Free Tibet in India's interest (Pioneer, April 6, 2008)
The monks and the dragon: NS Rajaram | Scientist and historian
Tibet and Jammu & Kashmir offer striking examples of a self-absorbed leadership placing personal glory ahead of national interest. India is still paying the price for these blunders by being the only country of its size without a recognised border with its giant neighbour. The failure is not just geopolitical, but also one of morality and even identity of India as a nation. It is an unhappy fact that Indian leaders gave no clear vision of national identity: instead, what they gave and followed were personal fetishes like ahimsa and Panchasheel that have cost the country dear.
Indian leaders have avoided taking morally forthright stands over international issues like Tibet and Hungary as well as over domestic issues like the Shah Bano affair and jihadi terrorism. For this India has earned the label of being a 'soft' state. By supporting the Tibetan people, India could send a clear message to the world and to its own people that it stands for some values that it holds sacred. But this calls for political courage that has been missing so far.
The Tibetan uprising has brought to light some uncomfortable facts which Nehruvians would like to see removed from history books. There is an attempt to whitewash the Chinese occupation of Tibet as a reaction to a CIA conspiracy to turn Tibet into a Western colony with the Dalai Lama as a puppet; one 'secular' writer has even compared him to Osama bin Laden!
This creative rewriting cannot obscure the fact that it was Jawaharlal Nehru's pursuit of international glory in Korea that led to his giving up India's rights in Tibet. As China appeared on India's doorstep by occupying Tibet, the Jawaharlal Nehru Government made a strenuous effort to gain international recognition for Mao's China at India's cost. It is not widely known that India was offered a UN seat as a permanent member of the Security Council, which Nehru rejected insisting that China be admitted first.
In 1950, as Chinese troops were invading Tibet, India's Ambassador in Beijing KM Panikkar went so far as to claim that protesting the Chinese occupation would be an "interference to India's efforts on behalf of China in the UN". Nehru concurred: "Our primary consideration is maintenance of world peace... Recent developments in Korea have not strengthened China's position, which will be further weakened by any aggressive action (by India) in Tibet."
Deeply disturbed by these developments, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel complained to Nehru that Panikkar "has been at great pains to find an explanation or justification for Chinese policy and actions". India got nothing in return from China. At the very least India could have demanded settling its border with India for its support. But Nehru gave up India's diplomatic rights in Tibet by closing down missions in Lhasa and Gyangtse.
An argument is now being made that Nehru had no choice because India was not strong enough to challenge China in Tibet. Nehru himself never made this dubious claim, then or later. China, just coming out of the civil war was overcommitted in Korea and was vulnerable in Tibet. Tibet also had international support.
The highly influential English publication The Economist echoed the Western viewpoint when it wrote: "Having maintained complete independence of China since 1912, Tibet has a strong claim to be regarded as an independent state. But it is for India to take a lead in this matter. If India decides to support independence of Tibet as a buffer state between itself and China, Britain and the US will do well to extend formal diplomatic recognition to it."
India would have lost nothing by protesting and gained much in goodwill, but Nehru's infatuation with Communism made him blind to the gross immorality of allowing a peaceful neighbouring people being enslaved. Nehru covered this moral obtuseness with self-righteous arrogance. He saw the spiritual civilisation of Tibet as primitive that could benefit from a dose of socialism administered by the Chinese occupiers. ("A very large dose," said the Dalai Lama.)
Sixty years after independence, it is time for Indians to re-examine their recent history and see how they have been misled by self-righteous rhetoric and posturing leaders pursuing personal glory at the cost of national interest. This has also weakened the country's moral fibre, leaving it without a national vision. It is time India came out of this moral stupor by taking a forthright stand on the side of the oppressed people of Tibet. At the very least there should be no second betrayal.
Moral duty to back Tibet (Pioneer, April 6, 2008)
The monks and the dragon: Claude Arpi | Tibetologist and author of several books on Tibet, China and Sino-Indian relations
The recent riots on the 'Roof of the World' have triggered a flurry of reactions. While Indians in general defend the plight of the Tibetan people, some (read Beijing's comrades) believe that it is "an internal affair of China" and that Delhi should scrupulously follow the principle of non-interference in its neighbour's affairs. Still others strongly feel that it is a ploy of the CIA to weaken the Chinese Government and ultimately control the rich mineral resources of the Tibetan plateau.
The latter cite as examples the numerous occasions when the Dalai Lama has been received by the White House or other Western heads of state; the Congressional Gold Medal having been presented to him by the Speaker of the US House of Representatives; or, even the support the Tibetan guerrillas got from the CIA in the 1960s (it ended before President Richard Nixon's visit to Beijing in 1972).
Personally, I am not a fan of the US, more so since President George W Bush made a fool of himself and his country by rushing to Iraq for a few more drops of oil. But why equate the policies of the present US Administration with the Tibetan issue?
The political choices made by the Dalai Lama are altogether a different matter. To criticise him because he has roamed the world for the past 35 years (his first trip to the West dates back to 1973) as a mendicant seeking support and help for the survival of his people, is not fair. Can someone in life-danger fuss about the emergency team trying to provide first aid? Whenever Western Governments or institutions or individuals have shown consideration and understanding, was it not normal for him to gratefully accept it? Some blame him for receiving the support of Hollywood stars, but is it because one acts in movies that one is a bad guy?
At the end of the day, what is the Tibet issue about? No doubt, for the Tibetans, it is the fate of their country which is at stake, but for Western (and Indian) people, the question of human justice is involved.
Two years ago, in an interview, the Dalai Lama had told me (he used a similar argument in his recent NDTV interview): "I have three commitments: First, as a fellow human being, promotion of human values is my first priority, this covers six billion human beings. Second, I am a Buddhist, and as a Buddhist I want to promote religious harmony; the third is about Tibet. It concerns six million Tibetans."
For the millions who have signed petitions in favour of the Tibetan leader, for the Nobel Committee which awarded him the Peace Prize in 1989, for the Western Governments which officially receive him, for all those who demonstrate against the Olympic Games being held in totalitarian China, the promotion of universal responsibility, justice for all, respect of fundamental rights and democratic principles have been the main motivations. In fact, these values have no boundary. It is a positive sign for the future if humanity cares more and more for the principles which, let us not forget, represent the highest aspirations of eternal India.
If our 'global village' is to survive the next decades, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the first step to be implemented by all. The next step would be a Declaration of Human Duties which will hopefully soon be drafted.
We also tend to forget that an Olympic year is always a special year for humanity. In reviving the ancient tradition of the Olympic Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin's first and foremost objective was to 'build men' and not merely exhibit sporting prowess. The argument that the Olympics is purely a sporting event is historically and ethically wrong.
For Coubertin, Olympism was a religion which would "adhere to an ideal of superior life and aspire for perfection". He spoke of a quadrennial 'Human Spring'. What else than a 'human spring' are we witnessing today across the world? The saddest aspect of the current situation is that the people of China are not allowed to participate in the 'spring' of human spirit.
We could go into the legalities of the Chinese occupation of Tibet or the strategic implications of the recent riots in Lhasa and elsewhere for China's neighbours, but the main issue seems to be that the spirit of Olympism, represented by the Olympic Flame, should remain alive. The monks in the streets of Tibet have set an example for all of us.