Wednesday, August 29, 2018
Will Tibet ever find her soul again?
The title is Will Tibet ever find her soul again?
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I post here the Introduction
The first volume of the India Tibet Relations (1947-1962) left us soon after the signature of 17-Point Agreement in May 1951. The Tibetan delegates had no alternative but to accept that the “the Tibetan people shall return to the family of the Motherland of the People's Republic of China” and “drive out imperialist aggressive forces from Tibet.” (Article I)
Ngabo Ngawang Jigme and his colleagues further agreed that “The local government of Tibet shall actively assist the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to enter Tibet and consolidate the national defenses.” (Article II)
One can ask: who was this defence consolidation against?
Very few realized then that it could only be against India, as the Hindi-Chini-Bhai-Bhai honeymoon between Delhi and Beijing had just started; over the next months and years, the Indian officials posted on the Roof of the World would discover the true objectives of the Communists. But during the first months, nobody in Delhi or the Embassy in Beijing was ready to listen to them.
This volume shall go in depth into the slow break-down and deterioration of the age-old Indo-Tibet relations, gradually being replaced by a cruder relation with the new occupiers of Tibet.
India’s friendly relationship with its Buddhist neighbour was progressively terminated by the presence of the PLA on the plateau. During the period covered by this volume, very few Tibetans had the courage to fight the ineluctable; most Tibetans, whether from the aristocracy or the clergy, collaborated with the occupying forces. This period however saw the birth of a national conscience and a ‘people’s movement’, which unfortunately never got Delhi’s support.
“Will Tibet ever find her soul again” wrote the Indian Trade Agent (ITA) in Gyantse, at that time.
After looking at the situation in Tibet during the first months after the signature of the 17-Point Agreement, we shall witness the arrival of the Chinese troops in Lhasa, preceded by General Zhang Jingwu, the representative of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CCP).
Most of the documents used in this volume come from the JN Collection (also known as the Nehru Papers), held in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in Delhi as well as from the National Archives of India. It is the first time that such documents have been used (or even seen). The arrival of Gen Zhang and his first encounter with Sumul Sinha, the head of the Indian Mission in Lhasa, are described in detail. It makes fascinating reading. The happenings of the coming years could already be perceived in this first ‘polite’ meeting.
Another issue which has never been narrated earlier is the fate of the four Indian prisoners of war during the so-called Liberation War, i.e. the invasion of Tibet in the summer of 1950. After several months of hard negotiations, the young Indian radio operators would finally be freed. The Indian diplomacy did a good job in this case.
During the first year of occupation, a report of the Indian Trade Agent in Gyantse vividly described the changing trends in the power balance on the plateau.
The Indian officials, who for decades dealt directly with the Tibetan authorities, had now to pass through the Chinese PLA officers.
The most grotesque incident of this period was the feeding the PLA’s troops with rice coming through India. Without Delhi’s active support, the Chinese troops would not have been able to survive in Tibet. Cables, telegrams and despatches between Lhasa, Yatung, Gangtok, Delhi and Beijing shall enlighten us on this never-heard-before episode.
It will be necessary to move for a moment to Tawang and look at the situation after the arrival of Maj Bob Khathing, who smoothly managed the takeover of the administration and began to protect the local Monpa population against the rapacious Tibetan tax collectors’ exactions.
We shall also go through the advance of the Indian Administration in the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA). As a consequence of the report(s) of the North and Northeastern Border Committee, led by Maj Gen Himmatsinghji, the Deputy Defence Minister, Delhi had decided to provide basic amenities and a proper administration to the tribal population living south of the McMahon Line in NEFA’s five Frontier Divisions. The difficulties of the first years are highlighted through various historical documents.
When one looks at the fate of the Tibetan nation, the closure of the Indian Mission in Lhasa and its renaming as Consulate General working under the Indian Embassy in Beijing, it is another tragedy never recorded in India’s history books. Delhi accepted meekly, without even informing the Parliament that India ‘officially’ had a new neighbour.
This was preceded by the de facto closure of the Indian Consulate in Kashgar, in Southern Xinjiang in 1950, which implied that the customary trade between Kashmir and Central Asia, via Ladakh and Xinjiang came to an end. The famous old Silk Road was dead. The closure of the Consulate has also been recorded for the first time.
Another fascinating aspect rarely studied is the trade with the Himalayan States of Tehri-Garwal, Himachal Pradesh as well as Ladakh through the seasonal Indian Trade Agency in Gartok, one of the three agencies functioning under the office of the Political Officer (PO) in Sikkim. The trade with Tibet in the Western Himalaya, is looked at through the eyes of Lakshman Singh Jangpangi, the ITA in Western Tibet. The flourishing business in Yatung located at the gate of Sikkim in the Chumbi Valley, is also documented.
We shall come back for a moment to NEFA to see the quick developments on Tibet’s borders. Incidentally during the period under study, China never claimed Tawang or the entire NEFA as theirs; today, Beijing terms the whole area ‘Southern Tibet’.
As for the first volume, our main difficulty has been that the Ministry of External Affairs has stubbornly (and illegally – the Public Records Rules stipulates that documents should be declassified after 25 years) refused to declassify the historical records held in South Block. As a result, some aspects might be missing in this study. As mentioned in Volume 1, it is certainly not in India’s interests.
Regarding the strategic roads built by the PLA, particularly the one started through the Aksai Chin in Ladakh, we used fascinating recently-released CIA documents to reconstitute the military set up on the plateau before 1954.
An Indian document also gives us an idea of the Chinese troops deployment in the early years of the Chinese occupation.
An interesting element, on which most Indian politicians of the time agreed, was the development of the border areas as a way to counter Chinese advances (and propaganda). It was what the Himmatsinghji Committee had suggested in 1951. The Indian Frontier Administrative Service played a crucial role in this context; the remarkable service, with outstanding officers, more or less at par then with the Indian Administrative Service, greatly helped consolidate the Indian borders in the North-East in the early 1950s.
One of the saddest aspects highlighted in this study is the Prime Minister’s (and some of his ‘advisors’) lack of understanding of the ‘Chinese Threat’ in the early fifties. Sumul Sinha, who served in Lhasa during two years (1950-52), tried to point out this danger when posted in the NEFA division of the Ministry. He was severely reprimanded by the Prime Minister. Thereafter, he was a dejected officer, though some ten years later, his reports appeared to have been prophetic.
After looking at the deteriorating situation in Lhasa before the beginning of the Tibet Talks in Beijing (which started on December 31, 1953), we shall go in great detail into the so-called negotiations during which India lost all the rights and advantages it had in Tibet since the beginning of the 20th century.
Three chapters are consecrated to the Tibet Talks, in which Tibet never participated (was not even informed), ending after four months with the signature of the Panchsheel Agreement.
These chapters go into the ‘framework’ of the Negotiations, the first and second months of the talks and finally the disastrous outcome of the Agreement.
We have tried to go deeper into this event which occurred exactly 50 years after the British military operation in Tibet: the signing of this bi-lateral accord between India and China redefined India’s age-old trade relations with Tibet; the Tibetans themselves were excluded from the negotiations and the benefits of the Agreement.
In many ways it marked the tail end of the events set into motion by the entry of Francis Younghusband in Tibet. While the British expedition indicated recognition of Tibet as a separate entity, the signing of the Agreement put an end to Tibet as an independent nation. The circle was closed, with incalculable consequences for the Himalayan region and India. The other misfortune is that the Agreement would be remembered not for its content, which triggered the slow destruction of a 2,000 year-old ‘way of life’, but for its preamble (the Five Principles) which was supposed to govern the relations between India and China.
Prime Minister Nehru based India’s relation with China, on his Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai policy, but the idealistic Principles would never be followed either in letter or in spirit, by Communist China.
It took a few more years and many persistent Chinese intrusions on Indian soil to sensitize the Indian government and public to the gravity of the situation.
For several years, Nehru naively believed his Chinese counterpart when Zhou Enlai told him that the world would be changed “when Panchsheel would shine over the universe like a sun”.
This volume ends with the devastating floods in Gyantse in July 1954; the building of the Indian Agency would be washed away and several Indian officials, including the ITA and the Officer Commanding-designate (OC) of the military escort, would lose their lives.
A tragic and symbolically ominous end to a depressing period of turbulent changes.