The Dalai Factor

For the last five decades or so, the spectre of Chinese Dragon has been haunting India. Like any other spectre, it can never be suppressed once and for all, even though it often happens that those fearing its menace, are able, temporarily, to downplay the ground reality, thanks to globalised trade and commerce. Indian ruling elites have been in a dilemma as to how to define—or redefine—India-China boundary without antagonising the Chinese authorities since 1962. They all repeat in chorus the same catch phrases : ‘India and China are two old civilisations’, ‘Bilateral Relationship is improving’, ‘The most peaceful border in the world’ etc. But bilateral relationship is not really moving in leaps and bounds. Whenever the border question returns under any pretext ‘bilateral euphoria’ gets out of focus. Quite expectedly China accused India of ‘serious damage’ to bilateral ties by ignoring its concerns and objections while allowing  the Dalai Lama to enter Bomdila en route to Tawang during his controversial visit to Arunachal Pradesh. Once upon a time there was no Arunachal, it was NEFA—North East Frontier Agency. That is really not the point at issue. China has long been protesting India’s any attempt, overt or covert, to legalise what they call ‘‘illegal annexation’’ of eastern part of Tibet. In other words the line of actual control [LAC] is not accepted by China as a permanent line of control—it is fluctuating. While along India-Pakistan border in the West, they call it Line of Control [LoC], the Himalayan scenario is somewhat different—it is line of actual control.

China’s frenzied reaction to the Dalai Lama’s religious tour to Tawang is open to question. Not that this was the first time the Dalai Lama visited the ‘disputed territory’. India maintained that the Dalai Lama as a spiritual leader visited Tawang on half a dozen occasions. And the Lama himself was candid enough to know his limits as he would assert somewhat emphatically that India, never used him against China. But China didn’t bother about what the Dalai said in the wake of diplomatic row between New Delhi and Beijing over his Tawang visit.

True, India didn’t politicise the Lama’s presence in Arunachal but the Lama himself didn’t miss the opportunity to press the demand of Tibetans in exile. The Dalai urged China to give Tibet meaningful ‘self-rule’ and ‘autonomy’. So the Dalai’s stance was conciliatory and he didn’t insist on Tibet’s independence any more. Whether his government-in-exile would like it or not is a different matter.

The Chinese call it Tibet autonomous region but the Tibetans do hardly enjoy real autonomy if autonomy means right to dissent against the central authority. Tibetans are being allegedly marginalised in their own homeland in every sphere of social and economic activity. The smiling faces of Tibetans in Chinese propaganda materials don’t reveal the reality as in the Soviet era dancing girls from ethnic minorities did hardly reflect the Soviet authoritarianism.

Tibetans used to exercise control over a larger swathe of landmass before their ‘‘liberation’’ by the People’s Liberation Army of China. The Tibetans in exile have been accusing China of engineering demographic shift in favour of non-Tibetans, mainly Han Chinese, from mainland China, for long. Also, they have been accusing China of destroying their age-old cultural heritage and attacking religious sentiments. All allegations are not baseless.

Right to self-determination is an alien concept to the Chinese communists. Nearer home no communist outfit in India does ever discuss the issue of right to self-determination. In truth they are against it. They don’t think the Kashmiris are doing right thing by demanding right to self-determination. Nor do they believe in ethnic autonomy in the North-East. They have all along opposed the demand of Gorkhaland in Indian Union. The Naga cessation movement didn’t develop in a day. Originally they demanded a full-fledged state within Indian Union but Nehru declined to give them that much libterty and autonomy.

Tibet is now open to the world, in a limited way though, but not to the Tibetans who refuse to kowtow to the ‘Chinese communists’. The hard fact is that India cannot normalise relations with China, at least on the question of the volatile border, without ratifying the unanimous parliamentary resolution adopted in the wake of India-China war in 1962. The same is true of China. They won’t budge an inch from their stated position on the boundary line. How can two parallel lines meet remains a puzzle. Unless both sides agree, not to disagree on mutual adjustments, no amount of diplomatic jugglery will deliver.

Even if India accepts China demarcated boundary as international border, the Tibetan question will remain unresolved despite the Dalai’s mellowed stance these days.

The best way to solve a problem is not to solve it at all. Both sides seem to have perfected the art of talking turkey diplomatically while keeping bilateral trade ties, much below the desired level. Unless China succeeds in settling the border dispute to their satisfaction, all tall talks of friendship between two ancient civilisations of Asia will remain as hollow as anything else. Cultural exchanges between two countries take place occasionally at official level, albeit there is an organisation called India-China Friendship Association. What they do round the year is anybody’s guess. With the Naxalite movement in decline, even Lu Shun is hardly discussed in any literary and cultural forum.

For one thing, Tibetans are Tibetans. They don’t consider themselves as Chinese though officially they are Chinese citizens. Unlike the Palestinians, the Tibetans have failed to attract attention of the international community. No UN member country came forward to highlight their plight as if they are a forgotten people. But one thing is certain—Tibetans cannot get much by diverting time and energy to symbolic protests that offer no tangible solution to the vexed question of nationality and right to self-determination.

Vol. 49, No.41, April 16 - 22, 2017