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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."

Launching The Endgame

June 1, 2009

Jayadeva Ranade
Times of India
May 28, 2009

Mention of Tibetan Buddhism conjures up images of
ochre-robed monks in remote monasteries chanting
'Om mane padme Om'. The reality is different.
Just beneath the surface, Tibetan Buddhism's
religious hierarchy is riven with rivalry with
different sects vying for dominance. The claim to
seniority of Ughen Thinley Dorje, one of the
claimants to the XVIIth Gyalwa Karmapa of the
Kagyu sect, assumes importance in this context.
The rivalry is intensifying as they jostle to
position themselves for the post-XIVth Dalai Lama phase.

The international Buddhist movement being cobbled
by China has now been drawn into the competition.
Here it is a dead serious struggle for leadership
between China's communist leadership and the
highest ranking personage of Tibetan Buddhism,
the Dalai Lama. The outcome will not only affect
the Dalai Lama's future and that of the Tibetan
refugee diaspora, but also usurp India's cultural space.

After decades of patient manoeuvring, China has
initiated the 'endgame' to finally resolve the
Tibet issue and eliminate opposition by a Dalai
Lama to its hold over Tibet. Systematic efforts
to undermine the current Dalai Lama's pre-eminent
position and prestige within the Tibetan Buddhist
hierarchy, reduce his influence among Tibetans
inside China and restrict his international
support base have been expanded and given impetus.

For the past three decades, the present Dalai
Lama disarmingly advocated the cause of Tibet and
its people in international forums and foreign
capitals. He effectively became the 'face' of
Buddhism for the world. He created awareness and
canvassed material and diplomatic support, which
exerted pressure on Beijing and put China on the
back foot. To deflect international pressure, the
Chinese communist leadership commenced
negotiations with him. It decided to lure him
home to China and, failing that, wear him down
through protracted negotiations intended to whittle down his demands.

China's policy has been to wait out the Dalai
Lama. Chinese Tibetologists calculated that Dalai
Lamas on average do not live beyond 45 years they
have been very wrong in this case! China assesses
that opposition would fade as Tibetans would be
leaderless, that as in the Panchen Lama's case
Beijing would have the decisive say regarding the
next Dalai Lama and that the Tibetan problem
would resolve itself thereafter. The communist
leadership also decided, though as part of
efforts to assuage popular discontent in the wake
of economic reforms, to loosen controls on
religious worship and in 2006 cautiously began
describing Buddhism as a non-aggressive and old
Chinese religion. Official endorsement of
Buddhism, it was calculated, would later afford
legitimacy to Beijing's claim to recognise the next Dalai Lama.

The 50th anniversaries of the uprising in Lhasa
and the Dalai Lama's flight from Tibet marked the
launch of an intensified campaign against the
Dalai Lama to show that his popularity was on the
wane. The Chinese leadership crafted a
multi-pronged propaganda and diplomatic
offensive. China's wealth, at this time of
international economic crisis, helped reinforce
the campaign. Large numbers of armed security
personnel were deployed throughout Tibet and
stringent security measures implemented to
suppress protests. There were only a rash of
minor protests in smaller towns while Lhasa remained peaceful.

On the diplomatic front, the Chinese Communist
Party leadership for the first time sent a
delegation of Tibetan Buddhists, led by a 'living
Buddha' of the Kagyu sect, to the US to 'explain'
the issue to representatives of the US
administration and Congress. G20's convening in
April indirectly benefited Beijing, which made a
meeting between Chinese president Hu Jintao and
French president Nicolas Sarkozy on the sidelines
dependent on France clarifying its position on
Tibet. France capitulated and assured that it
would not 'support Tibet independence in any
form'. Earlier, last October, Britain revised its
94-year-old position on Tibet and, claiming that
the concept of suzerainty was outdated, declared
Tibet as part of China. These diplomatic
successes have impacted on the Dalai Lama's campaign.

China also decided to expand and internationalise
the campaign against the Dalai Lama so as to
legitimise its claim to a leadership role in a
Buddhist movement. The beginning was the first
World Buddhist Forum in 2006. The
Chinese-nominated Panchen Lama was given
international profile. After three years, the
second World Buddhist Forum convened in Wuxi,
Jiangsu two months ago and was attended by over a
thousand religious personages including heads of
different Buddhist sects. The Dalai Lama was
again excluded, but this time labelled a
'disruptive element'. Representatives of Shugden
Diety worshippers, opposed to the Dalai Lama,
were invited. The Chinese-appointed 11th Panchen
Lama's stature as second-highest ranking Tibetan
Buddhist Lama was sought to be reinforced by his
valedictory address to the forum.

This forum was a major victory for an additional
reason. Its closing session was held in Taiwan,
with which China's relations have begun warming
rapidly. Taiwan became a joint organiser of the
event indirectly supporting China's claim to
leadership of any international Buddhist
movement. In addition to sharing a common view on
the border issue, including disputed borders with
India, the two entities now share a common
viewpoint on Buddhism, especially Tibetan Buddhism, and China's role.

The writer is a former additional secretary in
the cabinet secretariat, government of India.
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