By Kuldip Nayar
Tibet is like India’s Kashmir which too has raised the standard of independence. There is, however, one difference: the Dalai Lama is willing to accept an autonomous state within China. Kashmir wants independence for the Valley.
China does it again. It helps a well-known terrorist to escape the punishment. Azar Masood, a first rank terrorist, was sought to be banned by the UN. Beijing used its veto so that he stays free. This time it was not a casual move but a deliberate act on the part of Beijing.
The 1962 attack by China on India when Beijing pulverised the Indian troops in Aksai Chin looked only a probe to register its presence. But it turned out to be a full-fledged attack. In the same way, Chinese troops would appear here and there without occupying the territory. Full marks to Beijing’s arrogance. It would summon the envoy and convey its displeasure, nothing beyond. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh was not long ago. However, it brought the issue to the fore. The territory which is part of India was never claimed by China.
The reality is, however, different. Beijing told our ambassador Ashok Kantha that Modi’s visit “undermined China’s territorial sovereignty right and interests”. Not long ago, Beijing had begun stapling visas of the people of Arunachal visiting China to indicate that it was a “separate territory” and not a part of India. Only a few days ago did Modi say publicly that the land was India’s.
New Delhi bore the humiliation quietly then as it has done now. This is, however, the first time that Beijing has publicly expressed its unhappiness. Yet in the past China had accepted without demur the maps showing Arunachal Pradesh as India’s territory. The dispute has been over a small territory lying between Arunachal and China’s border. The status of Arunachal has been seldom questioned.
Again, it is a part of arrogance when the important message is conveyed through Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin, who says: “Modi’s visit undermined China’s territorial sovereignty. Such act by the Indian side amplified differences between the two countries on the border issue and thus went against the principles and consensus that the two sides reached on properly addressing the issue.”
“You will be reborn in Free Tibet,” wrote the Dalai Lama in a note he left for the ailing George Fernandes, former Defence Minister, who openly championed the cause of independent Tibet. The Dalai Lama was then under the threat of some Chinese nationals who, according to India’s intelligence agencies, had sneaked into the country to kill him. New Delhi’s concern over the Dalai Lama’s safety is in contrast to its dead silence over the indiscriminate killings of monks in Tibet.
Tibet is like India’s Kashmir which too has raised the standard of independence. There is, however, one difference: the Dalai Lama is willing to accept an autonomous state within China. Kashmir wants independence for the Valley. Maybe, the Kashmiris will come round to accepting a similar status one day. The problem is so complicated that a minor change can lead to a major catastrophe. It is not worth risking.
I have visited Bum La Pass from where the Dalai Lama entered India to seek asylum. His land, Tibet, has been occupied by the Chinese who also have destroyed their culture. The Chinese imposed communism and had no respect for either the Dalai Lama or his monastery. Recently the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh has brought back the memories of the days when the Chinese annexed Tibet. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, did not raise any objection because he was then on personal terms with Chinese Premier Chou Enlai. It is another story that he (Chou) betrayed Nehru.
True, Tibet was under the suzerainty of Beijing but the autonomy of Tibet was considered unviable. Suzerainty means a government exercising political control over a dependent state. Suzerainty does not translate into absorption. Tibet was not even a part of China but India agreed to the suzerainty part. Beijing betrayed Nehru again when it made the Dalai Lama’s stay in Lhasa impossible. The biggest betrayal was when China attacked India eight years later in 1962. The Dalai Lama’s visit may not have raised doubts about Tibet but it renewed the debate of its annexation by Beijing once again. It warned India that the Dalai Lama’s visit would affect the normal relations between the two countries.
It was heartening to see that India did not pay attention and went ahead to bless his visit. I cannot understand why Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju had to emphasise that the Dalai Lama’s visit was purely religious. It was up to the Dalai Lama to tell what led him to undertake the trip to Arunachal.
The rift between India and China is all about the latter’s claim over Arunachal Pradesh. China had for long been claiming this Indian State to be its territory and referring it to be the abode of the spiritual leader. Hence, the visit of the Dalai Lama to Arunchal would not be in its interest because they regard him as “a separatist”.
China has been trying to project the Dalai Lama as a political entity. “We don’t have any intention of engaging with the Dalai Lama so as to irritate China,” says the Minister. The spiritual leader, during his week-long stay, is expected to conduct religious discourses in Tawang, Bomdila and other areas of Arunachal Pradesh.
In fact, China’s problems with India have their roots in the British demarcation of the India-China border. Even today, China refuses to acknowledge the MacMahon Line that demarcates Arunachal Pradesh to be a part of India. Any activity that takes place in this area is viewed skeptically. A visit by Indian diplomats had flared up the issue in the past.
While China has often called on countries not to host the Dalai Lama, it has adopted a different approach towards India, knowing well how sentimentally Hindus are attached to Buddhism and the Dalai Lama. Beijing wants him to be confined to Dharamshala where he and his followers have settled since 1959. That the Dalai Lama has still visited Arunachal Pradesh goes to show New Delhi’s realisation that it has military strength. It was a different story in 1962 when soldiers did not have even shoes for a mountain combat. India is now a power to reckon with.
(The author is New Delhi based veteran journalist, geo-political analyst and former Indian High Commissioner to the UK.