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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Opinion: The Moral Defence Rests

November 13, 2009

by Tenzin Tsundue
November 11, 2009

When Manmohan Singh clearly and courageously said
last month that there was no question of his
government cancelling the Dalai Lama's Arunachal
Pradesh visit, I was proud. As refugees in India,
it is painful for us Tibetans to witness Beijing
bureaucrats laying down the law to our host
government in arrogant, bullying terms. This
visit's historic importance is that it swings
back focus on the McMahon Line and therefore
Tibet. That's why China was so impatient to shoot
it down. The result of this pivotal visit will be
a realisation that, without reinstating Tibet as
a buffer zone, India will forever be subjected to
pressures: militarily, politically, environmentally and, now, over water.

Many Indians do not realise the pressure that
Beijing is exerting on New Delhi. They portray
the visit as yet another China-Dalai Lama
showdown. The fundamental problem China has is
with Indian borders. It did not need a Dalai Lama
to add to its rants. Dealing with China is
tricky; a capitalist nation, ruled by a
Communist-style party in the name of socialism,
is aggressive and hugely defensive. One cannot
lose a point; concede one point and you become
subordinate. That is why Barack Obama has armed
himself for his first Beijing visit as US
president with Dalai Lama power, prepared to
punch home points with Chinese President Hu
Jintao. After facing Hu, he will still get to meet the Dalai Lama.

A unique bond with the Monpas of Buddhist Tawang
has led to the 14th Dalai Lama's fifth visit to
India's ''Land of Dawn-lit mountains''. The
programme at Tawang monastery is solely to impart
Buddhist teachings. It is at a most appropriate
time, when the Indian government needs to assert
its territorial rights in Arunachal Pradesh. In
the face of China's strident claims over
Arunachal, the Tibetan leader's spiritual visit
to his followers legitimises India's stance in
the most significant yet entirely non-verbal manner.

Historically, Tawang was Tibetan territory until
early last century. Even today many families in
the region retain ancestral tax papers for making
payments to the government of Tibet. During the
Chinese invasion of Tibet, India unilaterally
declared the McMahon Line as the border and
swiftly evicted the remaining Tibetan officials
from the local administration in 1950. Arunachal
Pradesh as a state was formed in 1987; till then
it was part of the North East Frontier Agency.

The 6th Dalai Lama by virtue of his birth in
Tawang in 1683 made sacred this 2,000 sq km
region. The Great 13th Dalai Lama ceded the
region to British India in 1914 by signing the
bilateral McMahon Treaty in Delhi. The 14th
incarnation is today symbolically and silently
gifting it again to India. The Dalai Lama and his
government-in-exile in Dharamsala have repeatedly
confirmed that they honour the 13th Dalai Lama's
decision. For the Tibetan populace, within and
outside Tibet, Arunachal Pradesh is a part of India.

In 2004, Sun Yuxi, then Chinese ambassador to
India, made that ill-phrased claim over Arunachal
not just Tawang, he said, but ''the whole of
it''. Former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari
Vajpayee rescued Sikkim from China's ambitions by
surrendering India's remaining authority to speak
on Tibet and, recently, a Chinese map portrayed
Kashmir as an independent country.

China is not going to stop there since Beijing
refuses to recognise the 1914 McMahon Line and
the Simla Agreement also. It is most likely to
question the territorial integrity of the
remainder of the 890 km McMahon Line, the Demchok
region in eastern Ladakh and the Sumdho area of
the eastern Himachal Pradesh border. Having one
of its vital military installations at Sumdho
(Tibet: trisection) between Tibet and Himachal's
Lahaul-Spiti, India is expected to counter any
attempts on Sumdho with armed might.

As schoolboys in a Tibetan refugee camp, we used
to be marched out once in a while for Free Tibet
protest rallies. We shouted slogans in Tibetan
and English but never understood this phrase in
Hindi: ''Tibbat ki azadi, Bharat ki suraksha''
(Tibet's independence is India's security). It
never made sense to me until later, when i
realised how India had accepted Tibetan refugees
fleeing Chinese persecution, nurtured us and
reinforced us not with guns but with education.

The Tibetan armed resistance, based in Mustang,
western Nepal, and disbanded in 1974, was later
reconstituted into a Tibetan battalion in the
Indian army known as Establishment No 22, a
classified paramilitary force deployed in
important operations like the Kargil war. Today,
7,000 Tibetan soldiers under the ministry of home
affairs - man the most difficult and dangerous
borders in India's mountainous terrain.

For India to keep Arunachal, based on the McMahon
Line, the only choice is to recognise Tibet's
independence. It cannot legitimise the McMahon
Line border otherwise. Faced with this political
reality, India may not be able to summon the
courage to support the movement for Tibetan
independence overtly, but it is important that it stands firm on its position.

* The writer is a poet and Tibetan independence activist.
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