions: “Also, the customary route leading to Tashigong along the valley of the Indus River may continue to be traversed in accordance with custom.” This refers to the Ladakh road, via Demchok, which for centuries was used by the Indian pilgrims wanting to visit the Kailash-Manasarovar area. Today, the border post is closed. Why is Beijing adamantly refusing to reopen this route?
The Agreement lapsed in April 1962 and six months later, India and China fought a bitter war over Tibet, the object of the Agreement. Many clauses of the 1954 Agreement were good. For example, the agreement said that “inhabitants of the border districts of the two countries who cross the border to carry on petty trade or to visit friends and relatives may proceed to the border districts of the other party …and shall not be required to hold passports, visas or permits.” This was how relations between the Himalayan region and Tibet had worked for centuries. India and Tibet were neighbours and friends. But the spirit of the agreement was never implemented, with tragic consequences for India (and Tibet). While ‘experts’ continue to lecture about the Grand Principles, the agreement expired 52 years ago.
One of the disastrous outcomes of the agreement was that the Government of India did not use the occasion to bargain, against the relinquishment of India’s rights in Tibet, for a proper delimitation of the border. New Delhi saw these ‘privileges’ as an imperialist heritage that had to be spurned by India. For eight years, the Panchsheel Agreement resulted in the constant harassment for Indians: Officials, traders and pilgrims in Tibet. I shall mention a tragicomic incident.
In May 1959, Swami Brahmachari Atma Chaitanya, an Indian pilgrim on his way to Kailash, was arrested and quizzed by Chinese border guards, as he crossed Tibet. A complaint from the Ministry of External Affairs to Beijing explains why: “[The Swami] was harshly interrogated by the Chinese soldiers, his baggage searched, and some of his belongings confiscated. These included some homoeopathic medicines which he was accused of bringing with him with the intention of poisoning the people of Tibet.”
The Swamy was detained for five days, after which he was allowed to proceed for his pilgrimage. When he crossed back into India, he was once again interrogated, and the Chinese officials asked him to confess that he had brought “poison” with him. He was courageous enough to refuse. His medicines were, however, confiscated.
This was followed by a lengthy exchange of notes between New Delhi and Beijing. A Chinese note says: “A laboratory test by the authorities concerned in Tibet already proved that the so-called ‘frequently required drugs for self use’ contained in 10 odd bottles… were poisonous matters comprising such highly poisonous drugs like Arsenic Alb., Merc. Cor., Aconite, Phosphorus, Nux. Vom. and so on. No one, with a little common sense would think that such a big variety of highly poisonous matters being in the possession of a single person can become the frequently required drugs for self use.”
Hundreds of such notes or memoranda exist, not only on pilgrimage issues, but more importantly on the routine functioning of the Indian Trade Agencies in Gyantse, Gartok and Yatung as well as the Consulate General of India in Lhasa. Constant pestering and administrative hurdles hindered the reconstruction of the Indian Trade Agency in Gyantse which was washed away during flash floods in July 1954. The agency was never rebuilt due to the petty attitude of the Chinese officials in Gyantse, Lhasa and Beijing. When the Agency was officially closed in June 1962, the Indian authorities were requested to take back to India the construction materials (gravel, wood, etc.) with them! Such was the spirit of Panchsheel.
Indian traders were repeatedly victimised by the Chinese who imposed exorbitant taxes and new unilateral import or export restrictions. One of the most targeted communities was the Khachis, the Kashmiri Muslims, who for centuries had been trading between Tibet, Kashmir and Central Asia. They suddenly became Chinese nationals and were restricted to return to India. Those who did not accept were harassed and arrested.
The distressing correspondence of those eight years always quotes the great Panchsheel Agreement. The situation was so bad that in June 1962, India decided not to renew the Agreement and close down its three Trade Agencies. The Consulate General was closed in December 1962; here again, amidst high drama, the Chinese accused the Indian Consul General, Arvind Deo, of destroying some of India’s own properties in Lhasa and Yatung. The Agreement heralded nightmarish years for those from the foreign office posted in Tibet as well as the Indian traders and pilgrims. At the end, the age-old relations within the Indian Himalayas came to naught.
According to Xinhua, when the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang congratulated Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his victory in the recent general election, he conveyed the Chinese Government’s desire to establish a robust partnership with the new administration. Mr Li said that, “On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the creation of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence … China was willing to further strengthen cooperation with India.”
This is fine, but China and India should just forget the Panchsheel and start on a clean slate. Too many bitter souvenirs are attached to the Agreement. Common men in India would like to circumambulate Mt Kailash and take a holy dip in the Manasarovar, why not reopen the Demchok road to start afresh? By the way, why is Mr Wang Yi, the Chinese Foreign Minister, rushing to New Delhi in the midst of the inaugural session of the new Lok Sabha? Did he spot Mr Lobsang Sangay, the Tibetan Prime Minister, at Mr Modi’s swearing-in ceremony? Perhaps he wants to know if there is any change in India’s Tibet policy.