Monday, January 5, 2015

Will Tibet ever find her soul again? An Indian view

I am posting today some fascinating extracts of "The Annual report of the Indian Trade Agency in Gyantse, Tibet for the year 1952-53".
This is a 'routine' annual report sent by the Indian Trade Agent (ITA), Maj. S.M. Krishnatry to his bosses in the Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi (Jawaharlal Nehru was then the Minister).
What makes it special is the fact that the Chinese had marched into Tibet a few months earlier.
Krishnatry was then on deputation from the Indian Army.
Born in 1921, Surendra Mohan Krishnatry joined the British Indian Army in 1942;
the officer of the Maratha Light Infantry, fought in Malaysia till 1945 and participated to the Japanese surrender.
After a stint as Officer Commanding the Indian troops in Gangtok (Sikkim), he went to Tibet in 1949, where he was posted  as a Commandant of the Indian Escort in Gyantse. He later became ITA in Gyantse (1950-1953).
After joining the Indian Frontier Administrative Service, he served in the North-East, Sikkim and Nepal. 

His posting in Subansiri Frontier Division of the NEFA in 1956, inspired a book, co-authored with his wife Geeta, Border Tagins of Arunachal Pradesh. It is one of the most remarkable accounts of the history of the NEFA.
Krishnatry's 1952 Annual Report is important to understand the first years of the Chinese occupation of the Tibetan plateau.
Krishnatry speaks of "the process of subjugation and the struggle with the recalcitrant masses and peasantry of Tibet".
It is indeed the masses who struggled against the invaders, while the upper classes (aristocracy and clergy) often collaborated with the Chinese.
The tragic case of the two courageous Tibetan Prime Ministers is mentioned. 
In the report, one can see for the first time that the Chinese consider the Indians as their rivals in Tibet and already in 1952, the PLA began harassing Indian officers. It will become much worse once the infamous Panchsheel Agreement is signed in April 1954.

In his introduction, Krishnatry asked: "Will Tibet ever find her soul again?"
Interesting question!

Annual report of the Indian Trade Agency, Gyantse, Tibet 
for the year 1952-53

Perhaps the historians will not fail to record that the year marked out a period of great success for the Chinese communists in their plans to incorporate Tibet as an integral part of New China. The process of subjugation and the struggle with the recalcitrant masses and peasantry of Tibet is just beginning to show signs in favour of Chinese success; and looking back retrospectively, it is obvious that the communist dictatorship is now far too well dug in and consolidated and has come to stay. The Chinese concentrated on quickly improving their communications and roads and rapaciously grabbing all they could find in the way of foodstuffs and other supplies. They aimed, by means of virile and strong blows of propaganda, to capture the heart and soul of Tibetans and won. Will Tibet ever find her soul again?


1.    In achieving their ends, the Chinese have not spared any means, good or bad, that were likely to serve their neo-imperialistic designs. For their ends are important, not the means which they employ with or without scruples to show the most spectacular, direct and quick results. As is their wont, they must effectively brush aside all opposition and all rebellious elements from their path. The Peking Agreement, signed between China and Tibet in 1951 has not been strictly adhered to by them whenever it so suited them, although propaganda always professed their pious and good intentions. Tibetans alleged from time to time that their promises of non-interference in the internal affairs were just hoax. The glaring example of their interference, they say, is their insistence on the dismissal of the two ablest Prime Ministers (Lukhangwa and his colleague) who to the people of Tibet “were as dear as hearts”. Remarkable though the discipline of the Peoples liberation Army has been, their claim that they will not harm the Tibetans even in so much as to deprive them of their “needle and thread” can hardly be sustained. Indeed the Chinese “locusts” brought in economic distress, scarcity and famine conditions all round by entirely living off the land. It is an open secret that they used force and other dubious methods to make Tibetans supply to them sheep, goats, yaks, barley, butter, grass, firewood and many other things on cheap or negligible rates. This of course does not mean that the Chinese have given up using money with princely liberality to ‘buy’ the Tibetan officials, many of whom serve them now with loyalty. After winning over the Kutras (Tibetan officialdom) by lure of money or by display of force, they are now stooping to conquer the irreconciling common people of Tibet, who for so long refused to have any truck with them by lavishing offering attractive salaries and loans. So much so that, having first subdued them to hunger and poverty, they are offering large sums to them on humanitarian and charitable grounds. Indeed the Tibetans realize that they should either accept this God-sent help from their saviours or else starve!

2.    A strong policy was initiated in Gyantse area by the Chinese when the Headquarters of the 52 Division were firmly established in Gyantse in July, 1952. Troops of the 154 (Bde) [Brigade] which had previously been stationed in Gyantse, Shigartse [Shigatse] and Yatung areas gave place to those of 152 (Bde) in Gyantse, the previous lot having shifted to Yatung and Pharidzong [Phari Dzong]. Thus, the Political Commissar of the 52 Division, Yin Fu Dring Hui (Yin Fa Thang) [Yin Fatang] came to be the Chief Officer in Gyantse after relieving Tru Cha Ting (Tru Tru Ren). Unimpressive of appearance and stolid of nature, he gives the impression of having a thoroughly indoctrinated ‘hard core’ man. Change was felt soon, and Yin’s strong and stern policy brought down gradually all Tibetans mainly officials to their knees. Anyone who showed disinclination to cooperate was treated to shock tactics “Are you them an Imperialist Agent of the British and Americans? The Abbot of Gyantse monastery, who till that day was considered as the only man who could stand up to the Chinese, and Kyipup Se, the dzongpon [Commissioner], both important officials of the Tibetan Government were the first victims. For the life of them, they gave in end since become first rate collaborators.

3.    On October 1st, 1952, when the Chinese Peoples Republic anniversary was celebrated, an important step towards integration was taken by opening an OEI YUAN office in Gyantse. All local Tibetans were compulsorily made to become members i.e. OEI YUAN, which means a member of a local body country. Yin announced that with that the Liberation of the Tibetan People became a reality. The ostensible object of the OEI YUAN office was declared to be propagation of the so called 17 articles of the Peking Agreement among all people including villagers. This did not attract the peasants, who obstinately have so long refused to do anything with the Commission, contrary to many expectations; and the propaganda in villages fell flat. The real motive, however, was to make the OEI YUAN organization a handy and useful instrument and channel of enforcing their will and programme and to disrupt and replace the authority of the Tibetan Government. The Chinese have had a measure of success in this. It is not an exaggeration to say that through this organization the Chinese literally govern the Gyantse area. Nowhere else in central Tibet a similar organization has been opened and Gyantse may well be leading in the process of 'Liberation'. Under the auspices of this organization, a school on the Chinese model and a 72 bedded hospital will in due course be opened by the 'people' of Gyantse.

4.    With the arrival of the Chinese rice and considerable improvement in their procurement of local supplies, the morale of the Chinese troops in Tibet improved during the year. Perhaps the San Fan and Wu Fan movements launched by the Chinese Government last year also gave them 'thought remoulding' and 'brain washing' opportunities. But the dull grind of the daily routine and the nostalgic feeling continued to bore into their morale. While they would not tolerate any infringement of their own privileged position and generally kept their heads high, at least some of them are definitely sad and unhappy about the way destiny is throwing them about. When the news of Stalin’s death broke in Gyantse, quite a few of these expressed suppressed jubilation, for “He was the man responsible for sending us into Tibet”. Someone whispered to a Tibetan who was sharing their confidence, if only Mao Tse Tung [Mao Zedong] would also die”. All men are not made of the same stuff and these may either be regarded as ‘soft’ or be dismissed as 'Kuomingtang reactionaries'. It can also be said without fear of contradiction that the Chinese reconnaissance and survey parties had a good look around our frontiers particularly north of Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim. Besides patrolling, they doubtlessly mapped and surveyed these areas.

5.    It remains to this day a glaring truth that, contrary to many expectations including those of the Chinese Communists, while most Kutras (Tibetan official class) have collaborated slyly and sometimes even treacherously, the common man and the peasantry have remained obstinately uncompromising. Severe onslaughts of propaganda and the lure of money has not lead them to become fellow travelers of the communists. For Tibetans on the whole, the Dalai Lama, who has so much endeared himself to his people, remaining the God-King and few would pay homage to Mao Tse Tung, whose name-and the songs extolling him-are many a time thrust down the throats of Tibetans. Overnight, Lukhangwa (the Prime Minister dismissed at the instance of the Chinese) became a hero for them. In Gyantse, Kyipup Se, the dzongpon, and Chhampa Tender, the Abbot, and some others were branded openly by the populace as 'traitors' and 'worthy of being killed for good', which were the writings on the walls for everyone to read. Leaflets bearing sketches of Mao Tse Tung were treated with contempt, torn and spat on, and his portraits cut into with knives. The Peasants Meetings and protests were severely dealt with by the Chinese and those who uttered the words 'freedom' or 'independence' were branded as 'rebels' with the usual consequences. The next year may, however, bring greater luck to the Chinese communists in Tibet. Just as it would appear today, the severe economic distress and famine conditions may come out to be the mascot for the Chinese. Taking advantage of this, they have distributed free cash doles worth more than 1000 silver dollars in charity to many poor people, who first refused scornfully but later, looking at their stomachs, accepted. Since then, many a Tibetans, who till the other day called the Chinese 'Pangos' and 'beggars', now come to them to beg!

1.    With the strengthening of the Chinese formidable hold on Tibet and generally apathetic attitude of the remaining World, the Tibetans reconciled to the inevitable and gave up looking towards America or Western Powers, except perhaps in very isolated instances of a few persons including Gyalo Dhondup, the brother of Dalai Lama. The remaining hopes were damped by the pernicious Chinese propaganda and diversion of interest towards those officials and delegation who visited China in large numbers and, [were] over-whelmed and much impressed, talked of the wonderful and in fact some unbelievable achievements of the People’s Republic.

2.    This, however, cannot be said in case of India whose significant position continued to be respected with hope. The land of Buddha with her noble and good people and her leaders could not be talked about in disparaging terms; and we may be rest assured that, given sympathetic and tactful treatment, the enormous fund of goodwill and friendship that we have created will last for long.
However, while it is true that the invasion of Tibet in the beginning had drawn the Tibetans more and more towards India, the fact remains that the last year saw Tibetans compelled to be drawn towards the Chinese. Mainly for fear of the Chinese and sometimes at their instance, the Tibetans refrained from visiting us too often and kept as aloof as was necessary. It soon became evident to the Tibetans that along with their professions of friendship, the Chinese entertained strong sense of rivalry and jealously towards India and Indian posts in Tibet. By all accounts, they discouraged the Tibetans to have much to do with us and signified that they would be giving much more in money, pleasure or company than what 'Hindus' could give. In some places, an order was issued by the Chinese prohibiting the Tibetan officials from visiting Foreign Missions without their permission. While ostensibly it aimed at safe-guarding against Foreign Missions being unduly worried by Tibetan officials, it was really meant to cut both ways. While the Foreign Missions may like to pat the Chinese on the back for this, the order was undoubtedly meant to ensure that, with other advantage, the Tibetans should gradually break all free relationship with the outside World including India. Politically, therefore, India and Tibet had to remain somewhat cut off from each other; but routine procedure in our relationship and the trade and commerce continued on the old lines.

3.    Though our relations with the Chinese were bound to have improved with the opening up of our Consulate General in Lhasa, which in itself marked our official recognition of their acclaimed position in Tibet, no spectacular results could be expected. In Gyantse itself, the Change of Command in July, 1952, marked a change in the Chinese attitude for worse. Yin Fu Dring Hui and his fellow officers showed that coldness of attitude which could never pass for the friendliness and cordiality which his predecessor Tru Cha Ting was capable of. He evaded and avoided meeting the Officer Commanding our Escorts, who was them acting as the Trade Agent, for a while unless the ‘Foreigner’ called on him first formally. But he thought the better of it latter on when the Trade Agent returned from India and invited him to a meeting and to lunch. It was the studied policy since then to isolate Tibetans from us and to “correct” our relations with all in Tibet. Our relations in Gyantse are of course conditioned by the presence of Indian Army troops (Escorts), which may be regarded as an eye-sore by them. Justifiable or not, the presence of our troops as our escorts has been of great importance to us and a hurried and hasty total withdrawal of these, without leaving behind a smaller detachment, is bound to result in a great loss of face and prestige in the eyes of the World and cause some upsetting of our set up.

4.    However, whatever may be the reasons, these Chinese almost invariably gave our men grumpy and unfriendly looks which left their marks on many. The Chinese opened their Changlo bridge check-post on 18th April, 1952. Innocuous as it looked in the beginning we found that it had instructions to check mainly our men and stores coming in from India for arms and ammunition. Many an ugly incidents occurred and recurred once again at their instance, such as stopping and searches of our mail bags, hold-up of Captain Chhibber and his men insultingly on 10th May and marching in force into the Agency premises carrying their flag and shouting slogans. Representations by the Trade Agent did only little good. The rejection and condemnation of the Indian Resolution on Korea in December last and the unfriendly and unkind comments on India by Peking Radio had its effect of further poisoning the mind of the Chinese soldier; and the climax came when on 3rd January, 1953, the Trade Agent and his party were also stopped and humiliated by a sentry on the bridge. Our strong protests against this, however, brought forth the desired results, and it appears that the Chinese have now come down on earth. At the time of writing this, our relations are tending to be again correct and cordial.

[Source: National Archives of India]


GJ said...

Your work in tracing out and recording the experiences of the early pioneers of the IFAS is praiseworthy.
Thanks for sharing and looking forward to a nice book soon

Zaine Krishnatraye said...

Thank you for posting and sharing this. I have been recently been looking for articles and books written by my grandfather (S.M. Krishnatry). Thank you for acknowledging his work and sharing it with everyone.

Zaine Krishnatraye