Tuesday, September 11, 2018
Book Release - Will Tibet ever find her soul again?
Interesting discussions on the meaning of the title followed the release.
Here are a few concluding remarks which form the postcript of this volume
As at the end of Volume I of The Relations between Tibet and India between 1947 and 1962, it is important to draw some lessons from the happenings of the years 1951-54 leading to the signature of the “Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between the Tibet region of China and India”. The accord was signed on April 29, 1954 in Beijing by the Indian Ambassador N. Raghavan and Zhang Hanfu, the Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister. It is often referred to as the Panchsheel Agreement.
This period was marked by a general deterioration of the situation in Central Tibet and the slow take-over of the institutions by the People’s Liberation Army and the representatives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of India. It seemed ineluctable after the signature of the 17-Point Agreement between China and Tibet in May 1951 and Delhi’s surrender of India’s interests in Tibet for the sake of a mythic ‘eternal’ friendship with China.
Soon after the arrival of the Chinese troops in Lhasa, the Head of the Indian Mission realized that Tibet would never been the same. Sumul Sinha’s encounter with General Zhang Jingwu, the Central Committee’s representative, was instructive in this regard.
Also edifying was the case of the Indian PoWs; it would take months of negotiations for Phuntso and his colleagues to be freed. These youngsters from the Himalayan region were accused of trying to obstruct the ‘Liberation of Tibet’; they had been employed by Robert Ford, a British working as a radio operator for the Tibetan Government. Retrospectively, their illegal detention of the young assistants is shocking.
‘Will Tibet ever find her soul again?’ once asked SM Krishnatry in one of his reports from Gyantse, where he served as Indian Trade Agent.
The Tibetans were at a loss, should they collaborate with the Communists or revolt against the Chinese occupation? Interestingly, it was the poorer sections of the society which would start to rebel, while the high clergy and the aristocracy were not unhappy with the Chinese largesse.
In Lhasa, Gyantse or Shigatse, many Tibetans happily collaborated with Chinese; they could not grasp the implications of their ‘liberation’ for the future of the Tibetan nation.
The tide continued to turn against the Tibetans during the following years; the Indian representatives in Tibet could do little to change this course of events; this was the time when Delhi was more and more enamoured with Communist China.
One of the strangest episodes of the period under study is the ‘feeding of the PLA’ by the Indian government, who allowed large quantities of rice to transit via its territory for more than two years.
What lessons could be learnt from the episode?
It is better not to feed the army of a potential enemy, especially when this army is busy constructing road to your borders. The cost of strengthening the PLA’s presence on the plateau would soon be obvious.
While the Chinese were pushing their administration in Western and Southern Tibet, the Indian government was slowly advancing towards the McMahon line; the administration of Tawang was in good hands, thanks to Maj Bob Khathing, though the difficulties were immense.
In the early 1950s, two most tragic events took place: the closure by force of the Indian Consulate General in Kashgar, which was followed by the downgrading of the Lhasa Mission into a Consulate General. This would have long-term implications which can be seen even today, seventy years later. India no longer has a representation in Tibet and Xinjiang, two places which have traded with Northern India for centuries. In the present days, the reopening of any Silk Road has no meaning if these regions are unable to have contacts with India. India may have to take a stand on the issue one day, if it wants in participate of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) sponsored by Chinese. Without these traditional outposts, how could India play a meaningful role in the region?
While these momentous events were taking place on India’s borders, the military consolidation on the Tibetan plateau continued at a fast pace.
What is most surprising is the fact that India was very much aware of the details, but the political leadership read China’s intention totally wrong.
The lesson is that an ideological stand can hamper a proper geostrategic vision of a situation, and ultimately have disastrous consequences for the nation. Accurate information was there, it was just that the leadership decided to close their eyes.
While the Indian administration continued to advance in the NEFA, India had also a presence in Western Tibet with Minsar, the Indian Village traditionally part of the J&K State, next to Mount Kailash.
This would soon be forgotten in view of the nascent friendship with the Communist regime, but the legal facts remain the same, even 65 years later, Minsar is part of the Indian territory, even though it is difficult to enforce the possession of the village today (or in the 1950s).
One of the most fascinating and lesser known aspects of the relations between Tibet and India were the age-old contacts with Western Tibet and the role of the Indian Trade Agency in Gartok. The diary of Lakshman Singh Jangpangi, who for years represented the Indian government in these desolate areas, makes fascinating reading. As a result of the rapid decrease of the trade in Western Tibet, the Himalayan regions slowly lost their main sources of revenue, which translates even today in the quick migration out of the border villages.
Over these first years of occupation of the plateau, one can see the situation slowly changing with the Chinese getting bolder and establishing themselves by force, imposing their law on the local Tibetan officials as well as the Indian representatives. The pilgrims to Mt Kailash and the traders from the Himalayan region and Ladakh started to face more and more harassment.
Delhi seemed to close their eyes on the tragedy happening in the high Himalaya, as more important ‘world’ issues had probably to be tackled.
A bunch of notes from the CIA on the infrastructure development in Tibet, as well as the Indian views on the Chinese military deployment, give frightening insight on the Chinese intentions in Tibet and Xinjiang. It was the time when the Aksai Chin road linking the two ‘liberated’ provinces started being built.
In Delhi, very few officers had the courage to call a spade, a spade. Sumul Sinha, who had previously been posted as the Head of the Indian Mission in Lhasa, was one of them. Now serving in the North-East Division of the Ministry of External Affairs, he dare to mention in a note, ‘the Chinese threats on the NEFA’. He would be blasted by a Prime Minister, who still relied on KM Panikkar, now Indian Ambassador in Cairo, to advise him about India’s China policy. Volume I has amply covered this subject.
While the situation in Lhasa and elsewhere in Tibet continued to deteriorate, the strengthening the Indian borders was imperative. For the purpose, an Indian Frontier Administrative Service was created and several ex-Army officers were recruited. This is one of the positive outcomes of the exacerbated tensions on the borders. These remarkable officers performed miracles on the frontiers.
Finally, at the end of 1953, negotiations started for a new Agreement with Tibet. The consequences of China’s occupation of Tibet, were to be settled in a couple of weeks; it would take four months to arrive at a settlement …but forgetting the border in the process (Zhou Enlai had said on the first day that only issues ‘ripe for settlement’ would be solved, but nobody understood what he meant). Slowly over the weeks and months, India would give away all its rights in Tibet, getting nothing in return.
The main lesson of this volume is perhaps the narrative of the negotiations themselves, which should become a text book: how negotiations should not be conducted with China.
Further, the fact that the Prime Minister wanted ‘quick results’ did not help. The Chinese negotiators extracted concessions one after another; in many cases, it was plain surrender from the Indian diplomats.
At the end of the ‘talks’, Delhi discovered that the main Indian official dealing with the Chinese, a married man, wanted to marry his Chinese girl friend; he would have to be replaced by the Indian ambassador.
It was a tragic moment of the Indian diplomacy, which has never been acknowledged by the Indian side.
The Volume ends by the terrible floods in Gyantse, which washed away the Indian Trade Agency and killed the Trade Agent and the new Officer Commanding the military Escort. It was a sign that the days of the Indian presence in Tibet were counted.
China would never allow the Agency to be rebuilt despite the Agreement.
The main lesson remains the unnecessary surrender of Indian rights in Tibet.