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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

We will neither forget, nor forgive for a 100 years

February 22, 2010

Claude Arpi
Sify (India)
February 20, 2010

Several eminent friends of Rajya Sabha  member
George Fernandes recently issued a public
statement,  expressing 'deep distress’  over the
fact that some people had 'diminished the image
of a great man who, due to a debilitating
illness, is unable to defend himself or express himself publicly.'

"George Fernandes is one of the most influential
of India's political leaders of the last four
decades. His entire life was dedicated to fight
tyranny, oppression, corruption, and for the
uplift of deprived sections of our society. His
battles for equality, democracy, a free media,
human rights, and against all forms of injustice
are well known,” the statement said.

One of the causes George Sahib -- as he is known
by his admirers -- fought for is the Tibetan
cause. For the past 50 years, he has been a
faithful friend of the Dalai Lama. In one of the
last interviews he gave in March 2006, Fernandes
spoke to Claude Arpi about  how he got involved
with the Tibet and its leader and how he views
the future of the Roof of the World.

Most of the Tibetans I met in Dharamsala said
that George Sahib is an unwavering friend of the
Tibetans. Could you tell us about your
association with the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan refugees?

My relationship with His Holiness (the Dalai
Lama) began the day Dr Ram Manohar Lohia
requested the Dalai Lama to send some [Tibetan]
youth to learn socialism from me. Even before
that, I had established a personal relationship
with His Holiness: it was at the time he arrived
in India [in 1959]. Soon after His Holiness had
left his country and asked for refuge in India, I
requested the Chinese representative (Consul
General) in Mumbai to receive a delegation. I
spoke to the Chinese Representative on the phone
and told him: “I will be coming with a few of our
workers and I would like you to receive a
memorandum”. Eventually, my delegation became
very large, perhaps one thousand people!
Everybody was quite worked out by the fact that
His Holiness had been thrown out of his own
country. When we reached the Chinese Consulate, I
found that all doors had been closed and from the
open windows we could see the staff was looking
out. I had the memorandum in my hand. I asked
them to open the gate that was shut. I had a mike
in my hand and I addressed the Chinese staff. I
told them: “Open the gates, we have asked for
time, we want to present a memorandum”. There was
no response from anywhere, the Chinese staff was
still watching (at the windows). We then shouted slogans.

After a while, it became obvious that nobody was
going to meet us. I did something that later on
Dr Ram Manohar Lohia termed as very stupid. I
sent one of my colleagues to Grant Road market in
a taxi and asked him to bring all the rotten eggs
and tomatoes he could find. I sent another
colleague in another taxi to my office to bring a
photo of Mao Zedong. Both came back after doing
their job. We sent the rotten eggs and tomatoes
at the portrait, A few days later, the Government
of India (Nehru was the Prime Minister) received
a letter from the Chinese Government (see below).
They asked for an unconditional apology from the
government. Nehru wrote immediately back
describing our political system with many parties
(and he could not control the parties); he wrote:
“please do not take this seriously”. This letter
went to Zhou Enlai and a reply came: “We do not
care about your political system. We demand an
unconditional apology and we will neither forget,
nor forgive for a hundred years.”

Since that day, I had to be on His Holiness'
side. My first personal meeting with him was when
he came to Delhi in Parliament House. He had come
to meet Dr Lohia with a young man (Lodi Gyari)
(he has grown older now since; he today deals
after the external affairs of His Holiness). His
Holiness brought this young man to meet Dr Lohia
and after their talks were over, Dr Lohia told
Lodi Gyari: “You go to George Fernandes (my house
was close by) to learn about our socialist
policies”. It is how it started, after this first
meeting and the Mumbai incident.

What were you fighting for? Justice?

After the Chinese entered Tibet, Dr Lohia took a
very very strong stand. He said that it was a
baby's murder. He was very keen that we should
fight for the rights of Tibetan people to have
their country for themselves. Jaya Prakash
Narayan (another famous Indian Socialist leader)
was of the same view. Sometime after Dr Lohia
passed away, Jaya Prakash organized a Conference
for Tibet (in 1960). I participated and had to
take the responsibility of Dr. Lohia's thoughts
on Tibet. I was determined to see that we keep
the movement going. We organized several meetings
and later another conference, in which people
from all over the world participated (it was
before the 1962 Indo-China war). Thereafter,
there was a conference held in Germany. I also
participated. The resolution taken at that
conference was to pursue the struggle till His
Holiness is able to go back to Tibet.  We also
supported the initiatives that others took in
other parts of the world along with this young
man (Lodi Gyari). In the United States, he
received a considerable support from the
political leadership and also the Socialists international.

How do you explain that in India it is mostly the
Socialists who have been part of the movement to support the Dalai Lama?

Contrary to the Marxists, every Socialist (I mean
democratic Socialists) has been committed and
remains to this day committed to this cause.
Yesterday, I received a letter from His Holiness
explaining how he would like to see Tibet with
his own government looking after the Tibetans
issues without affecting China. In any way, it
would hurt China's interests. It was his
statement for the Tibetan Uprising Day (March 10).

You have been Defence Minister of India and you
are aware that in the proposal of the Dalai Lama,
the defense of Tibet will remain China's
responsibility. In case of a conflict with India,
what role will the Tibetans play?

Well, I hope that after the 1962 conflict there
will be no any other conflict between India and
China. India was caught unaware. Pandit Nehru had
gone into a policy called Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai
(Indians and Chinese are brothers). He believed
that it was the way to avoid any conflict.
Today's India is not the India of Pandit Nehru, I
don't think that such situation (can occur) when
India stands tall and strong (and so is China).
We cannot afford a war or conflict between the
two nations. It would be a disaster in which none would survive.

You visited China in 2003 as Defence Minister,
had the Chinese forgotten what you did in 1959?

One day the Chinese Ambassador (to India) came
(to my official residence); we had a meeting. I
told him: "I was told that I would not been
forgiven and forgotten for 100 years." He said:
"Now, this is the past. The leadership of our
country (China) wants you to come." I was
hesitant. I did not know how to reconcile myself
with all this. Soon after that, I had two or
three meetings with our ambassador to China. The
Ambassador said, “It is very important that you
go (to China), the (leadership) want meet you,
and to know you.” Finally the Government agreed that I should go.

Do you see any chance of success in the
negotiations between Lodi Gyari and his Chinese
counterparts? Many people are doubtful, though
the Dalai Lama has very much reduced his demands.

Well, I have a feeling that as time goes by, (I
am not looking at decades), China will understand
why Tibet should have its own rights. I have been
briefed by the people having the dialogue with
Beijing. I do not get a feeling that the chapter is closed, it is still open.

- - - - -  - - -
Note of the Government of China, 27 April,
1959,  to the Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi

"The Embassy of the People's Republic of China
hereby lodges the following serious protest
regarding the occurrence in Bombay of Indians
insulting the head of state of the People's
Republic of China. At about 4:40 on the afternoon
of the 20th April, 1959, in Bombay there were
about 80 Indians claiming themselves to be
members of the Socialist Party, came to the
Consulate General of the People's Republic of
China at Bombay, demonstrated and shouted slogans
They branded China's putting down of the
rebellion in her own territory, the Tibet Region,
as imperialists action and made all sorts of
slanders. What is more serious is that they
pasted up a portrait of Mao Tse -Tung, Chairman
of the People's Republic of China, on the wall of
the Chinese Consulate-General and carried out
wanton insult by throwing tomatoes and rotten
eggs at it.  … [This] is a huge insult to the
head of state of the People's Republic of China
and the respected and beloved leader of the
Chinese people.  … the Chinese Government cannot
but express its indignation and hereby lodges a
serious protest. The Chinese Government requests
that the Government of India speedily deals with
the matter of insult to the head of the state of
the People's Republic of China and makes a speedy
reply. Such a matter of huge insult to the head
of state of the People's Republic of China is
what the masses of the six hundred and fifty
million Chinese people absolutely cannot
tolerate, and it must be reasonably settled,
otherwise the Chinese people cannot come to a
stop with regard to the matter. In case the reply
from the Indian Government is not satisfactory,
the Embassy is instructed to make it clear that
the Chinese Government will again raise this
matter to the Indian Government, and the Chinese
side will never come to a stop if without a
satisfactory settlement of the matter, that is to
say, never stop even for one hundred years.”
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