CAMP Hale at Colorado in the US is a long way from Tibet. But what joins them together is the training of some 2000 Tibetan warriors who have been taught the art of guerrilla warfare to fight the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China. The warriors have failed to deflect China from consolidating its position in the Buddhist kingdom which it annexed in 1947. Yet they have not given up fighting. They continue to put up resistance here and there and harass at times the Chinese soldiers even at Lhasa, Tibet’s capital. Beijing sees the hands of New Delhi in the independence war that the people in Tibet have waged against China. Beijing is more convinced about New Delhi’s hand after Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna told China the other day that Tibet was like Kashmir, “our core problem”. The two governments discussed last week the delineation of the border but Tibet appears to have been settled as far as New Delhi is concerned.
But the Tibetans nourish a grievance against India, which accepted China’s suzerainty over Tibet after the British left India in 1947. Their complaint is that New Delhi declared China’s suzerainty over Tibet without consulting its people. This is also the complaint of the Dalia Lama, who took refuge in India in 1954 when he could not tolerate the Communist shoes trampling upon the spiritual and traditional ways of his people. He, too, believes that since India had no locus standi in Tibet, it had no right to accept China’s suzerainty over it. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, could see that the Dalai Lama was not safe in Tibet and, therefore, sent Indian officials to receive him on the border. This was a great gesture which was applauded throughout the world. The Dalai Lama and the Tibetan leaders accompanying him, too, saw in India a country which gave shelter to the persecuted in the world. But it became apparent to them soon that for good relations with China they, particularly the Dalai Lama, would have to face a bad time. He was placed at Dharamsala, a tiny hill station in Himachal Pradesh, and told not to have any contact with the outside world without permission from New Delhi.
A similar fiat was issued on his pronouncements. Understandably, Nehru was going through a bad patch with Chinese Prime Minister Chou-en-Lai, who talked of Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai but forcibly built a road at Aksai-Chin, part of Ladakh, to connect Sin-Kaing with Tibet. It was Beijing’s betrayal which Nehru tried to cover up, lest the common man in India should get disillusioned with the build-up of friendly relationship with China that Nehru had done. But even during the 1962 war with China, initiated by Beijing, Nehru did not utter a word about Tibet. Nor did he draw the world’s attention to the ethnic cleansing going on in Tibet. And that has been the policy of all his successor governments. At times, the Dalai Lama has felt “suffocated” and has complained against it to New Delhi. But there has been no change in its policy even when Beijing is hauling thousands of Chinese to Tibet to settle them there to change the complexion and convictions of the population. A lonely Dalai Lama has pointed out that the centuries old Buddhist culture in Tibet was being destroyed with the influx of Chinese. But except for odd protests here and there, nothing concerted or concrete has come out. And the Chinese are squeezing out even the semblance of lofty religious practices that the Tibetans have defiantly followed.
Washington is said to be willing to appeal to the conscience of the people in the world to save the centuries’ old culture in Tibet. But how far it is willing to go is not known. After all, President Obama kept the Dalai Lama waiting to placate Beijing. Even when he met him, he looked like going over an exercise. The strong Chinese economy gives more laughter to the US citizen than a few drops of tears that the irking of conscience might do. There are continuous reports of China nibbling at our territory. India is annoyingly quiet. But when Beijing puts its claim on Arunachal and when the visa for the people of Jammu and Kashmir is not stamped but given on a separate stapled paper, India should introspect why it accepted China’s suzerainty over Tibet without getting any assurance on the future. Today it is like an occupied territory, without the Tibetans having any say in governance. Unfortunately, the Dalai Lama is thinking of retiring at a time when he is needed the most to put pressure on China to honour at least the religious rights of the Tibetans.
Essentially, it is India which has to come out of its make-belief world and realise that good relations with China do not depend upon the curbs on the Dalai Lama or the silence over what is happening in Tibet. Beijing would probably respect New Delhi more if it were to find later saying openly what it feels about Tibet. Beijing should also realise that 80 per cent of India’s population, the Hindu, has always considered Tibet as part of the Kailash, the mountains where Lord Shiva rests. The Hindus have religious ties with Budhhism and see in the Dalai Lama a religious head. No doubt, India accepted China’s suzerainty over Tibet in the wake of departure by the British because that was how they dealt with Lhasa. After more than five decades New Delhi cannot question the suzerainty but it can at least raise a voice against the atrocities committed in Tibet and the recurring violation of human rights.
New Delhi should realise that a suzerain is a ruler or a government that exercises political control. But a suzerain cannot claim the hold over the way the Tibetans want to live and the religion they want to follow. When China is changing the very complexion of the population in Tibet and when the ethnic population is being annihilated, it is not suzerainty but an act of suppression by a dictatorial regime. Power can eliminate anything, more so tiny Tibetan protest, but it cannot silence the humanity over the extinction of people, however small in number. When India, with all its traditions of tolerance, buttressed by Mahatma Gandhi’s example of dignified defiance, fails to speak out, it only proves the dictum: the weakest is pushed to the wall. New Delhi can still protest against the misrule in Tibet.