Monday, December 31, 2018

China: A Great Economic Game looms in 2019

My article China: A Great Economic Game looms in 2019 appeared in The Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle

Here is the link...

Xi took the occasion to reassert the CPC’s rule as the only key to weathering “unimaginable” perils and dangers

Year 2019 will be a crucial year for China. Following the 1911 Revolution in China, the Manchu (Qing) dynasty disintegrated, triggering the fall of imperial rule. Eight years later, the May Fourth Movement took place in the Chinese capital; students started protesting against the nationalist government’s weak response to the Treaty of Versailles, allowing Japan to control the territories surrendered by Germany in Shandong.
On the morning of May 4, 1919, student representatives from 13 different local universities met in Beijing and drafted five resolutions, in particular, to oppose the granting of Shandong to the Japanese and the creation of a Beijing student union. Later in the afternoon, some 3,000 students of Beijing University marched to Tiananmen Square shouting slogans such as “Struggle for the sovereignty externally, get rid of the national traitors at home” or “Don’t sign the Versailles Treaty”.
In 2019, the Communist Party of China (CPC) will celebrate a century of this turning point which “empowered” the masses.
2019 will also mark the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the People’s Republic, “a pivotal year for securing a decisive victory in finishing the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects,” said a statement of China’s State Council.

This raises a crucial question: What is in stock for China in the coming year?
One can perhaps find the beginning of an answer in a speech that President Xi Jinping gave on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of China’s Reform and Opening Up.
Mr Xi took the occasion to reassert the CPC’s rule as the only key to weathering “unimaginable” perils and dangers.
There are a number of signs that everything is not fine in the Middle Kingdom; the South China Morning Post admitted that President Xi’s speech “shed little light on future reforms, to the chagrin of those wanting economic liberalisation, and doesn’t mention the US trade war or a slowing economy”.
During his one-and-a-half-hour address, the Chinese President stressed time and again the party’s leadership, which for him had been the key to China’s rise: “Xi spent much of his speech lauding accomplishments in China’s economic and social development in the past four decades since Deng Xiaoping, the former paramount leader, started the country’s embrace of market reforms,” noted the SCMP.
Mr Xi told the 3,000 officials assembled in the Great Hall of the People: “Every step in reform and opening up will not be easy, and we will face all kinds of risks and challenges in the future and we may even encounter unimaginable terrifying tidal waves and horrifying storms. …Only by improving the party’s leadership and governance … can we ensure the ship of reform and opening up will sail forward.”
The President mentioned the word “party” 128 times, compared with just 87 times for “reform” and 67 times for “opening up”, while affirming that “there are no textbooks containing golden rules or arrogant teachers who can order the Chinese people about on what to do”.
Remember that 40 years ago, when 18 villagers of Xiaogang in Anhui Province decided to disobey the orders of China’s government and privatised the village’s land; they decided to farm individually instead of collectively. The movement turned out to be a huge success; but today while China celebrates the Xiaogang pioneers and the transformation of China into a market-based economy, no real “reforms” are undertaken.
In recent months, the situation of the Middle Kingdom has deteriorated.
Bloomberg noted: “The anniversary comes at an awkward time. China’s trade war with the US is throwing a searchlight on the industrial and political ambitions of President Xi Jinping’s increasingly authoritarian government.”
Though Xiaogang has become an official patriotic education, “with the villagers championed for their courage in subverting a collectivist system still reeling from the excesses of the Mao era,” who is ready to challenge the party today in China?
Of course Beijing promotes examples of transformation (if not reforms) such the Alibaba Group’s work on its campus in Hangzhou’; according to Bloomberg: “…The company, which accounts for about three quarters of the nation’s online retail sales, has by now a semi-official role — displayed through their use of technology to manage Hangzhou’s city traffic and other functions.” But all is not rosy, far from it; the economy remains shaky.
On December 14, Mr Xi presided over a meeting of the CPC’s politburo to study “the economic work for 2019 and plans for building good conduct and political integrity within the CPC as well as fighting corruption”.
Xinhua reported: “In 2018, China maintained sustained, healthy development of its economy and stability in the social order amid a complicated international environment and the arduous tasks involved with domestic reform, development, and stability.”
A statement of the State Council further noted: “Next year, the country should uphold the underlying principle of pursuing progress while ensuring stability, adhere to the new development philosophy and push forward high-quality development.”
It spoke of the Three Tough Battles, namely of controlling risks, reducing poverty and tackling pollution.
The communiqué added that the anti-corruption fight “remains grave and complex, and the strict governance over the party remains a long and arduous task.” The politburo stressed that the changes in the international environment and domestic conditions should be looked at “dialectically”; it urged the party to be prepared for potential adversities.
There is no doubt, that with his unpredictability, President Donald Trump has changed the rules of the game. He acts wildly …like China has been doing for years and Beijing is not accustomed to this.
Whether Beijing accepts or not, Mr Trump will be at the centre of China’s fate in the coming year.
Jeffrey Sachs in Project Syndicate asserted: “The Trump administration’s conflict with China has little to do with US external imbalances, closed Chinese markets, or even China’s alleged theft of intellectual property. It has everything to do with containing China by limiting its access to foreign markets, advanced technologies, global banking services, and perhaps even US universities.”
Take the case of Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Ren Zhengfei, Huawei’s founder. She was the heir apparent of the Chinese telecoms giant; she was arrested by the Canadian authorities at the request of the American government on suspicion of fraud related to Washington’s sanctions on Iran. It probably marks the beginning of more bloody battles for economic supremacy.
2019 is bound to witness many such cases which deeply destabilise China; the current “trade war” is here to stay and can only intensify during the coming year.
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump’s statement that he was willing to intervene in Meng’s case, if it helped achieve “the largest trade deal ever made” proves that the Huawei heir is a “diplomacy hostag” in the new Great Economic Game to unfold in 2019. And if tomorrow, the Chinese would decide to again disobey the government and take their future into their own hands, instead of leaving it to the party, just watch out!

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Big Data near the Indian Border

Baima (or Padma in Tibetan) is a township in Pashoe County (Baxoi in Chinese) in Chamdo City of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR); it lies at an altitude of 3,772 metres (12,378 ft) on the National Highway G318.
China Tibet News reported yesterday that ‘Big Data’ were used for ‘poverty alleviation’ in the county. It is a bit worrisome, for an area located relatively close to the Indian border.
The website said: “In the age of information and network, ‘big data’ plays an even more important role in assisting decision-making for all kinds of work. In recent years, relying on the advantages of the ‘big data’, village task forces of Baxoi [Pashoe] County can record the progress of poverty alleviation work in real time and establish the mechanism of data administration and assessment, which greatly improve the effectiveness of poverty alleviation work.”
‘Improve the poverty alleviation’, as well keep a tab on the restive border population to ultimately …stabilize the border.
This the un-publicized objective.
This is also called 'special credit scheme', which 'notes' every Chinese national according to what he does.
China Tibet News continued: “Aiming at popularizing good practices and experiences between the village task forces, as well as giving feedbacks of poverty alleviation work among farmers and herdsmen in time, each village task force of Baxoi County created its own WeChat Official account to publish poverty alleviation conditions and preferential policies.”
What is not said is that every detail of the life of the villagers and their whereabouts will be monitored by ‘Big Data’ (Brother).
It is also called a Smart Grid.
Beijing official objective is not only poverty alleviation, “the village task forces using specific data processing tools to record detailed information including villagers’ income, population trends, income approach, poverty-causing factors and assistance measures, so as to steady the process of poverty alleviation.”
Villagers will perhaps gain some wealth, but definitively lose their freedom.
For the Chinese State, it is crucial to monitor the border populations.
Pashoe County is probably a test case for other counties, closer to the border.
The website even admitted: “In addition, the county's village task forces use GPS to collect the geographical coordinates of the relocated families and complete their information. Through information integration and comparison, the actual situation of every household can be accurately reported.”
‘Relocated families’ probably means that the villages will soon populated by outsiders. Quite frightening!

In Ngari Prefecture
On the opposite side of the Indian border, in Ngari Prefecture, north of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the seventh batch of village task forces “have vigorously carried out relevant work, which has contributed to building the all-round well-off society and realizing the long-term development and the long period of stability,” said China Tibet News.
The website explained that the Ngari Prefecture's Party committees at all levels, have held “working meetings and deployment meetings for four times to promote and deploy the work of cadres stationed in villages.”
Apparently, they are not as smart as their colleagues in Pashoe, as they don’t use as yet Big Data. It will certainly come very soon.
The objectives of the village task forces are to “study the Constitution, Party Constitution and Religious Affairs Regulations. At the same time, they have learned both Tibetan and Chinese, so as to improve their ability to serve the masses. They have strictly abided by the territorial management system and work system, actively assisted party committees in carrying out various work, and accepted the supervision of the masses.”
Supervision of the masses is the new (old) motto.
It is said that according to the actual situation, “all grass-roots offices have adjusted the work of 70 village task forces. Party committees and governments have purchased 145 first aid kits, collocated special notebooks for village task forces, strictly implemented the physical examination, pre-job training, fund management and use as well as feedback system, and carried out regular and irregular supervision and inspection for 38 times.”
These task forces are a tool of the Communist Parry to control the populations, particularly on the borders.

What is a village task force?

China Tibet News provides an answer: “[these task forces] has attached great importance to ideological and political education, and carried out education practice activities for 2,806 times for masses, and 200,000 people have participated in. Special lectures were held for 2,395 times to educate and guide farmers and herdsmen to change their ideas and actively participate in poverty alleviation. The village task forces have actively communicated and coordinated with the departments of poverty alleviation, education, and finance, so as to publicize the preferential policies on employment, entrepreneurship and free education.”
In another words, ‘propaganda’ work.
Village task forces with Big Data will be a deadly cocktail.
What is surprising is the 67 years after having ‘liberated’ Tibet, Beijing still needs to convince the Tibetan of its bona fide …and still needs to fight poverty. Every propaganda article in the 1950s mentioned that poverty has been eradicated after the arrival of the People’s Liberation Army on the plateau. Now, it appears that it is not the case.
Strange, isn’t it? Has ‘poverty’ reintroduced on the plateau, after the early eradication?

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The protectors of the sacred homeland and the builders of happy homes (II)

Year 2019 saw the mushrooming of model villages in Tibet at the proximity of the Indian border.
Govern the nation by governing the borders; govern the borders by first stabilizing Tibet; ensure social harmony and stability in Tibet and strengthen the development of border regions.
Thus spoke President Xi Jinping about China’s relations with Tibet.
The authorities in Tibet have started implementing the theory of their boss and the party’s propaganda is doing its best to entice the local Tibetan population to side with the Communist Party.
This is a serious development, unfortunately ignored in India.
A new formula can be found in every speech of the local satraps, the inhabitants of China’s borders (with India) should be “the protectors of the sacred homeland and the builders of happy homes.”
It has taken concrete shape with the growing number of new ‘model’ villages on the Tibetan side of the Indian border, mainly north of Arunachal Pradesh, but also in Himachal and Ladakh.
Officially, this development is linked with ‘poverty alleviation’ and the ‘defence of the borders’.
Several senior Communist leaders have visited these new villages, either north of Kibithu in the Lohit valley; in Metok, north of Upper Siang district; in Yume (also written Yumai), north of Takshing in Upper Subansari or in Lepo, Marmang and Tsona, north of Khenzimane and Tawang.
Wu Yingjie, the Party Secretary of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) even gave an interview to The People’s Daily on the development in the border areas.

The Xiaogang model villages
Officially, the scheme is linked with ‘poverty alleviation’, but also ‘defence of the borders’. These model villages are called Xiaogang, moderately well-off.
It has another connotation. The 40th anniversary of “China's reform and opening up” celebrated across China in 2018 put a great emphasis on an event which took place in 1978, when 18 farmers in Xiaogang village, in Anhui Province, signed a secret agreement to divide collectively-owned farmland into individual pieces and drop the collectivization of the Great Leap Forward (GLF), which between 1958 and 1960 resulted in some 40 million casualties; in Xiaogang itself, 67 villagers out of 120 had died of starvation between 1958 and 1960.
Forty years later, the name Xiaogang is been used for the new project of the building of a large number of ‘model’ villages along the border.
On October 19, China Tibet News reported that since the beginning of 2018, Tsona County, north of Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang District, has been “vigorously promoting the construction of border ‘Xiaogang’ villages”.
The new project was given publicity soon after the conclusion of the 19th Congress, when Xi Jinping sent a reply to two young Tibetan herders who had written to him introducing their village, Yume.

A New Xiaogang Village
China Tibet News reported on the “Relocation of Jisong village: moving towards happiness”
Gyasum (or Jisong in Chinese) Village in Tsona County is located near the Indian border at 4,500 meters above sea level. The Chinese website commented: “With bad environment, frequent frost damage, poor living conditions and lack of public facilities, the villagers have a very difficult life.”
We are told that in June 2017, “after deeply investigating Jisong Village, the first phase of Jisong Village's high-altitude ecological relocation project was decided to be launched by implementing measures such as appropriate separation of production and living areas, special feeding of livestock in pastoral areas and labor liberation into the tertiary industry.”
The latter probably means that the main income of the village will be tourism.
So far, Beijing has invested 72.8 million yuan (11 million US $) to build this ‘modern’ border village “with convenient transportation, good environment and complete facilities, so that the villagers of Jisong Village can truly lift themselves out of poverty and live and work in peace and contentment.”
The article speaks of ‘relocation’. Does it mean that dwellers are brought from outside? Probably.
It will soon be populated with Hans, it is perhaps considered ‘safer’ for the border areas.
China Tibet News further notes: “After more than a year of construction, all houses, commercial streets, village service centers, cultural and sports squares and roads have been completed.”
It is said to be the sixth border Xiaogang ‘well-off village’ in Tsona County and the first high-altitude ecological relocation and resettlement site in the county. (see map)
The description continues: “The new village is not only spacious, comfortable, and equipped with complete facilities, but also laid with geothermal heating facilities for each household. Villagers no longer have to endure the pain of cold winter, living conditions have achieved a qualitative leap.”
China is pampering its border populations to ‘defend the frontiers’ …against?

On the other side of the Indo-Tibet border
A couple of thousands kilometers away, in Ngari Prefecture, north of Uttarakhand/Himachal Pradesh, model villages are also coming up.
China Tibet Online reported: “Ngari: a microcosm of changes in China’s borderlands”
Tsosip Sumkyil, also called Chulusongjie or Chusong is located north of the Sumdo sector of Kinnaur district (Himachal Pradesh).
The Chinese website said: “Chusong Village, a remote village more than 2,000 kilometers from Lhasa, is located in Chulu Songjie [Cosibsumgyi] Township, Zanda County, Ngari Prefecture.”
According to China Tibet Online “Chusong means ‘land formed by a dried-up lake’ in Tibetan: “The altitude here is about 4,000 meters above sea level, and snow cover on the mountains lasts for half a year, making this a veritable ‘snow island’. In the past, it is really hard to get here. However, today, when you see the brand new, white, two-story buildings and the old houses nearby, you see how dramatically China’s border regions have changed.”
Villagers were interviewed to tell stories about their changed life.
Year 2019 is bound to see a further mushrooming of ‘model’ villages along the border.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Asterix and the Rafales

My article Asterix and the Rafales appeared in Mail Today and DailyO (under the title Why an 'R' word can never come between India and France)

The connections run deeper — be it the unruliness of the people of both the countries, or the French minister meeting our Bollywood stars.

Here is the link...

Gaulish tribes always feared that the sky would fall on their heads; it is what nearly happened to the Macron government when it recently faced millions of Gilet Jaunes (Yellow Vests) in the streets of France. This phenomenon is a bit difficult to understand from India. It involved some atavism; in fact, the Gaulish character traits have never really disappeared, they keep re-emerging from time to time. One of these traits is not to accept any ‘establishment’.
Remember in the comic, Asterix the Gaul?

French pride
Centurion Gracchus Armisurplus, commander of a Roman Compendium fortified garrison, pays a heavy price each time the Gauls walk out of their village; Asterix and his companions could not accept the established Roman hierarchy.
When Emmanuel Macron became President with a comfortable majority, he probably knew that France was ‘ungovernable’.
Whether in May 1968 or today, the French love to march down the streets to protest; nobody can stop them shouting “Ras le bol”, (‘the bowl is full’) or chanting “Macron, du Pognon” (Macron, give dough), while blocking the roundabouts of France.
Initially, it might have been for some good reasons as there are indeed shocking inequalities in French society, and for millions, the end of every month is tough, but it soon turned violent.
When Macron spoke of “Gaulois réfractaires” (‘change-allergic Gauls’), it created a huge commotion among his countrymen (though they are proud of their Gaulish DNA).
To cool down the situation and bring back a semblance of calm to the country, Macron had to finally announce a series of concessions and suspend the ‘reforms’.
It is in these circumstances that Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, visited India on December 14 and 15.
But there was more than the Gilets Jaunes to the visit; India had been caught in the electoral high-pitched fever, with one party accusing the government to be a chor, filling up the ruling party’s coffers through the French ‘Rafale deal’.
For anyone who had followed the issue since 2001, when the government issued a ‘Request for Information’, it was clear that it was only a campaign tactic to show the BJP as a corrupt government; never mind if the truth was the first victim.
Though for some 65 years, Dassault has been one of the most reliable defence partners of India, the issue had started poisoning the bilateral relations between France and India.
Interestingly, the morning Le Drian arrived in Mumbai the Supreme Court delivered its judgment on the ‘deal’; it was certainly a huge relief for both the countries (as well as the Indian Air Force).
[See my interview with Le Drian four years ago]
During his interaction with the French Minister, without pronouncing the ‘R’ word, Prime Minister Modi welcomed “the strengthening of bilateral ties in all spheres, including defence, space, counter-terrorism, maritime security, and civil nuclear cooperation.”

Rafale and reactors

The bilateral relations were back on the rails, after Le Drian met his Indian counterpart, Sushma Swaraj.
The French Minister noted the great convergence of views and shared ambition: “we attach the same importance to multilateralism, respect for the rule of law, the same ambition to usher in a just and sustainable world.”
Despite France being ‘ungovernable’, the people-to-people relations are blooming (perhaps because India is not easy to govern too).
In 2018, about 7,500 Indian students went to France to pursue their studies and in 2007, about 7,00,000 Indian visitors travelled to the land of Asterix.
Of course, one can doubt that the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) project in Jaitapur, Maharashtra, will fructify soon, though it was decided to adopt “an action plan to guide our work for the coming months”.
If it materialises one day, EPRs will have a capacity of 9,600 MW helping India to achieve her objective to produce 40 per cent of its electricity from non-fossil fuels by 2030. But the project is facing huge ideological, political, engineering and legal hurdles.

Strategic ties
Interestingly, the day Le Drian landed in Mumbai, totalitarian China announced that its first EPR went into operation at the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant. But India is not China; India, like France, is a democracy, having to play by the rules.
In Delhi, Le Drian spoke of the strategic front, notably the strengthening of the bilateral exchanges in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
The Observer Research Foundation (ORF) stated: “India’s policy in the IOR suffers from one serious deficiency. New Delhi has for long lacked a reliable partner to develop her own interests. The Joint Strategic Vision for Cooperation recently concluded with France promises to change that.”
Though this aspect of the bilateral relations is not often mentioned, it is deeply significant and symbolises the Indo-French convergence of interests.
In October, Florence Parly, the French Defence Minister, said that Paris would send its aircraft carrier to the Indian Ocean in 2019, “to defend freedom of navigation at a time of growing Chinese assertiveness in disputed waters. …Whenever there are infringements of this fundamental principal of international law, as is currently the case in southern China, we shall make a show of our freedom to act and sail in such waters,” she added.
One trait of the unruly French tribes was their steadfastness in their friendship.
This trait remains true till date — remember 20 years ago, when India went ahead with her nuclear test; very few defended India. It is the time France chose to sign a Strategic Partnership with India; it was this message that Le Drian’s visit wanted to convey. His meeting with Bollywood stars was a mere cherry on the anniversary cake. 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

40 years in Eternal India

On the way to Pondicherry (photo courtesy: Michel C.)
Four years ago, I wrote this to celebrate my arrival in India.

My article 40 years in Eternal India, on the occasion of my arrival in India. It appeared in

Here is the link...

Often when I meet a new Indian friend, who is not aware of my background, he exclaims: "So many years in India! but why, why? I can't understand! My dream is to go to the States or Europe and you are living in 'this' country!"
Claude Arpi, who was born a Frenchman, looks back on his 40 years in India.

Forty Years is a long time!
On December 20, 1974, after more than two-and-a-half months on the road, travelling from Paris to South India, crossing Italy, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, I arrived in Auroville, near Pondicherry.
What a journey!
Since then, I have adopted Bharat as my home and Bharat adopted me (I hope).
Often when I meet a new Indian friend, who is not aware of my background, he exclaims: "So many years in India! but why, why? I can't understand! My dream is to go to the States or Europe and you are living in 'this' country!"
I appear to them a strange creature, going against the tide (indeed, it was against the tide in 1974!).
His next question is: "What do you find in 'this' country? It is dirty, hundreds of millions are poor, nothing works, please explain, I want to understand."
It is not an easy proposition to explain what attracted me to India and why I have stayed here all these years. An easy answer could be: Karma (bad karma to my questioning new friend, good to me).
It is true that in Asia, this word can explained many things. It is a very practical concept which elucidates happenings that cannot be understood otherwise.
Some 42 years ago, when I first visited India, it was probably my karma to encounter smiling Tibetans on Himalayan roads! In Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, I met their leader, the Dalai Lama and I began to understand something that I had not grasped so far: The refugees had lost their material wealth, their family and their country, but they had not lost the deeper human qualities called peace of mind or compassion; their leader was the living example of these qualities.
That is one of the reasons why I decided to settle down in India.
I had also come across the writings of Sri Aurobindo, the Great Rishi, who fought hard for the Nation's Purna Swaraj from the British ('The most dangerous man we have to reckon with,' wrote Lord Minto) and later from his room in Pondicherry, for a new step in the Evolution of Mankind.
Just like 40 years ago, his words continue to echo in my mind: '(Don't) let worldly prudence whisper too closely in thy ear; for it is the hour of the unexpected.'
In 1974, I left France because these words resonated in me, despite the often frustrating slow motion of the Elephant.
Of course, there are many, many things that I don't like in India. Several years ago, I wrote for, The 10 things I hate in India. Some readers commented, 'Go back to France, if you don't like India.'
They missed the point.
Retrospectively, one of the darkest times for me was when the government trumpeted 'India is Shining!' There was, of course, some truth in the slogan, but so many aspects of 'Incredible India' still belonged to the middle ages: Child marriage, rape, corruption, filth, to cite a few. How can one show only one side of the coin while neglecting the rest?
During these 40 years, one great moment has been when the present prime minister decided to 'Sweep India.' Narendra Modi dared to tell tens of thousands of NRIs assembled at the Madison Square Garden in New York: 'Yes, India is dirty, but we shall all clean India together.' We all can imagine what India would be if it was spot clean like Switzerland. It would be incredible!
Only when India tackles evils like babudom, bigotry, casteism, lack of innovative spirit, etc (I could name many more), will the nation find her true place in the concert of the nations.
Though many things have to change in the land of Bharat, some remain the same. Take the principle of 'seniority' which prevents the emergence of merit and of a greater dynamism.
Isn't it ironic that the US Senate just confirmed Dr Vivek Murthy, a person of Indian origin, as US Surgeon General. At 37, Dr Murthy will be the youngest surgeon general, and the first of Indian-American descent. Could this happen to India?
Here, we have witnessed generals going to court to affirm their 'rights' to promotion, just because they are a couple of weeks older than luckier colleagues. What nonsense!
I remember telling an Indian Air Force officer that General Denis Mercier, the present French chief of the air staff, has reached the top at the age of 53. When my friend asked: 'How did he make it?' I answered: 'Because he was found to be suitable for the job.' His reply was: 'But in India, that it would be very dangerous, politicians would nominate their friend for the top slots, imagine the consequences.' This has to change.
Politicians -- who, let us not forget it, are elected by The People of India -- need to put the Nation's interests before theirs. The old trend to think of one's pocket first has to go.
Observing the political scene for decades, I have time and again noticed that the Electors are no fools, but they need alternatives. Once they have it, they will not cast their votes on empty promises anymore.
Ditto for corruption. The electorate is able to recognise between 'corrupt' and honest politicians. The last election brought some hope that things can be different. Let us cross our fingers.
India, 40 years ago, like today's India, is a land of possibilities. Despite a bloated bureaucracy and the 'chalta hai' attitude, if you really want to realise something (and if you are tenacious enough), you can fulfill your dream.
In my own case, how could a dentist (that was my profession!), become a writer and political analyst? In France or in America, no doubt I would have remained what I was trained for, to pull out teeth, for the rest of my life.
In the early 1970s, before settling in the South, I extensively travelled in the Himalayas. I remember staying a week or so in Manali, Himachal Pradesh. I was the only tourist in the then peaceful mountain village. There was no hotel, no travel agency, no guide; I used to sleep on a charpoy, eating tasty momos from Tibetan refugees, who were not yet rich.
The tiny village was an oasis of peace surrounded by high peaks and although the inhabitants, local paharis or Tibetans, were poor, they knew the meaning of hospitality; they were content, to use a Buddhist term (santosham).
Today, after being put on the tourism world map, Manali is a different world. Is it progress? Are we losing the Himalayas?
I also remember staying for several days in a tiny Himalayan village, with just a Rs 100 note. As nobody had change for the amount, I was provided free lodging and boarding till the day I could 'break' my note and pay my debts. Trust was a way of life. I am not sure if it is still so.
Whatever the way India has evolved, I believe it is ultimately for the good. Personally, I have never thought for a second to return to my native douce (sweet) France, though I am proud to have taken birth in the land of Joan of Arc, Napoleon and Descartes (Cartesianism would sometimes not be bad for India).
Forty years down the line, I am content with my life in India, these words of Sri Aurobindo continue to accompany me: India of the ages is not dead nor has she spoken her last creative word; she lives and has still something to do for herself and the human peoples.
It is Eternal India which called me here long ago.

Building synergies

The Dakpa Shelri (The Pure Crystal Mountain)
My article Building synergies appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer

The re-opening of new pilgrimage routes can strengthen people-to-people contacts between India and China. The present scope of the Kailash-Manasarovar Yatra must be extended

Here is the link...

A first meeting of the newly constituted India-China High Level Mechanism on Cultural and People-to-People Exchanges will be held on December 21 in New Delhi. It will be co-chaired by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Wang Yi, State Councillor and Chinese Foreign Minister. The decision to establish this new mechanism arose during the post-Doklam encounter between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping in Wuhan this April.
Both sides are now keen to build a greater synergy through people-to-people ties in order to enhance “exchanges in areas such as tourism, art, films, media, culture, sports and academic and youth exchanges.” This sounds good; though in the past, India has been put to sleep by promises of ‘greater synergy.’ New Delhi should certainly not forget the fact that China relentlessly enhances its presence on the Indian frontiers, particularly north of Arunachal Pradesh and near Ladakh.
A report tabled in the Lok Sabha by the Parliamentary Committee on External Affairs pointed to the dichotomy: “It comes as a matter of concern to the committee that even when India is overtly cautious about China’s sensitivities while dealing with Taiwan and Tibet, China does not exhibit the same deference while dealing with India’s sovereignty concerns.”
For the committee, given China’s muscular approach, it is difficult “to be content with India continuing with its conventionally deferential foreign policy towards China.” But the mandarins of South Block are absolutely unable to see this. It has been one of the greatest tragedies of modern India. There are, however, ways for India and China to build the trust long-cherished by Indian leaders.
Since the end of the 1950s, the Tibet issue has been an impediment to better relations between the two countries. Why is it so? There are many reasons but the most obvious one is simply because before the occupation of Tibet by the People’s Liberation Army in 1950/51, India had a special bond with that region which had different facets: One religious (the Buddha dharma is born in India); one cultural (the Himalayan belt in India shares many values and affinities with the northern neighbours); another is economic (for centuries India and Tibet traded across the passes).
Pilgrimage played an important role in this special relationship. New pilgrimage routes can strengthen people-to-people contacts and become a true Confidence Building Measure (CBM) between China and India. For this, the present scope of the Kailash-Manasarovar Yatra (KMY) needs to be extended. The 1954 Panchsheel Agreement lapsed in April 1962 and six  months later, India and China fought a bitter war over Tibet, the main subject of the agreement. The objective of the accord was to regulate trade and pilgrimage from India to Tibet and vice-versa.
The agreement specified a few points of entry into Tibet: “Traders and pilgrims of both countries may travel by the following passes and routes: Shipki-la pass, Mana pass, Niti pass, Kungri Bingri pass, Darma pass and Lipulekh pass.” Apart from the first one located in Himachal Pradesh, the other passes lie in today’s Uttarakhand.
It is only in the early 1980s that Beijing officially agreed to reopen the KMY. Since then, the yatra is being organised every year by the Ministry of External Affairs. Yatris have to walk via Pittoragarh district before crossing into Tibet at Lipulekh pass. In 2014, a second extremely long route was opened via Nathu-la pass in Sikkim. As a CBM, other traditional yatras could be reopened — one of them is the Tsari pilgrimage.
In the Tibetan psyche, Tsari has always been synonymous with a ‘sacred place’. With the Mt Kailash and the Amye Machen in eastern Tibet, the pilgrimage around the Dakpa Shelri, the ‘Pure Crystal Mountain’, has for centuries been one of the holiest of the Roof of the World. The ‘Pure Crystal Mountain’ lies at 5,735 metres above the sea, north of today’s Upper Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh.
The yatra has the particularity to cross over from Tibet to Arunachal Pradesh and return to Tibet. Toni Huber, one of the foremost scholars on the subject, wrote: “The large-scale, 12-yearly circumambulation of Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims around the mountain known as the Rongkor Chenmo had the character of a state ritual for the Ganden Phodrang [Tibetan Government] …Pilgrims in this huge procession crossed the McMahon Line below the frontier village of Migyitun in Tsari district.”
After crossing the Tibet-India border, the pilgrimage proceeded southwards along the Tsari Chu (river) and then turned westwards to follow the Subansiri, to finally cross back into Tibet to reach the first frontier village in Chame county. The southern leg of the Rongkor procession used to pass through the tribal Tsari/Subansiri areas.
Despite the fact that it crossed into India, New Delhi always facilitated the Tsari pilgrimage on the Indian side of the border till 1956. Today, with no solution in sight to solve the border dispute between China and India, the re-opening of the Rongkor pilgrimage could be a significant CBM between India, China and the Tibetan Buddhist population from both sides of the border.
Regarding the logistics, it should be much easier since India has been working on infrastructure in the area, while China has already undertaken development on its side, particularly in Yumed region.  Another area of possible contact is between Ladakh and western Tibet. For centuries, the trade and pilgrimage route for the Kailash-Manasarovar region followed the course of the Indus, passed Demchok, the last Ladakhi village, and then crossed the border to reach the first Tibetan settlement, Tashigang, some 15 miles inside Tibet.
A way forward could be to re-open this route for the KMY pilgrims in a first step; the next one should be to re-open the border for trade. Remember the skirmishes at the end of the 1960s in Sikkim! When the Nathu-La pass was officially re-opened to trade in July 2006, it had the effect of ‘fixing’ the border, drastically reducing tensions in the area. Considering the ‘Nathu-La’ effect, re-opening the Demchok route could be an efficient CBM between India and China.  There would be an additional benefit — it would stop smuggling between China and Ladakh, which poses serious security risks of infiltration for India. We could add to the list the re-opening of the KMY via Mana in Uttarakhand — it would probably be the easiest route. If China is interested in creating a good feeling among the Indian population, it should agree to this small gesture.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

World must remember Indian heroism in WWI

My interview of Squadron Leader Rana Chhina, World must remember Indian heroism in WWI appeared in

'The Indian Army served with honour and distinction in France and Flanders, East Africa, Gallipoli, Aden, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Palestine, Transcaspia, Persia and even China.' 
'The sacrifice of India's soldiers was consigned to the dustbin of history in the post-colonial world.'

On November 11, some 70 heads of State assembled in Paris to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of Great War. India was represented by Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu, who a day earlier had inaugurated the ‘Indian Military Memorial’ at Villers Guislain, in Northern France, to pay homage to the 75,000 Indian troops who did not return to their native land.
One man has been behind the project of remembering these brave sons of India, who fought in a war which was not theirs; it is Squadron Leader Rana TS Chhina, who heads the Centre for Armed Forces Historical Research (CAFHR) at the United Service Institution of India (USI).
Chhina, a world authority in the domain of military history, also participated in a documentary film, The Forgotten Army. Directed by journalist Mandakini Gahlot, the film explored India’s historic participation in the Great War. The premiere took place at the French embassy in Delhi in presence of Mr. Alexandre Ziegler, Ambassador of France to India, who praised Chhina, “the painstaking research conducted by Squadron Leader Chhina …greatly helped revive interest in India’s role in WWI, embarking as early as 2014 in four-year project on the crucial contribution of Indian soldiers to the Great war.”
Chhina speaks to Claude Arpi about his background, his days in the Air Force, his momentous project to keep the memory of the Indian soldiers alive, the importance of history for a nation and his future projects.

Click here to read the Interview

Squadron Leader Rana Chhina with French Ambassador Alexandre Ziegler

18th King George's Own Lancers near Mametz, on the Somme, 15 July 1916

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Phantoms of Chittagong

Two Tibetan depons, Ma Gen SS Uban and the Dalai Lama in Chakrata
Some fifteen years ago, I wrote for about 'The Phantoms of Chittagong', the Special Frontier Forces (Establishment 22) of Maj Gen SS  Uban, based at Chakrata in Uttarakhand.
The context of my article was a personal attack on the Dalai Lama, while he was preaching the Buddha's gospel in Bodh-Gaya.

On the occasion of the 47 anniversary of the surrender of Lt Gen Niazi, I re-post this article.

Bihar is a strange state. Some 2,500 years ago, Gautama Buddha wandered there for more than 80 years, propounding the gospel of love and Ahimsa. At that time, it was the most culturally and politically advanced province of India.
Today, Bihar has become synonymous with backwardness, corruption, illiteracy and more than anything else, dirty politics. What has happened to the state?
One can only conclude that this ‘politics' has destroyed the dharmic fabric of the region.
Nobody is exempt. The Dalai Lama was recently the object of a personal attack by a few so-called ‘neo-Buddhist monks.'
Bodh Gaya, where after meditating under a pipal tree the Buddha achieved enlightenment, is gearing up for the Kalachakra sermon. More than 300,000 devotees are expected to attend. While preparations are underway for the Dalai Lama's discourse, which will be followed by a public initiation, some followers of Dr B R Ambedkar (who may not have recognized them as his disciples) have violently assailed the Tibetan leader. They went so far as to ask for his expulsion from India.
The neo-Buddhist monks distributed a pamphlet in Hindi, Bharat ki bhoomi par gair desh ki sarkar (An alien government on the Indian soil) questioning the logic of the Dalai Lama running a government-in-exile in India. But they are wrong: India has never recognized the Dalai Lama's administration as a government-in-exile. Only once has the Indian government thought of according official status. After the 1965 war with Pakistan, Lal Bahadur Shastri informed a representative of the Dalai Lama that after he returned from Tashkent he would take this decisive step. Unfortunately for the Tibetans (and for India), the prime minister never returned from Tashkent.
The Dalai Lama's organization in Dharamsala, known as the Central Tibetan Administration, is a set up suggested by Nehru during his first meetings with the Dalai Lama in 1959. The then Indian prime minister, while reviewing the rehabilitation of Tibetan refugees, made it clear to the Dalai Lama that the only role India could play was in educating Tibetan children. Since then, education, health and preservation of religious traditions have been the CTA's main objectives. All donations, including $2.25 million from the US Congress, received through official channels are used for these objectives.
Whoever has gone to Dharamsala will acknowledge that the education of the refugee children is a success story.
Another ludicrous allegation made by the monks is that as 'the Dalai Lama heavily depends on security guards for being alive, he can not be accorded divinity.'
I have never read anywhere that the Tibetan leader pretends to be ‘divine' (in any case, it is not a very Buddhist term). On the contrary, he has always emphasized he is an ‘ordinary Buddhist monk.' The fact he is protected has no connection with his religious belief or spiritual attainment.
India is a ‘secular' State, at least in the sense that ‘divinity' is nothing to do with a threat perception as perceived by intelligence agencies.
The rest of the pamphlet is not worth quoting, mainly saying the Dalai Lama wants to take over Sikkim with Chinese support. It is too harebrained to be taken seriously.
This vilification campaign raises a more important aspect of the Tibetan presence in India and their role in supporting India in its hours of difficulties. Not only have the Dalai Lama and his people never schemed against this nation, they have always been at the forefront of India's struggle for its integrity.
It is a pity certain facts are not well known, if not completely ignored by the media and Indian public.
Do many in India know that not only did Tibetans participate in the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, they were instrumental in the fall of Chittagong?
Some American archives, pertaining to the 1971 war, were declassified recently. These documents (as well as some earlier transcripts of Henry Kissinger's secret negotiations with the Chinese) give a fairly good idea of Kissinger and his boss President Nixon's dirty tricks against the Bengalis and India. But who ever speaks about the role of the unsung Tibetan heroes of the Special Frontier Forces?
Under the cover of the Mukti Bahini, Tibetans infiltrated East Pakistan (soon to be Bangladesh) a few weeks before the beginning of the war. They conducted raids to destroy bridges and communication lines deep inside Pakistan's eastern province. The operation was so secret that most generals of the Indian Army's Eastern Command in Calcutta did not know about the activities of 3,000 Tibetans jawans commanded by a Tibetan Dapon (the equivalent of a brigadier of the Indian Army) who helped the Indian Army advance.
From the day of its inception in November 1962, the Force had been placed under the Cabinet Secretary, which in fact meant the Indian prime minister. In 1971, the founder of the Research and Analysis Wing, RN Kao, by-passing the army, directly sent orders from Delhi to the Tibetan force. It is unfortunate that Kao recently passed away, taking with him his secrets.
So did Major General SS Uban, the Indian general who founded the SFF (his designation was inspector general). Though he wrote his memoir The Phantoms of Chittagong, he only obliquely refers to his troops as Tibetans. In another book on the 1971 operations, the present governor of Punjab, Lt Gen JFR Jacob, then chief of staff, Eastern Command, does not say anything about the Tibetan prowess.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet the Tibetan Dapon responsible for the operation, but he was unwilling to speak except in general terms.
An Indian web site [Bharat Rakshak] provides more information on the SFF's achievements in Bangladesh: 'With war right around the corner, the SFF was given several mission plans, including the destruction of the Kaptai Dam and other bridges. The Inspector General urged that the SFF be used to capture Chittagong, but this was found not favourable, since SFF members did not have artillery or airlift support to conduct a mission of that magnitude. After three weeks of border fighting, the SFF divided its six battalions into three columns and moved into East Pakistan on 03 December 1971.'
By the time Pakistan surrendered, the SFF had lost 56 men -- nearly 190 were wounded -- but they blocked a potential escape route for East Pakistani forces into Burma. They also halted members of Pakistan's 97 Independent Brigade and 2 Commando Battalion in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
As they did not exist officially for the Government of India, nobody could be decorated. However, some brave Tibetan commandos were awarded cash prizes by the Indian government.
It is strange the bona fides of the Tibetan refugees and their dedication to their country of adoption is now being questioned.
I will not mention all those who lost their lives on the Siachen Glacier and during the Kargil conflict in 1999. Though the SFF have been replaced in many high altitude battlefields by the Ladakh Scouts and other local troops who can acclimatize easily for high altitude warfare, they are ready to fight and defend India's frontiers.
When the Indian public gets to know these genuine facts, people are always deeply touched. I witnessed this recently when some young Tibetan students from Chennai gave a public performance. At the end they sang a poem written in Hindi by a Tibetan SFF jawan who had participated in the Kargil operations. The poet-jawan had written this song of joy, sorrow and emotion to express his gratitude to his second motherland and to the people of India who had given refuge, protection and education to his countrymen. Though Hindi is not the forte of the people of the South, when the students finished singing many in the audience were crying.
The Dalai Lama is perhaps today the most renowned world leader practicing compassion and Ahimsa. In 1989, he was rightly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, for his three-decade use of non-violence to solve the Tibetan issue. While actively practicing the Buddha's teachings, he has always stood by India, even when it went against his very principles. Is this not the highest token of his love for his adopted country?
The most well known case is the Pokhran nuclear tests. While the US and other world powers ordered immediate sanctions against India, the Dalai Lama declared: 'I think nuclear weapons are too dangerous. Therefore, we have to make every effort for the elimination of nuclear weapons. However, the assumption of the concept that few nations are OK to possess nuclear weapons and the rest of the world should not -- that's undemocratic... India should not be pressured by developed nations to get rid of its nuclear weapons.'
That the Dalai Lama understood India's point of view when the rest of the world condemned it, even when this stand was diametrically opposite to his deeper beliefs, proves the caliber of the man who has always termed India 'Aryabhumi' and declared that Tibet is a child of India.
Is it not time for India to recognize his genuine contribution to world peace, universal responsibility and the defense of the highest Indian spiritual values and confer on him the Bharat Ratna?
That he can today be accused of anti-national sentiment is proof of the rock bottom level that adharmic politics has reached. Let us hope the prayers for world peace by devotees in Bodh Gaya will balance this tendency.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Karmapa controversy and the Dalai Lama’s ‘return’

The 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje
My article The Karmapa controversy and the Dalai Lama’s ‘return’ appeared in Strategic New International

Here is the link...

The Karmapa has been in the news since 1992.

He got again prominent coverage when a meeting scheduled to discuss the future of the Dalai Lama’s institution was ‘indefinitely’ postponed by the organizers, the Dharamsala-based Department of Religion and Culture.
The reason given for the ‘indefinite’ postponement of the 13th Religious Conference of the Schools of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon Tradition’ to be held from November 29 to December 1, was the sudden demise of the head of the Nyingma school, Kathok Getse Rinpoche, who was to participate in the religious conference.
Why ‘indefinitely’ asked many observers?
Sonam Norbu Dagpo, the spokesperson of the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala, affirmed that the Rinpoche’s death was the only reason: “Therefore any other reason being cited by independent sources are not true and stem from mere speculation.”
This did not stop the press to ‘speculate’; many believed that the absence of the Karmapa, head of the Karma Kagyud (a sub-sect of Kagyud school of Tibetan Buddhism) was the real reason, as he was unable to get an Indian visa.

The Historical Controversy
The Karmapa is not new to controversy.
In 1992, the Rumtek monastery in Sikkim witnessed ugly scenes of violence about who was the ‘true’ reincarnation of Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the 16th Karmapa, a charismatic Tibetan Lama who had taken refuge in Sikkim after the 1959 Tibet uprising.
Rangjung Rigpe was revered by all and considered as the head of all of Kagyuds, which is not the case of the present incarnation.
The problem started when the four Regents, appointed to find the ‘reborn’ 17th Karmapa, began fighting among themselves. It is true that ‘succession’ entailed not just spiritual, but also economic and political factors, including the fate of hundreds of wealthy Dharma centers abroad as well as China’s role in the process.
To cut a long (and murky) story short, after one of the regents died in mysterious car accident, one boy Urgyen Trinley Dorje, born in Tibet, was recognized by two of the regents, Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches, while the fourth regent, Shamar Rinpoche, the nephew of the previous Karmapa, opposed their choice and ultimately selected his own ‘reincarnation’, Thaye Trinley Dorje who shuttles between Delhi and his centers abroad.
Eventually, Urgyen Trinley was enthroned in Tsurphu, the main Karma-Kagyud monastery in Tibet by Ren Wuzhi, Head of the Religious Affairs Bureau of China’s State Council and the two regents supporting him.
For eight years, the boy lived in Tsurphu under Chinese surveillance; but in December 1999, in a Hollywood-type escape, he left Tibet and reached Dharamsala in early January 2000. His life became complicated when the Indian security agencies found serious discrepancies in the reports of the young Lama’s flight.
During the following years, Urgyen continued to live in Gyuto monastery, not far from Dharamsala, under the Dalai Lama’s protection.
The Karmapa’s sudden departure for the US in May 2017 (apparently for medical treatment) and his acquiring a new passport in March 2018, without prior information to Delhi, did not endear him to the Indian authorities.
Urgyen often bitterly complained against the government, saying that he could not move without Delhi’s permission, but acquiring a passport from the Commonwealth of Dominica, a tiny island in the Antilles specialized in selling passports and ‘managing’ finances, did not help his case (the cost of the passport is said to be minimum one lakh US dollars!)
A few such places exist, remember billionaire jeweler Mehul Choksi, absconding from India, who bought a new citizenship in Antigua in November 2017. The Times of India said: “Rich Chinese and Russians have been among the top buyers of foreign citizenship …Choksi’s move has created awareness about these options. Lawyers and tax advisors in India recommend rich clients to global companies that advise on where and how to settle.” The connotation did not go in favour of Urgyen Thinley.
Obviously, the Karmapa, who used to travel on an IC (Identification Certificate) issued by the Government of India, has poor advisors. After all the Dalai Lama has been travelling all over the world since 1967 (when he visited Japan and Thailand) with a similar IC and has rarely faced any serious problem.
For someone sometimes projected (by the sensation press) as a possible successor for the Dalai Lama, the passport issue has compounded the problem. Does Urgyen have the moral capacity to lead all the Tibetans?
The Dharamsala’s religious Conference could have decided on this issue.

The Tibetan system of governance
Possibly a more serious issue is the Tibetan system of governance ‘by reincarnation’; in today’s modern world, it is apparent that it is a poor system as it leaves a gap of 20 years or so, without ‘ruler’ or ‘head lama’.
Historically, the instability of the system has often been demonstrated; it was used by incompetent stewards, regents or by the Chinese Ambans (representative of the Manchu emperor) to influence Tibetan politics. Today, the Chinese replaces the Ambans, controlling Tibetan affairs more formidably.
During the 19th century, it was murmured in Lhasa that the Ambans had found the weakness in the system and four Dalai Lamas (from the 9th to the 12th) died before they reached the age of twenty.

Two Panchen Lamas
In the Dalai Lama's own Yellow School, the situation is rather confused; traditionally in Tibet, the Panchen Lama was the second most prominent religious figure. Following the passing away of the 10th Panchen Lama in January 1989, the Dalai Lama formally proclaimed a six-year-old boy, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, as his reincarnation on May 14, 1995.
Three days later, the Chinese government arrested him; he has never been seen again. Another boy, Gyalsten Norbu, sponsored by the Communist regime, presently sits on the throne in Shigatse in Tibet (in fact he is mostly in Beijing).
Two Karmapas, two Panchen Lamas! No one wants two Dalai Lamas in the future.

What are the alternatives?
Though it is impossible to know for sure if the Karmapa’s absence was one of the reasons for ‘indefinitely’ postponing the Dharamsala meet, it is a great pity that the conference has been cancelled. There is certainly an urgency to define a more ‘scientific’ procedure for the succession for the next Dalai Lama, at a time when, under the aegis of Communist Party, Beijing is working hard to put in place rules to find their own 15th Dalai Lama.
It was hoped that the November Meet would have discussed other ways of succession, including an emanation in an already-born boy or adolescent.
The Dalai Lama always urges his followers to think rationally.
Reason tells us that it makes no sense for the Dalai Lama to not reincarnate, his presence is needed too much by the people of Tibet for him to dispense himself from 'returning'. Further, his 'non-reincarnation' would be a boon for China who is bound to discover its own Dalai Lama.
An emanation would have the advantage that the chosen person could be groomed and 'initiated' over several years by the present Dalai Lama himself; something like the Senior and Junior Shankaracharyas.
Though the Dalai Lama remains a rock of serenity and stability in the chaotic world of Tibetan Buddhism, the future is rather hazy.
Whether the Dalai Lama decides to take a new body or 'emanate' during his own life time, the institution of the Dalai Lama is a matter of concern for India and the people of India are feeling concerned.
It is also vital for the future of Tibetan Buddhism which has witnessed many sectarian disputes in the past.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Why Ladakh needs special status

My article Why Ladakh needs special status appeared in Mail Today/DailyO

Here is the link...

The tragedy is that for decades the leaders of the Valley and now of Jammu, have had a step-brotherly attitude towards Ladakh.

On November 20, news from the high plateau of Ladakh said that Thupstan Chhewang, the lone local MP had resigned from his Lok Sabha seat; hardly a month earlier the BJP had failed to win a single ward in the civic polls in the mountainous region.
Chhewang blamed his own party; he said that his “position became morally and politically untenable because the Centre failed to deliver on promises made during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.”

Union Territory

In a letter to PM Narendra Modi, the former MP wrote: “All my pleas fell on deaf ears.” He spoke of delay in executing electoral assurances; Chhewang particularly mentioned the Union Territory (UT) status for Ladakh, the plank on which he had been elected (with a thin margin of 36 votes). He reminded the PM about the strength of slogans of five years ago, which now "sound like empty rhetoric".
Chhewang was particularly upset by the fact that the J&K State President Ravinder Raina had declared that the MP was 'opting for spiritual isolation'; “This is far from truth,” he asserted.
The tragedy is that for decades the leaders of the Valley and now of Jammu, have had a step-brotherly attitude towards Ladakh; for most politicians "one" seat is not so important and promises can be broken. These "leaders" forget that Ladakh is perhaps more strategically important than the Valley or Jammu; to neglect the border populations has never been a healthy practice for a nation. China knows this and in recent months has been trying to woo the Tibetan populations on their side of the LAC by building model villages with all sorts of amenities.
The demand for UT status has been a long-standing one. Already in 1949, a delegation of the Young Men’s Buddhist Association of Ladakh led by Kalon Chhewang Rigzin met Nehru in Delhi and presented him a memorandum: “We seek the bosom of that gracious Mother India to receive more nutriment for growth to our full stature in every way. She has given us what we prize above all things — our religion and culture.”
The Ladakhis were delighted to see the Ashoka chakra on the Indian flag; it was the Buddhist symbol of "goodwill for all humanity and India’s concern for her children". Unfortunately, Indian leaders did not respond to Ladakh’s appeal.
In 1989, the Ladakhis had no alternative but to resort to an "agitation", a concept alien to Buddhism. In 1995, after a long struggle, Ladakh was finally offered a Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) as a compromise. Though the chairman and his Executive Councilors (ministers) have vast executive powers on paper, they are often faced with Srinagar holding the purse strings.

Promises broken
Since then, the big-brotherly (not too say arrogant) politics from Srinagar has continued. When the Government of India constituted a three-member interlocutor group to find out the way forward, a proposal separating Ladakh from the Kashmir Division and granting it divisional status was made, but this never materialised. Despite its crucially strategic location, the region has kept its low administrative status.
Another genuine demand from Ladakh has been a university for Ladakh. There is no doubt that a full-fledged university in Ladakh region is needed.
In a letter to the editor in The Daily Excelsior, a young Ladakhi wrote: “In absence of this university, the student community suffers a lot. Students usually have to go other places like Jammu, Kashmir, Delhi and other parts of the country for higher education. This entails a lot of money, which every aspirant here can’t afford.”
While Jammu and the Valley have their own State and Central Universities, Ladakh does not. It is not that the centre has not tried to disenclave Ladakh. Take the Zojila tunnel, the country’s longest Zojila tunnel – once it's completed.
Unfortunately, India’s leading infrastructure finance company (IL&FS), which is responsible for the project, is over Rs 91,000 crore in debt and recently defaulted on payments. Some have suggested rebidding, whatever decision is taken, the project will be delayed.

Urgent requirement
This brings serious doubts about the proposed all-weather motorable road from Manali through Zanskar, though a Border Roads Organisation (BRO) official recently affirmed that the cold desert region will be accessible in all weather conditions. Again an electoral promise?
It is certain that the future of Ladakh cannot be left to the local politicians, whether in Srinagar or Jammu.
Ladakh needs a special status with a chief secretary rank officer posted in the district. Just think that the Army 14 Corps Commander responsible for Ladakh’s defence is headed by an officer of lieutenant-general rank, with some 38 years of experience in the Indian Army. His civilian counterpart is the DC who would be the equivalent of a captain or a major at the most; to make things worse, the DC is also the chief executive officer of the LAHDC, making the situation even more ridiculous.
In these circumstances, the Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA) organised a mega rally on November 26 to demand "Union Territory Status with Legislature for Ladakh". The meeting pledged that besides the UT demand, inclusion of Bhoti language in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution, declaration of Ladakh as a Tribal Area and establishment of a Central University in Ladakh.
The importance of Ladakh is that due to its geographical location, it has to face two enemies — the Chinese "Liberation Army" in the north and west and Pakistan in the east. It is high time that Delhi wakes up and realises that Ladakh is a "special" place requiring some nurturing.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Archaeology and politics

My article Archaeology and politics appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer.

Here is the link...

China’s new-found fondness in preserving ‘evidence’ and ‘conserving’ relics makes for a good preparation to bring millions of tourists to India’s border but it is sadly mistaken

China has lately become very fond of archaeology though it is mainly a ‘political’ archaeology. On December 1, Xinhua published an article titled: ‘Qinghai-Tibet Plateau first conquered by humans at least 30,000 years ago.’ Does this mean that China conquered Tibet much earlier than thought? History books tell us that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) entered Eastern Tibet on October 7, 1950.
The news agency explained the earlier ‘occupation’: “Thousands of stone artifacts recovered from a paleolithic site in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in southwest China indicate that humans might have conquered one of the highest and most ecologically-challenging places on the globe.”
A total of 3,683 stone artifacts have been discovered from the 30,000-40,000-year-old site, including blades, flakes, chunks and tools, the last of which range from scrapers, awls, choppers, notches and burins. Though the environment then was much warmer and more humid, Gao, a researcher from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), admitted that humans did not settle down permanently on the plateau at that time.
Xinhua concluded: “Most agree that the discovery enormously prolonged human history on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau with indisputable archaeological evidence.”
Another article in Science mentioned a location where the CAS team found pieces of stone artifacts, pottery shards as well as animal bones. It was in a village in Nyingchi in the TAR. What is interesting (and worrying) is that these researches come close to the disputed Indian border. The same phenomenon is happening elsewhere on the Indo-Tibet border. For example, in Ngari Prefecture of Western Tibet. China is probably trying to establish its political bonafide in the region.
Last month, Xinhua reported: “Chinese archaeologists have excavated more than 20 tombs thought to be around 2,000-year-old in southwest China’s TAR”. The conclusion was: “ancient tombs provide clues to mysterious civilisation in Tibet.”
The idea is to prove that Tibet has not always been Buddhist (which is true), sidelining the importance of the religious Buddhist hierarchy, particularly the Dalai Lama.  In early July, a project was launched by Sichuan University — Huo Wei, head of the School of History and Culture of the university announced that “more than 70 artifacts have been found in these tombs in Peyang Tunggar [Dungkar] ruins [near Tholing, the capital of the former Guge Kingdom], including bronze mirrors, fabric, pottery, and accessories. We found millet in a pottery cup and tea in a wooden box, which are believed to date back between the Han Dynasty and Jin Dynasty.”
Huo explained: “The discoveries showed that there was a long stage of civilisation in the Peyang Tunggar region, and the civilisation had close ties with the surrounding areas. Before Buddhism was introduced to Tibet in the seventh century, there was a period called Shangshung culture according to historical recordings.”
Why is it important for India? It appears that Beijing is going to duplicate in Ngari what it did in Nyingchi area and the excavations give China a political legitimacy — it is the first theoretical step, the road infrastructure leading to the border and a string of model villages are the next practical stages.
Moreover, three new airports will soon be constructed in these frontier areas — Lhuntse (in Lhoka prefecture, north of Arunachal), Tingri (in Shigatse City, close to the Nepal border) and Purang — which is located at the tri-junction with Nepal and India on way to the Kailash-Manasarowar yatra in Ngari prefecture. But that is not all.
A few days ago, China Tibet News reported that the TAR’s Preserving Institution of Cultural Relics had completed some archaeological work on Relics of the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty at Yatung in the Chumbi Valley, near Sikkim, an area which witnessed the Doklam incident last year.
The so-called occupation of the Chumbi Valley by the Manchus is a new way to rewrite history and show that these areas close to the Indian border have always belonged to China …and are part of the Silk Road, dear to Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The website speaks of “an irreplaceable section of South Asian corridor on the Silk Road, Yatung Custom Relics has been recognised as the witness of the Central Government’s [Beijing] valid ruling over Tibet and China's claim on sovereignty.”
‘Valid’ ruling is a new term, at a time when nobody disputes China’s occupation of Tibet any longer. The TAR ordered the ‘repairing-for-salvage work’ of the relics and the TAR Cultural Relics Bureau set up a joint expert group and conducted a field research, “during which six buildings and roads linking the buildings have been discovered.”
The press release mentioned: “The whole relics were filled with collapse piles, and a large number of porcelains, iron and bronzes were unearthed, too. Analysis on layout, scale and interior structure of these buildings has preliminarily shown that they have been used as working offices, dormitories for workers and garrison, the Temple of Guan Yu, customs clearance place, as well as daily goods trading center.”
Did the Manchus ever occupy the Chumbi Valley? Nobody has heard of this before. China now wants to preserve the ‘evidence’ and conserve the relics. The Yatung County’s Communist Party committee and the Yatung County Government jointly formulated an Emergency Protective Repair Plan with working priorities for the preservation.
Chinese ‘experts’ affirmed that the Yatung Custom Relics “carries a lot of historical memory. Preserving the relics has significant practical and historical significance to study border culture, develop patriotism, carry forward fine traditions, safeguard national unity, as well as develop local tourism and economy.” A good preparation to bring millions of tourists (soon by train) to India’s border! But there is another angle omitted by Xinhua and its other associate websites.
India had a beautiful Trade Agency in Yatung. The building belonged to the Government of India. It was visited by the Prime Minister of India in September 1958. It was destroyed by the Chinese PLA after the 1962 war. Did not the Yatung Relics Committee look for the vestige of Indian presence in Tibet? Their approach then seems rather selective!  The Yatung Relics Department should be asked to excavate the area and open it to pilgrims, passing through the Chumbi Valley on their way to the Kailash Yatra. But perhaps the Wuhan consensus does not allow such requests. Rules of engagement should be fair.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Jai Jai Jai

The planet is passing through difficult times. Even the most optimistic are aware that the environment is degrading fast and it may be difficult to stop the ecological downfall; at the same time, one has rarely seen so much tension among nations.
There are however solid reasons to hope that global solutions can be found through dialogue. One such occasion is the yearly G20 (or Group of Twenty).
Collectively, the G20 economies amount for some 85% of the gross world product, 80% of world trade and two-thirds of the world population.
The G20 came into existence during the 2008 planetary financial crisis, when the world leaders had no choice but to collectively address issues.
Before his departure for Buenos Aires, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated: “The G-20 seeks to promote multi-faceted cooperation among the twenty largest economies of the world. Through the ten years of its existence, G-20 has strived to promote stable and sustainable global growth.”
Though the theme of the Summit was “Building Consensus for Fair and Sustainable Development”, the world press was mainly excited about the ‘Dinner’.
Chinese President Xi Jinping was sharing a supper with his mercurial US counterpart, who has given him sleepless nights since several months, trying to ‘rebalance’ the world economy and principally the trade between the two largest world economies.
The South China Morning Post wrote: “Chinese and American officials may have spent weeks preparing for the high-stakes summit between Xi Jinping and Donald Trump, but any hopes of resolving the current trade war may ultimately hinge on their personal chemistry.”
The ‘successful dinner’ was the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders since Trump started a trade war with China.
More than the Summit itself, it is perhaps the sideline encounters which had to be watched, they could ultimately help redesigning the political geography of the planet.
One was of particular significance for India as well as Asia.
Narendra Modi met Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for their first trilateral exchange to discuss major issues of global. It assumed significance at a time China is flexing its muscles in Asia, now known as the Indo-Pacific region.
After the meeting, Modi asserted that the three nations will "continue to work together on shared values. …If I put it diffirently, Japan, America, and India is ‘JAI’, meaning success. We are making a new beginning. …I believe, [JAI] will play a big role in promoting world peace and prosperity.”
While the Indian Prime Minister spoke of the convergence of vision between the three nations, Abe affirmed that he was happy to participate in the ‘first ever JAI trilateral’; as for Trump, he appreciated India's growth story.
The three leaders noted their cooperation on all global issues such as better connectivity, sustainable development, counter-terrorism and maritime and cyber security.
As another strong message to China, the JAI leaders spoke in a free, open, conclusive and rule-based order in the Indo-Pacific region, based on respect for international law and peaceful resolution of all differences.
Let us remember that China claims almost all of the South China Sea, rejecting the counterclaims of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
It is today crucial for Delhi to ‘balance’ China, who has shown strong hegemonic tendencies, particularly in the South China Sea …and on Indian borders.
Modi, Trump and Abe have now agreed to cooperate in various ways and they stressed the importance to continue with the ‘Trilateral Format’ at multilateral conferences.
Incidentally, a RIC (Russia, India and China) meeting also took place and Modi had earlier a good meeting with Xi Jinping.
Delhi bats for pragmatic multilateralism, while defending its own interests.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Where is the Indian Trade Agency?

China Tibet News recently reported that the local Preserving Institution of Cultural Relics of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) had completed some archaeological work on Relics of the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty at Yatung in the Chumbi Valley, which witnessed the Doklam incident last year.
The so-called occupation of the Chumbi Valley by the Manchus is a new way to rewrite the history and show that these areas close to the Indian border always belonged to China …and of course, it is linked to the Silk Road!
The website speaks of “an irreplaceable section of South Asian corridor on the Silk Road, Yatung Custom Relics has been recognized as the witness of the central government's valid ruling over Tibet and China's claim on sovereignty.”
‘Valid’ ruling is a new term.
The TAR ordered the ‘repairing-for-salvage work’ of the relics and the TAR Cultural Relics Bureau set up a joint expert group and conducted a field research, “during which six buildings and roads that linking the buildings have been discovered.”
The press release mentions: “the whole relics were filled with collapse piles, and a large number of porcelains, iron and bronzes were unearthed, too. Analysis on layout, scale and interior structure of these buildings has preliminarily shown that they have been used as working offices, dormitories for workers and garrison, Temple of Guan Yu [?], customs clearance place, as well as daily goods trading center.”
Did the Manchus occupy the Chumbi Valley?
China wants now to preserve the 'evidence' and conserve the relics.
The Yatung County’s Communist Party committee and the Yatung County Government jointly formulated an Emergency Protective Repair Plan with some working priority.

Safeguarding National Unity
The ‘experts’ said that the Yatung Custom Relics “carries a lot of historical memory. Preserving the relics has significant practical and historical significance to study border culture, develop patriotism, carry forward fine traditions, safeguard national unity, as well as develop local tourism and economy.”
A good plan to bring millions of tourists (soon by train) to India’s border!

Waiting for the Prime Minister (1958)
The Indian Trade Agency in Yatung
There is another angle omitted by Xinhua and its branches.
India had a beautiful Trade Agency in Yatung.
The building belonged to the Government of India.
It was visited by the Indian Prime Minister of India in September 1958.
It was destroyed by the Chinese PLA after the 1962 war.
Apparently, the Yatung Relics Committee did not look for the vestige of Indian presence in Tibet?
Were their excavations selective?
Incidentally, a Memorandum presented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing to the Embassy of India in China on December 29, 1962 accused some Indian officials of looting of the Indian Agency at the end of the 1962 War.
The Chinese communication says: “According to reports from China's Tibet local authorities, when the former Indian Consul-General in Lhasa AR [Arvind] Deo and his staff withdrew from Lhasa and were passing through Yatung, they seriously damaged property within the premises of the former Indian Trade Agency in Yatung in the afternoon of December 15, 1962. For instance, they demolished several motor-cars, broke up a diesel generator, cut open several dozen barrels of gasoline, diesel oil and machine grease with hatchets, broke down doors and windows.” All pure lies.
Why should Indian officials destroy India’s property?
The Memorandum adds: “On the eve of their withdrawal from Lhasa, the staff of the Indian Consulate-General there also smashed the glass on the doors and windows of the Consulate-General building in Lhasa.”
But China alleges further, “It must be pointed out that the above-mentioned acts of the staff of the Indian Consulate-General not only constituted a breach of the local public order, but obviously harboured an ulterior motive, that is, to shift the blame on the Chinese side. The Chinese Government sternly condemns these despicable acts of the former Indian Consulate-General and its staff and reserves the right to look into this matter further.”
The Indian Consulate General in Lhasa had been closed a few days earlier and Arvind Deo was rushing to Gangtok to report about the difficult times he had go through during the previous two months.
Why should an Indian diplomat loot the Indian Trade Agency?
A few years later, the building was later completely destroyed by China and India kept quiet. Why? Presumably not to ‘irritate’ China.
The Yatung Relics department should be asked to excavate the area and open it to the visitors going on the Kailash-Manasarowar Yatra, when the pass through the Chumbi Valley.
But perhaps the Wuhan consensus does not allow such request. It is very sad.