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India's Tibetan betrayal

February 18, 2011

Or how Vallabhbhai Patel's advice was ignored

Sunanda K Datta-Ray / New Delhi February 12, 2011, 0:46 IST

Sardar Patel would have approved. His stern visage, appropriately but
accidentally flanked by portraits of the fresh-faced young Orgyen
Thinley Dorjee, the 17th Karmapa Lama, overlooked dozens of monks in
saffron and yellow, with an occasional glint of brocade, squatting under
a Jantar Mantar signboard proclaiming proprietorially, Sardar
Vallabhbhai Patel. The next line, Smarak TrUst was not visible.

They came from Ladakh and Sikkim, Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Arunachal
Pradesh, Uttrakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Many waved the national
tricolour emphasising their Indian Buddhist identity, some flaunted
Buddhism’s multicoloured standard, others held pennants of swirling blue
and yellow representing the Karmapa’s Karma Kagyu school. Placards
refuted media allegations against him. A press release explained the
monks’ assembly on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday was to pray for the
Dalai Lama and the Karmapa Lama, for “the speedy elimination of all the
obstacles being encountered by His Holiness the Karmapa Lama” and for
India’s peace and prosperity.

It was a feast of sight and sound. The altar rose in delicately
ornamented tormas (ceremonial cake offerings) in pale shades of pink and
blue. Butter lamps twinkled, and long brass and copper horns with ornate
silver encrustations blared out their resonance over the swelling volume
of a hundred deep male voices chanting in Tibetan.

I spotted P Namgyal, former Congress MP from Ladakh, in smart gala-bandh
signing petitions at a makeshift desk. Bustling about in black
ankle-length baku was another former MP, Sikkim’s portly Karma Topden,
who had also been India’s ambassador to Buddhist Mongolia. But the
absent Vallabhbhai Patel’s was the dominating presence for the gathering
would not have been necessary if he had been heeded. Tibet may not have
fallen, the Karmapa would not have had to flee, policemen and junior
officials would not have made him their target, and ignorant TV
anchormen would not have repeated their slanderous propaganda.

Patel warned Nehru in June 1949 that though Tibet had “long been
detached from China”, the Communists would “try to destroy its
autonomous existence” as soon as they had consolidated their power.
India should prepare “for that eventuality”. Offence being the best
defence, as they say in boxing, a Chinese magazine accused Nehru three
months later “of aiding imperialist designs for the annexation of
Tibet”. Peking Radio repeated the charge in vitriolic language.

Highlighting the danger to India, Patel wrote to Nehru again the
following November after the Union Cabinet had acquiesced in China’s
conquest. His letter pointed out that “the Chinese government has tried
to delude us by professions of peaceful intentions ... At a crucial
period they managed to instil into our Ambassador a false sense of
confidence in their so-called desire to settle the Tibetan problem by
peaceful means ...” While China’s action was “little short of perfidy”
India’s inaction was a betrayal.

“The tragedy of it is that the Tibetans put faith in us; they chose to
be guided by us; and we have been unable to get them out of the meshes
... of Chinese malevolence ... It appears that we shall not be able to
rescue the Dalai Lama …”. Patel sought an early meeting with Nehru to
discuss “Chinese irredentism and Communist imperialism”.

There was no meeting. But he told a public rally in Delhi, “A peaceful
country like Tibet has been invaded and it may not survive. There has
been no aggression from its side. The whole border becomes exposed to
danger. We should, therefore, be vigilant”. Patel would heartily have
endorsed the Karmapa’s reasons for fleeing Tibet and his tribute to his
“second homeland”, as quoted in the press release I was given with a
white silk khada (scarf). “The Indian government, in contrast to
Communist China, is a free country, a democratic country that is based
on the rule of law.”

I saw nothing in the media about this dazzling show with a serious
purpose. Why? One of the organisers had a pithy explanation. “The media
doesn’t believe in the power of prayer,” he replied. “They would have
taken notice if we had thrown stones!”

Tailpiece

A strapping unshaven man in windbreaker, trousers and boots sidled up to
me to ask who Karma Topden, conspicuous in his baku, was. Then he wanted
to know my “shubh naam”. Tit for tat, I asked where he was he from.
“Express TV” he mumbled hesitantly. Never heard of it, I said, in my
broken Hindi and asked if he was a cop. The man grinned in relief at not
having to keep up a pretence that strained his capability. Intelligence,
not intelligent.
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