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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Facing down the neighbourhood bully

Source: Indian Express

Tuesday , Apr 07, 2009 at 1534 hrs

The danger will not go away just because we refuse to see it. A clue to the coming years lies in the contrasting attitudes of governments and legislatures in the West. This very month, both the European Parliament and the US House of Representatives have passed resolutions endorsing the cause of Tibet and its people. In this very month, governments of those very countries have bent backwards to assure China that they will not inconvenience it. For two reasons, at least, I fear things are going to get much worse in the coming months. On the one hand, China is now in a position where no government is prepared to talk the truth about or to China: look at the turnaround in the policy of Australia; similarly, with the US now dependent on China for financing its bailout packages, the US will not take a stand on any issue that may offend China — look at the way China has silenced the new administration by reminding it of the extent to which China holds US government paper, and what it can do to the dollar’s value and, even more so, to its status as an international reserve currency.

The second factor concerns us in India. It is an apprehension, thus far mercifully just a possibility, but a possibility nonetheless. Namely, that in the coming years, we may have in India even weaker coalitions than we have had in the last few years, that leadership in India may pass into hands which will be even more preoccupied with its own petty calculations and even less concerned with what is happening in Tibet as in other areas around India. The rationalisation that became so convenient an alibi when China invaded Tibet will come in handy again: “When the country most affected by developments in Tibet, namely India, is silent, why should we get worked up about the developments?”

Nor is there any shortage of persons who will rationalise succumbing to whatever China dictates. Just the other day, at the India International Centre, during a discussion of my book on India’s Tibet and China policy, a commentator said, “I am a south Indian, for heaven’s sake. I have not grown up with this feeling of Delhi being the centre of things. How does what happens to Tibetans concern us? If the Tibetans want to strive for their independence, good luck to them; let them do so on their own. Why should we allow ourselves to be dragged into their problem?”

The same thing goes for the border between Tibet and India. There is a unilateral objectivity, espousing which is taken as the hallmark of “independent thinking” in India. Books have been put out showing how in regard to Aksai Chin, for instance, the Indian borders were successively advanced northwards and eastwards by British surveyors in late 19th and early 20th century. That the Chinese have similarly enlarged the entire concept of “China” is not mentioned at all: is it not a fact that the original China was only one-third of what China is today? I hear similar “objectivity” in regard to the eastern border, in particular in regard to Tawang. This cannot but dissipate national resolve; it cannot but further expose Tibetans to Chinese oppression; and it cannot but ultimately endanger India.

We must bear in mind that China has a clear view of what it wants to be — the dominant power in Asia and one of the two major powers in the world. It regards India as a potential nuisance, a nuisance that must be confined within South Asia. All its policies, including its policy of conquering and suppressing Tibet, its policy of militarising Tibet and stationing air and nuclear bases in Tibet, are part of this larger policy.

We must also be clear that China is just not going to make any conciliatory move in regard to Tibet. In fact, one sure road for Chinese leadership to ascend has been through Tibet: the present president of China won his spurs by the systematic oppression of Tibet which he directed and over which he presided. China only goes through the pretence of talking to the Dalai Lama’s delegations from time to time — as it did, for instance, in the run-up to the Olympic Games. It is only waiting for the Dalai Lama to pass away, knowing that, with this centre of gravity gone, the Tibetans will be reduced to an even more helpless situation.

It is for this reason that we can expect that, in the coming months, China will put the kind of pressure on India which it has put recently on South Africa — pressure to either silence the Dalai Lama completely or to evict him from India. And, I’m afraid, there will be no shortage of rationalisers who will say, “Why should we let one man, howsoever eminent and pious, come in the way of improving relations between China and India, as improving those relations is required for India’s own security?”

There is another feature about India’s stance towards Tibet, a feature that reveals a lot about us as a people, a feature that goes beyond the attitude of successive Indian governments. As is well known, the Buddhist tradition was forgotten in India; in fact, the Buddha himself seems to have been forgotten and the Buddhist sites erased from our collective memory till a few Britishers took it upon themselves to hunt them down and excavate them. Among the places in the world, where this great heritage of mankind, and the Buddha’s doctrine and practice, were preserved has been Tibet. The great Tibetan masters have been with us and amidst us now for 50 years. It is indeed true that Panditji helped set up institutions in which higher Tibetan learning and Tibetan arts and culture could be preserved and nourished. And there is no doubt that the Tibetans themselves feel that these institutions have been instrumental in helping save their culture and religion. But it is equally true that, as a people, we have not thought it necessary to learn from the Tibetan masters. In this sense, the policy of successive governments of India, the policy of shutting our eyes to what is happening in Tibet and what China is doing around India is representative of the way we have shut our eyes to the presence of Tibetan masters in our midst.

As a people and as a country we will pay for this ill-karma.

It is often said, “But we had no option in 1949/50.” Take that to be true for a moment. The tragedy is that six long decades later, we remain a country without options.

The truth is harsher and lies in what Guru Nanak said:

Bal chhutkeyo, bandhan parhe, kachhu na hot upaaye / Kahe Nanak, Hari gaj jyon hi ho sahaaye / Bal howa, bandhan chhute, sab kuch hot upaaye/ Nanak sab tumre haath mein, tum hi ho sahaaaye

(My strength is exhausted andI am in bondage/ I cant do anything at all says Nanak/ Now the Lord is my support; He will help me as he He did the elephant/ my strength has been restored and my bomds have been broken / Now I can do everything Nanak! Everything is in your hand, Lord! You are my helper and support)

It is weakness that lies at the root. The rest, accepting Chinese “suzerainty” one day, “sovereignty” the next; accepting Tibet as an autonomous region within China one day and as an internal affair of China the next — these are just successive steps to “operationalise” that weakness, so to say. Unless we acquire strength comparable to that of China; unless we build up an alliance system with other countries that are concerned about Chinese intentions and might, we will be left with hope as our only policy: the hope that “ultimately truth triumphs,” that “ultimately tyrannies dissolve,” the hope that like all else “ultimately China too will evolve towards freedom and democracy.”

(Concluded)

The writer is a BJP MP in the Rajya Sabha

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