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India's Tibet paradox

November 16, 2007

Saif Khalid

Thursday, November 15, 2007:

New India's 'brave' foreign policy shift - shun Dalai Lama, the 
exiled Tibetan spiritual and religious leader who has been given 
licence to run his government from Dharamshala.

Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar wrote to ministers saying 
attending the recent felicitating Dalai Lama is "not in conformity 
with the foreign policy of the government. And, therefore, you are 
directed not to accept the invitation."

What probably would have made the Indian government take such a step, 
especially when many experts feel that Tibet is a buffer zone between 
India and China and that India's influence in Tibet has safeguarded 
India's security concerns?

If we examine the trajectory of Sino-Indian relations, Tibet emerges 
as the most significant player. In fact, India's support to Dalai 
Lama and Tibetan revolt of 1959 is considered to be the primary 
reason for 1962 Sino-Indian war.

In the early 1950s when India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru 
invited Tibet to attend at an Asian conference as an independent 
state, there was a huge controversy as China protested India's move.

After that, however, India officially changed its stand on Tibet in 
consonance with Chinese wishes.

India has interpreted the old Tibet policy of British India of taking 
two positions. On the one hand, it recognizes Tibet's autonomy; but 
on the other hand, it also vaguely recognizes the suzerainty of China 
over Tibet.

In fact, Nehru stressed the point: "We have accepted that policy. We 
take the two positions together."

The Indian government has acknowledged Tibet as an autonomous region 
of China, and officially Tibetans are forbidden to pursue anti-
Chinese activities in India.

Jawaharlal Nehru's policy towards China has been questioned by many 
for being to compliant to Chinese demands and forfeiting many 
diplomatic and strategic points when India was in a position to 
leverage in its favour.

In fact, Nehru sacrificed Tibet's historical status at the altar of 
Sino-Indian friendship (Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai) by signing the 
Panchsheel Agreement of 1954.

But China's Tibet policy after Panchsheel pact infuriated India, as 
it felt betrayed by the Chinese. As a result, India started providing 
moral support to Tibetans and Dalai Lama.

China then accused India of interfering in its internal affairs when 
New Delhi offered asylum to Dalai Lama and allowed him to run his 
government in exile.

By giving moral support to Tibet, which it has been doing for the 
last five decades, India was not losing any battle and in return was 
earning the goodwill of Tibetan people.

However, as is evident, India has historically ensured that it avoids 
really irking the Chinese on the issue of Tibet.

Moreover, with the changing times, there has also been a change in 
the tough stance of Dalai Lama. For example, the spiritual leader has 
reframed his position on Tibet - from claims for independence to 
concerns about economic welfare.

Hence, it makes little strategic sense for the Indian government to 
take such a drastic step of censuring him.

Many have attributed this step as a 'grand bargain' to win China's 
support for the nuclear deal and underlined New Delhi's desire not to 
risk its growing ties with Beijing.

But India has to be concerned over the economic and political 
stability of her northern Himalayan border region, where China's 
track record has been far from clean.

India must reinforce her inner buffers like Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim 
to check any unfavourable step from China.

Deng Xiaoping had said: "If China and India are developed, we can say 
that we have made our contributions to mankind."

And perhaps Manmohan Singh has taken Xiaoping too seriously; it seems 
that he has ventured out to serve mankind even though it is at the 
cost of the Dalai Lama and the people of Tibet.
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