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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Dalai Lama is India's boon, not bane

November 17, 2009

By Prakash Nanda
United Press International

New Delhi, India -- Is the Dalai Lama’s presence
in India a major impediment to the growth of
normal relations between India and China? To put
the question differently, would growing tensions
between Asia’s two most powerful countries ease
considerably and their vexing boundary dispute be
solved amicably if the Dalai Lama were asked by India to leave the country?

The question is highly relevant in light of the
Dalai Lama’s weeklong visit to India’s Arunachal
Pradesh state last week, which included three
days at the world-famous Tawang monastery.

China, which claims the region as its territory,
predictably used the occasion to generate heat in
Sino-Indian relations. It condemned the visit,
saying the Dalai Lama was "sabotaging" China’s relations with India.

The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s highest spiritual and
political leader who has been living in exile in
India since 1959, is a "separatist" for China but
an "honored guest" of India, which has provided
him asylum to carry on his "spiritual" activities
in the country. Although his
"government-in-exile" in Dharamsala in Himachal
Pradesh state is permitted, he and his followers
are not allowed to indulge in political activities.

China has never liked the Dalai Lama’s presence
in India and has always accused India of allowing
him to promote his "separatist" agenda. His trip
to Tawang, his fifth since 1959, upset the
Chinese because his very presence there made it
clear that Tawang and the rest of Arunachal
Pradesh belong to India. In fact, China had
exerted pressure on India to disallow the Dalai
Lama to visit Tawang, but India consented to the
visit, explaining it was for religious purposes.

Coming back to the question raised at the outset,
there is now a powerful school of thought in
India that it is time for the Dalai Lama to leave
India. In an opinion poll carried out last year
by the influential Outlook weekly magazine, as
high as 71 percent of the nearly 600 respondents
said that hosting the Tibetan leader had
adversely impacted India-China relations and
almost half believed Beijing could retaliate by
giving sanctuary to Indian militants in its territory.

Along with powerful politicians from India’s two
communist parties, the likes of former Minister
of External Affairs Kunwar Natwar Singh, former
Commerce Minister Subramaniam Swamy, media baron
N. Ram and influential columnist Prem Shankar Jha
have systematically argued that China has not
been able to solve its Tibet problem because of
India, which has given the Dalai Lama shelter and
kept the Tibetan political and cultural identity alive.

Swamy has argued in his book "India’s China
Perspective" that Sino-Indian relations can never
become close and friendly unless India’s blind
spot on Tibet and the Dalai Lama is removed. He
advocates that India has to "digest and
internalize" the view that the “shortest
political route to Lhasa is via Beijing, and not across the Himalayas."

In any case, Swamy says, when Tibet was
autonomous or independent from China between 1890
and 1950, it was never friendly with India and
had laid claims to the Indian states of Sikkim
and Arunachal Pradesh as well as Bhutan.

This school of thought argues that Tibet is
strictly China’s domestic matter and India should
not directly or indirectly raise Chinese
suspicions. It views China as a peace-loving
country, having solved boundary disputes with all
its neighbors except India, and predicts that if
the Dalai Lama leaves India or his activities
there are curtailed, China will be flexible in
border negotiations. In fact, the logic is, a
"grateful: China will rethink its blind support
to Pakistan, which is India’s most problematic neighbor.

Indian friends of China point out that continued
support of the Dalai Lama could boomerang against
India. They ask, is China not capable of
promoting Kashmiri, Assamese, Naga and Punjabi
secession from India? According to these China
supporters, it is worth sacrificing the Dalai
Lama to avoid a future conflict and possible
joint attack by Pakistan and China.

These arguments are based on two unstated
premises. First, China is much more powerful than
India and so it is better to buy peace with
Beijing and leave the Dalai Lama to face his own
fate. Second, in this bipolar world, China is
best suited to challenge U.S. "hegemony" and make
the world truly multipolar. So India must be
friendly to China. Of course, the overwhelming
majority of Indians wanting to befriend China hate the United States.

However, neither of these premises is convincing.
To argue that India is militarily weak and should
surrender to China is insulting the country, its
armed forces and strength, which many unbiased
security analysts argue to be as good as, if not
better than, China’s. It is no longer 1962, when China went to war with India.

The pro-China lobby in India downplays the fact
that while China promotes a multipolar world, it
is not interested in a bipolar Asia. True to its
theory of being the Middle Kingdom, it will not
allow another pole, whether India or Japan, in
Asia. Historically speaking, China has done
everything possible to halt the growth of Indian
influence and dent India’s eminence. This policy
toward India will continue whether or not New
Delhi appeases Beijing on the Dalai Lama issue.

On the other hand, by continuing to shelter the
Dalai Lama and his followers, India stands to
gain more. First, his presence adds to India’s
standing in the global community as a democratic
country, given the Dalai Lama’s innumerable
powerful supporters around the world. It
strengthens India’s credentials for offering
political asylum to democratic leaders escaping
and fighting oppressive authoritarian regimes.

The nearly 200,000 Tibetan refugees in India are
not a burden on the country, unlike the more than
20 million illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and
thousands of refugees from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

In fact, economically, the Tibetan refugees are
self sufficient due to their many entrepreneurial
activities. Unlike other refugees, they have not
created a law-and-order problem in the country
and none have aspired for Indian citizenship,
making it clear that they would return to their
land if China guaranteed them genuine autonomy
and stopped suppressing their culture and way of life.

India cannot just sever its historical and
cultural links with Tibet to please the Chinese.
India is bound with Tibet, as two of the holiest
Hindu shrines, Mount Kailash and Lake
Manasarovar, are located there. Tibet is also the
source of four great rivers that flow into India.

The Dalai Lama has also periodically pointed out
that the Tibetans are descendants of Rupati, king
of a south Indian kingdom who escaped to Tibet
with his subjects after the epic Mahabharata War.
As for the king of Tibet, it is believed that
around 150 BC a prince of the Magadha Kingdom
(present-day Bihar state) escaped to Tibet after
being exiled from his kingdom. Tibetans named him
Nyatri Tsenpo and made him their king, and so
began the Tibetan royal lineage. A closer look at
geography, ancestry and royal dynasties reveals
close ties between India and Tibet.

In fact, whether it was Britain until 1947 or the
former Soviet Union until 1990, the recent
history of international relations suggests that
other countries have always considered Tibet as
belonging to "India’s sphere of influence."

Finally, and most importantly, the presence of
the Dalai Lama and his innumerable assertions
supporting India on the boundary disputes
strengthens India’s claims of territorial rights
during negotiations with China.

Let us remember one fundamental fact. Had Tibet
remained under Chinese suzerainty, as was the
case throughout history, and not under its
sovereignty as has been case since the 1950s, the
Sino-Indian border dispute would have been
resolved long ago in China’s favor. But because
the Dalai Lama openly recognizes the McMahon line
as the border between India and Tibet, India’s
claim to the region still stands.

* Prakash Nanda is a journalist and editorial
consultant for Indian Defense Review. He is also
the author of "Looking East: Evolution of India’s
Look-East Policy." He may be contacted at Prakash.nanda@hotmail.com.
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