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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."

Sun shines in Tawang

November 26, 2009

Claude Arpi
The Pioneer
November 25, 2009

The Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh was a
huge success, showcasing his popularity and his
message of peace. India did well to ignore
China’s protests by re-asserting its sovereignty
over this State. Let Beijing grumble, we need not
be bothered about Chinese indignation

Despite Chinese protests, the Government of India
cleared the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang,
allowing him to travel to Arunachal Pradesh where
he received a tumultuous welcome. What lessons
can we draw from this event which has been
extensively covered by the national media?

First, though the visit has ‘upset’ the Chinese,
nothing dramatic has happened. Most of the
so-called Indian experts who are regularly taken
for lavish trips to China had predicted that hell
would break loose if the Dalai Lama were
permitted to go to Tawang. Nothing like that has
happened. On the contrary, as the Times of India
reported, "China tried to be deliberately
subdued" The Chinese Foreign Ministry restricted
itself to expressing strong dissatisfaction with India on the issue.”

For India, it has been an occasion to discover
that even if the Chinese are ‘upset’ it is not
the end of the world. This has apparently
percolated to the Government’s psyche; the media
and the people are also gradually becoming aware of it.

Till recently, if India opened an airport or had
to send troops to its northern frontier or if the
Prime Minister had to visit Arunachal Pradesh,
the Chinese would inevitably be ‘upset’. But if
India dared to say anything about infrastructure
projects in Tibet or about Beijing’s plans to
built huge dams on the Brahmaputra, the Chinese
spokesman would immediately state, "Please, it is
our internal affair, don’t interfere."

This constant rage is not healthy; the Chinese
leaders have a serious problem. Could someone
suggest to them to take some lessons in vipasana
and equanimity from a Buddhist teacher?

While it is good that India always maintains its
proverbial calm and practices samata, usually at
the end of the day the Government vacillates
under Chinese pressure. This time, it remained
firm; it did not budge under veiled threats or melt under sweet smiles.

Unyielding under pressure, New Delhi has
reiterated its decade-old position on the border
issue. It was enunciated in 1959 by Jawaharlal
Nehru in a letter to Zhou Enlai, his Chinese
counterpart. Nehru wrote: “Contrary to what has
been reported to you, this (McMahon) Line was, in
fact, drawn at a Tripartite Conference held at
Simla in 1913-1914 between the Plenipotentiaries
of the Governments of China, Tibet and India. At
the time of acceptance of the delineation of this
frontier, Lonchen Shatra, the Tibetan
Plenipotentiary, in letters exchanged, stated
explicitly that he had received orders from Lhasa
to agree to the boundary as marked on the map
appended to the Convention. The Line was drawn
after full discussion and was confirmed
subsequently by formal exchange of letters; and
there is nothing to indicate that the Tibetan
authorities were in any way dissatisfied with the agreed boundary."

It may seem strange today, but Zhou Enlai had
told Nehru in 1957 that he had no objection to
the McMahon Line (he just did not like the
British connotation of the name), but that the
Tibetans were unhappy about it. Nehru rightly
pointed out: "There is no mention of any Chinese
reservation in respect of the India-Tibet
frontier either during the discussions or at the
time of their initialling the Convention (in 1914)."

Nehru reminded Zhou Enlai: "In our previous
discussions and particularly during your visit to
India in January1957, we were gratified to note
that you were prepared to accept this line as
representing the frontier between China and India
in this region and I hope that we shall reach an understanding on this basis."

It is much later that the Chinese, wanting a
bargaining chip to legalise their occupation of
Aksai Chin, decided to play the ‘Tawang card’ and
started clamouring about Arunachal Pradesh. For a
time, they even argued that the residents of
Arunachal Pradesh did not need Chinese visas to ‘visit their own motherland’.

By allowing the Dalai Lama to visit Tawang, New
Delhi has made clear its position on the border.
It will be greatly helpful when Special
Representatives MK Narayanan and his Chinese
counterpart Dai Bingguo meet the next time.

But there is another lesson from the visit: It
has demonstrated the magnitude of the popularity
of the Tibetan leader among the Himalayan people.
People not only from the North-East, but also
from Ladakh, Lahaul, Spiti, Kinnaur and Sikkim
often feel (rightly or wrongly) that they are
second class citizens in India. This sentiment
has been prevailing for a long time and is
accentuated by Delhi-centric policies which have
often ignored the feelings of these people.

By agreeing to let the Tibetan leader visit
Arunachal Pradesh, the Government has offered a
wonderful gift to the local people. Can you
imagine the entire population of a district
stopping all activities for four days to listen
to a leader preaching the tenets of their own
culture? The Dalai Lama’s words resonated in the
ears of each person who had come to hear him
speaking about their Buddhist roots.

On the last day, a friend sent me a message: "His
Holiness left for Itanagar this morning; almost
everyone was crying. A Monpa housewife said,
‘This could be the last time that we are getting
his blessing.’ Guruji’s visit to Tawang is always
made difficult. Look at the weather now; there is
no sun today, how sunny and pleasant it was
yesterday and the previous days when he was here!"

The Chinese leadership always speaks of the
‘masses’, but does the totalitarian regime in
Beijing have the faintest idea of what the word
means? To convince US President Barack Obama
about China’s claim to Tibet, Beijing now
compares the 1959 Communist takeover of the area
to the American Civil War. The inferrence, to
quote a Reuters despatch, is that "Mao freed Tibetans from slavery."

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said
that Mr Obama should understand China’s Tibet
policy better: "He is a Black President and he
understands the slavery abolition movement. In
1959, China abolished the feudal serf system (in
Tibet) just as President Lincoln freed the Black
slaves." Despite Beijing’s lame arguments, the
masses have shown where their hearts turn to for solace and advice.

While the media was busy covering the Dalai
Lama’s visit to Tawang, not far away, in Gangtok
several Tibetan and Sikkimese NGOs organised a
‘Tibet Festival’. Incredible crowds thronged the
venue. The opening ceremony was attended by no
less than three Ministers of the Chamling
Government and on the last day, the Chief
Minister personally declared the festival closed.

While Tibetan culture is being erased in Tibet,
there is a cultural renaissance in the Himalayan
belt. It is mainly due to the presence of the
Dalai Lama in India who for the past 50 years has
been teaching tolerance and non-violence. One can
imagine what would happen if the Dalai Lama were
allowed to cross the McMahon Line and visit his native land.
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