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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Tibet's Second Betrayal

May 30, 2008

Some Indians resent the presence of Tibetan refugees. Yet had India
stood up to China's 1950 invasion of Tibet, the problem could have been averted
by Trevor Mostyn
Prospect Magazine (UK)
Issue 147, June 2008

After having the world's attention drawn to its shortcomings during
the miserable odyssey of the Olympic torch, China bent over backwards
to show its compassionate side in the aftermath of the Sichuan
earthquake. Yet the ghost of Tibet is unlikely to fade away before
the August Olympics. The Dalai Lama's 11-day visit to Britain has
kept the plight of the Tibetans in the public eye, even if he is
speaking here only on the art of happiness and has met the prime
minister only in his capacity as a "religious leader."

Yet back in India, where the Dalai Lama has been in exile since 1959,
not everyone shares the west's warmth towards the Dalai Lama. The
Delhi intelligentsia who weekend in the Himalayan hill station of
Dehradun can be quite savage about Tibet's spiritual leader. I
thought it was a one-off when the wife of a successful entrepreneur
told me that the Dalai Lama should "go home" to Tibet and that India
could not afford to host roughly a hundred thousand indolent Tibetan
refugees. But I heard this view expressed again and again by Indian
journalists -- and even by a retired general -- along with praise, at
India's expense, for China's economic success.

I suggested that India, unlike China, enjoyed democracy and a
political system of checks and balances. Is it not significant, I
asked, that the leader of India's ruling Congress party is a Roman
Catholic (Sonia Gandhi) and its prime minister a Sikh (Manmohan
Singh)? And that until recently, its president was a Muslim (Abdul
Kalam)? China, by contrast, is governed by a group of about nine
anonymous men within the National People's Congress. But my arguments
fell on deaf ears.

In April, after unrest had broken out in Lhasa, I met Samdhong
Rinpoche, the Tibetan prime minister-in-exile, in Dharamsala's
"Little Tibet," with its cheerful Buddhist monasteries surrounded by
the white peaks of the Himalayas. Samdhong had fled Tibet for India
in 1959, shortly after the Dalai Lama. Edward Heath, I reminded him,
had once told the Dalai Lama that Tibetans inside Tibet had forgotten
their spiritual leader. On the contrary, Samdhong told me, the world
was witnessing a fourth generation of young Tibetans rise up against
the occupation. Like the Dalai Lama, however, he rejects violent action.

What about the Indian resentment I had witnessed towards the Tibetans
the country harbours? "After 1,300 years, Buddhism has been brought
back to India, the place of its birth," Samdhong told me. He counters
complaints that India cannot afford to employ and feed its own
people, let alone poor Tibetan refugees. He believes the refugees are
only unpopular in areas in Delhi where there is fierce competition for jobs.

Does Tibet have a future? Surely, I say, with Tibet being repopulated
by Han Chinese, Buddhism maintained only as a folkloric anachronism,
90 per cent of Tibet's monasteries destroyed during the cultural
revolution of the 1960s and any rebellion ruthlessly crushed by
Chinese troops, the prospects are bleak. Yet Samdhong told me he
believes that China will in time "grow up" and face its
responsibilities to the Tibetans. Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama will
remain a focus for Tibet's identity.

* * *

India itself was eventually made to pay for China's invasion of Tibet
in 1950. Even if it could not have stopped the attack, India should
never have recognised China's claim to Tibet. Pandit Nehru's
self-image as the world's great non-aligned leader allowed him to be
beguiled by Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai into fighting for communist
China's place at the UN at the very moment China was preparing to
invade Tibet. Tibet itself had chosen isolation, and never applied
for UN membership. And in rejection of worldly attachment, it had
ignored its own mineral wealth rather than encouraging the west to
exploit it and, presumably, protect Tibet from China's greed. The
British Raj had always recognised the value of Tibet as a buffer
state between India and Russia, but Nehru, flushed with independence
and his beloved non-aligned ideology, put commitment before strategy.

India's Brigadier John Dalvi says in his book Himalayan Blunder that
Nehru failed to understand China's weakness at the time of the Tibet
invasion. China was not particularly strong in 1950, and was
embroiled in the Korean war. However, Nehru failed to realise his
monumental folly until 1962, when China invaded Arunachal Pradesh in
northeast India from Tibet in an attempted land grab.

The Sino-Indian war was to be a disaster for India. Ever the democrat
and the public school gentleman, Nehru was convinced that China would
behave correctly. Under the influence of the politically correct
socialism of defence minister Krishna Menon, India largely refused US
guns or equipment produced by the private sector. Consequently the
army sent out by Nehru to defend against the Chinese invasion was
hopelessly ill prepared. Indian troops fell into a series of traps,
not least when Chinese troops sat out icy weeks in comfortable stolen
monasteries while Indian troops froze in snow-bound huts. The war
ended when China, having successfully captured the disputed area,
declared a unilateral ceasefire.

But the war failed to solve the territorial dispute. The Indian army
would now be forever on the alert, an economically disastrous
situation for a newly independent country struggling against massive
poverty. These days, China's border claims on India are made in the
name of Buddhist Tibet, the very country it seized in the name of
atheist communism. These claims are based on areas of Arunachal
Pradesh, such as the Tawang corridor, which have close Buddhist links
with Tibet but which are also strategically valuable.

* * *

Photographs of the mutilated bodies of the Tibetan victims of Chinese
repression cover the streets of Mcleod Ganj, the Dalai Lama's
northern part of Dharamsala, and two cages of hunger-strikers, one
for men and one women, stand outside the Tsuglagkhang temple complex.
Huge torchlight processions wind their ways through the narrow
streets of the bazaar to end with prayers in the Tsuglagkhang. New
monasteries sprout in the hills above, led to by pilgrim forest paths
whose trees flutter with coloured pennants. But if the fashionable
cynics of Delhi had their way, the little Tibet of Dharamsala/Mcleod
Ganj would disappear and the Dalai Lama would be forced to leave again.

Trevor Mostyn runs the journalist fellowship programme at the Reuters
Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University
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