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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."

Interview: It was as if India did not exist'

July 2, 2008

Ramananda Sengupta
Sify News
June 30, 2008

Sify Columnist Claude Arpi is a French-born author and journalist who
lives in Auroville, India. He has authored several books like The
Fate of Tibet, India and her neighbourhood,and Born in Sin: The
Panchsheel Agreement, among others.

In his latest book, "Tibet, the Lost Frontier" he argues that the
Chinese annexation of Tibet spells trouble for India, because it has
brought the dragon right up to our gates.

In an interview with Ramananda Sengupta, he explains the difficulties
he faced while researching for the book ('The Government has
confiscated the modern history of India' he says) and why he feels
the Tibetans are losing the race against time.

Ramananda Sengupta: What was the guiding force behind the book? What
was the audience you had in mind?

Claude Arpi: It started as a personal interest. In 1972 and 1973, I
visited North India, more particularly the places where Tibetans had
taken refuge. It was mind-blowing to see that these people who had
lost everything, still continued to smile and joke. I wanted to know
their secret. Then I met their leader, the Dalai Lama and realized
that we Westerners had something to learn.

Since that time, I have collected tons (now gigas) of documents on
the modern history of Tibet. I interviewed a number of old Tibetan
officials (including the Dalai Lama several times). What spurred me
to write is that I found that most authors had approached the Tibetan
issue from the Western historic perspective; it was as if India did
not exist. For Westerners, it is simply a problem between the
Tibetans, who have lost everything; China, which is becoming a power
to reckon with, and the West. Where is India in the picture? This
motivated me to go deeper into the issue and write something from an
Indian perspective, for the Indian public (and of course for the
Western public if they want to understand India's position).

RS: While researching for it, did you stumble across anything which
made you look at issues differently from how you used to?

CA: When I started my research, I soon discovered that the Indian
Archives were closed to the Indian public. The Government has
confiscated the modern history of India. This still upsets me very
much. Very few in India seem to care about the fact that the Nehru
Papers are locked in almirahs in the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund
and permission to view these State documents has to be begged for
from the ruling family. It is probably the only nation in the world
where such nonsense can continue unchallenged.

RS: Where do you think the Tibetan struggle is headed for right now?

CA: I am quite pessimistic. A couple of weeks before the recent
events in Tibet, the Dalai Lama had told me in an interview: "The
Tibetan society is debating about autonomy versus independence. But
the entire debate may be futile in 5 years time, because the Chinese
would have swamped Tibet with millions of Chinese, like they did in
Inner Mongolia." It is this despair which motivated the Tibetans from
the different provinces to manifest and take the enormous risk of
marching down the streets of Lhasa and other places in March-April.

RS: After the Dalai Lama, what?

CA: The Dalai Lama is in good health and not so old. I hope that he
has many more years to live and guide his people. In my opinion the
Chinese leaders are foolish. They should use this golden opportunity
to sort out the issue with a very moderate and wise leader who
sincerely looks for a win-win solution for both parties. If the Dalai
Lama goes before a solution is found, the Chinese may not gain
anything. Today, many observers feel that only the Dalai Lama can
keep China united.

RS: Can India afford to take a tough negotiating position with China
on the Tibet issue?

CA: India first has to be tough to defend her own interests. Once she
does this, her position vis-à-vis Tibet will automatically be
clearer. Nehru purposefully decided to keep the Indian position
'vague', to not upset China, with the result that there is a border
issue pending for the last 50 years. In my book (I quote from a Press
Conference of Nehru in 1949) in two sentences, he used the word
'vague' five times to define India's position vis-à-vis Tibet, while
he knew perfectly well that Tibet was an independent nation. Today we
are still reaping the consequences of this original sin, look at what
is happening in Arunachal or Sikkim. When Nehru finally woke up,
(October 1962), it was too late.

RS: Han-isation of the Tibetan plateau, and the gradual erosion of
the Tibetan culture -- how long before Tibet becomes just a memory?

CA: A few years only. It is probably why the Dalai Lama had to do
huge compromises. During the interview that I mentioned earlier, he
told me that he has seen a German film showing new townships which
are coming up in Western Tibet (north of J&K and Himachal border).
These townships are entirely inhabited by Chinese migrants. The
flooding of Tibet with Han migrants is one of the reasons why the
Chinese have recently developed the road network in this area and
constructed new airstrips. It is a threat for Tibet's cultural
identity; it is a threat to India's security. But nobody in India
seems to care.

RS: The title says 'Lost Frontier.' Are you referring to the notion
of it being a buffer state against China for India, or something more?

CA: The 'lost frontier' is India's frontier. For 2000 years, people,
monks, pandits, yogis, pilgrims, traders circulated freely between
the sub-continent and the Tibetan plateau. Pilgrims would visit
Kailash-Mansarovar through the Ladakh road without any hindrance.
There was even an Indian principality called Minsar at the bottom of
the Kailash. With the invasion of Tibet in 1950, India lost a
peaceful frontier. India lost a friendly neighbour. The frontier
became a 'disputed' border. This is the tragedy. All because
'frontier' or 'buffer' had a 'colonialist' connotation according to
Nehru; he did not want to be seen as an imperialist and hence did not
intervene in 1950. Mao had no such scruples when he 'liberated' Tibet.

RS: Given the increasing frustration among the younger generation of
Tibetans over the slow pace of the movement, what are the chances of
it exploding into a terrorist movement, as it is already being
described by the Chinese?

CA: What the Chinese say about the Youth Congress is nonsense. The
only act of violence done by them has been to climb the compound wall
of the Chinese embassy in Delhi. One could wish that all terrorists
would be as mild in their protests; the world would be better. And
let us not forget that the Chinese State is responsible for the death
of 1.2 million Tibetans. Is that not terrorism? I don't think that
the Tibetan movement will ever become a terrorist movement, the
Buddhist roots are too deep in the Tibetan psyche, but it may become
more violent than it is today.

RS: Do you see a conflict between the freedom being sought by the
Tibetan Youth Congress and the autonomy as sought by the Dalai Lama?

CA: It is a difficult question. The younger generation has a point.
If you look at the history of the 'negotiations' between Dharamsala
and Beijing since 1978 (when Deng Xiaoping said that he was ready to
discuss anything except independence) and today, the Chinese have not
moved an inch while the Dalai Lama has made huge concessions. This is
very frustrating for the young Tibetans (and probably even for the
Dalai Lama). As I mentioned earlier, it is a race against time which
the Tibetans are losing. It is perhaps the greatest injustice of the
20th century. It is why so many all over the world support the Tibetan cause.

The problem of autonomy for Tibet is that for it to be genuine would
imply a democratic setup within Tibet. This could have tremendous
consequences for the political system in China, in particular, the
monopoly of the Party. The situation is hence not simple and even
'autonomy' or 'Middle Path' has many other implications for China.
Take the example of environment. If it comes to the rivers, who will
control them - the local Tibetan government or the Central
government? It has such strategic implications that it is doubtful if
Beijing would ever agree to give up on the control of the Tibetan rivers.

Even autonomy is not an easy proposition for Beijing to accept. And I
understand the Tibetan youth who do not want to live under a
totalitarian regime: a regime which constantly insults the Dalai Lama
(The Chinese Party Chief in Tibet recently called him a "wolf in
monk's garb"). Who would like to live in a Tibet where the Dalai
Lama's photos are banned? In 1989, when the Dalai Lama was awarded
the Nobel Peace Prize, the population of Lhasa was celebrating by
burning incense and circumambulating around the Central Cathedral. It
was immediately declared 'anti-national activities' by the Chinese.
Who likes to live in a jail?
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