Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The First Days of the Dalai Lama in India

Har Mander Singh, the Dalai Lama, Mrs Singh
As the Dalai Lama will soon visit Tawang again, I am reposting here a fascinating report sent by Har Mander Singh, the Political Officer (PO) of the Kameng Frontier Division (FD) to K.L. Mehta, the Adviser to the Governor of Assam on April 16, 1959.
Mehta, Har Mander's boss posted in Shillong, was looking over the entire NEFA.
As the PO of Kameng FD, Har Mander Singh was responsible to receive the Dalai Lama in March/April 1959, when the Tibetan leader and his party sought refuge in India.
The Tibetan leader crossed the Indian border on March 31, 1959 at Khenzimane/Chuthangmu where he was received by T.S. Murty, the Assistant PO in Tawang.
Har Mander Singh came later and met the Dalai Lama at Lumla, a few days march from Tawang.
This is the final report sent by the Political Officer before the Dalai Lama proceeded to the plains of Assam and Mussorie, his first residence in India.
Nehru's special envoy, P.N. Menon (father of former Foreign Secretary and NSA, Shivshankar Menon) came to meet the Dalai Lama in Bomdila with a message from the Indian Prime Minister.
P.N. Menon had earlier been posted as Consul General of India in Lhasa (1954-1956).

Here is the Report:


Bomdi La, April 16, 1959
D.O. No. CON.56

My dear Shri Mehta,
This is possibly my final despatch on the entry of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in this [Kameng] Division.
His Holiness left Tawang on the 8th April, 1959, halted at Jang on the 8th April, Sengedzong [Senge Dzong] on the 9th April, Dirang Dzong on the 10th April, Rahung on the 11th April and reached Bomdi La on the 12th as already reported. People in very large numbers gathered along the route to see him throughout the journey. He held blessing ceremonies in almost every village where he stopped during his trek.
On the 10th April, while travelling between Sengedzong and Dirang Dzong His Holiness mentioned that as a rule he did not listen in to the Lhasa Radio but had done so the previous evening and had learnt that the Chinese had set up a new enlarged Preparatory Committee under the Chairmanship of the Panchen Lama with four Vice-Presidents. They were Gen Chang Kuo Hwa [Zhang Guohua], one of the two Shapes [Ministers] (in-charge of Armed Forces) left behind in Lhasa and two incarnate Lamas. The second Shape [Ngapo Ngawang Jigme] had been included in the Preparatory Committee. The Panchen Lama had issued a statement condemning the rebel Forces and stating that those who indulged in rebel activities should be severely dealt with.
I noticed that from the time he listened in to this broadcast, the attitude of the Dalai Lama towards the question of giving asylum to the Tibetans seeking entry in India underwent a change. Heretofore, he seemed to be of the view that the Government of India should be liberal in giving asylum to the Tibetan officials and members of the rebel Forces fleeing the Chinese. After listening in to this particular broadcast the Dalai Lama seemed to have formed the view that the Government of and the rebel Forces should stay on in Tibet to fight the Chinese and agitate against the Preparatory Committee set up under the Panchen Lama and that they should seek asylum in India in those rare and extreme cases where they felt convinced of being persecuted.
The same day His Holiness happened to ask me about policies of the various political parties of India to which I gave non-committal replies.

Guard of Honour with Commandant, Assam Rifles, behind Har Mander Singh and PN Menon
On the 10th April, 1959, the Dalai Lama expressed appreciation for the services rendered to him by the Assam Rifles an escorting him from Chuthangmu [first Assam Rifles post in India] and wanted to give some cash to the riflemen. I submitted to him that although we felt deeply touched by his gesture of kindness it was not the normal practice to give cash to the Government servants for the services rendered by them and that a word of appreciation would be as valuable for us as any gift.
The Dalai Lama was presented a Guard of Honour and was given a rousing reception on arrival in Bomdi La. He very kindly consented to have all his meals with us and was accommodated in our house. He had two brief meetings on the 12th with [P.N.] Menon where Dave and I were also present in which he repeated the background already reported in the earlier despatches leading to his escape. The Kashag [Cabinet of Ministers] also met Menon briefly the same day while having tea with us but did not make any special point.
The Dalai Lama and his officers had a six-hour meeting with Menon on the 13th afternoon where Dave [Intelligence Officer] and I were also present. In this they reiterated the stories of atrocities and lack of religious freedom and internal autonomy. The Dalai Lama confirmed that he had written three letters to the Chinese authorities between the 11th and the 17th March with the aim of re-establishing relations with them. They said that the new Government at Yul Gyal Lhuntse [Lhuntse Dzong, where the Dalai Lama had denounced the 17-Point Agreement] had full spiritual and temporal powers under the Dalai Lama, that the new flag of the State had not been devised and that the system of the new Government was 'democratic according to the genius of the people'. The object of the Government was to have a common mother land 'for the people who eat Tsampa and chant mantra of Chenrezi'. They re-iterated forcefully that internal autonomy was not acceptable to them and they wanted full freedom including control over External Affairs and Defence and would fight to the last to attain their objective. They said that their immediate requests were as follows:-
  1. The veracity of the stories about atrocities in Tibet may be got verified by India by sending a Fact Finding Commission.
  2. India should mediate and ask China to stop bloodshed and release persons arrested in connection with political activities.
  3. India should espouse the cause of Tibetan Independence, as she had been doing in the case of other dependent countries of the world.
In the meeting, Menon emphasised the need to exercise discretion in giving statements to the Press till the meeting of His Holiness with our Prime Minister. He has telegraphed a report on these discussions to the Ministry and intends to follow it up with a detailed despatch.
Later His Holiness attended a reception in his honour in the Bomdi La Club. I delivered a brief speech welcoming him to the Division to which he replied and gave a brief religious sermon.

On the 14th April, His Holiness gave blessings individually to about 4000 people, sitting on the throne which we had got made for him, in our drawing room. He also paid visits to the School, the Hospital, the Cottage Industries Training-cum-Production Centre, the Women's Welfare Centre and the Co-operative Stores appreciated development work being done by us.
In the evening he attended a Cinema Show which was followed by a Dinner Party given by me in honour of His Holiness and the senior members of his entourage.
Following films were shown:
  1. A Documentary on Bapu.
  2. A Documentary on our Prime Minister.
  3. A Newsreel feature on the Republic Day 1958 celebration in New Delhi.
  4. A Documentary on the Himalayas.
  5. A NEFA Documentary on the Kameng Frontier Division.
Har Mander Singh introduces local officials to the Dalai Lama
In the documentary on Gandhiji there was a scene in which the Union Jack was shown being hauled down and the Indian National Flag being raised on the mast, on the 15th August, 1947. His Holiness and the members of his entourage cheered when this scene was exhibited on the screen and His Holiness said with deep emotion in his voice that there were similarities in the struggle for Independence of his own country and that which India had undertaken against the British Raj and that he hoped that one day they too would be able to fly their own flag in their country
His Holiness will be leaving Bomdi La for Khelong on the 17th April. The first party consisting of the members of his family and his tutors left on the 15th April and the second party left today. The entire party will concentrate in Khelong by the 17th evening, spend the night there, breakfast at Foothills on the 18th morning and leave for Tezpur to entrain at 1330 hours the same day from there.
The members of the entourage have endeavoured to sell off their ponies and other articles such as spare blankets, during their stay in the Kameng Division. The Dalai Lama's mother is reported to have done good business in Tawang.

In conclusion I would like to record some further observations connected with the visit of His Holiness.
  1. The people of the Division showed deep devotion towards His Holiness and came from distant places in large numbers to see him. The visit has helped the people to realize that as Indians living in the Frontier lands, they have liberty to acknowledge the Dalai Lama as their spiritual head without prejudice to their nationalism. The gesture of the Government in giving asylum to His Holiness has made a deeply favourable impression on the minds of our people.
  2. His Holiness was impressed by the religious devotion and simplicity of the people but said that our monks were not well versed in religious affairs. He mentioned once that during his previous visit to India he had made a suggestion to the Prime Minister that besides Ladakhi monks who already go to Lhasa, Indian monks from other areas also should be sent to the three principal monasteries in Tibet for religious training but that nothing had come of it so far.
  3. Our people brought gifts of foodgrains, fodder and cash for the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama invariably refused cash gifts but accepted foodgrains and fodder to the extent required. His party offered to pay for the porterage but I explained to them that Government of India had already accepted responsibility for expenses on their travel. In most cases however, the people insisted in carrying his personal loads free of charge and refused payment inspite of considerable persuasion by me and other officials. I have been issuing rations from the … for the Dalai Lama and his entourage to the extra required and be submitting accounts separately to the administration for sanction.
  4. Two or three junior officers of the entourage struck us as being uninterested in the Tibetan movement and seemed keen to settle down in India.
  5. It seems that the Tibetan officials would like to make more frequent use of the Tawang route for movement from and to Tibet and to maintain contact with Yul Gyal Lhuntse and the Rebel Forces. They might seek facilities from the Government of India in this regard.
  6. The point on which I need further guidance is as to what should be done with the stragglers from the party who are unable to join the entourage before the party leaves the Division. There are two or three attendants who are being left behind in Bomdi La due to their illness and there are some others who have not been able to move fast enough and have still not reached Bomdi La. We would also like to know as to whether any change of policy is envisaged in regard to giving asylum to the refugees from Tibet whose number is likely to increase considerably once the Bumla route opens.
It has been a great experience and privilege for us all here to receive and look after the Dalai Lama during his journey through this Division and our task was made easier by his grace, charm and informality.

With kind regards,

Yours sincerely,
Sd. Har Mander Singh

To Shri K L Mehta, ICS
Adviser to the Governor of Assam,

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