Mainstream, VOL LV No 17 New Delhi April 15, 2017
Behind China’s Outbursts on Dalai Lama’s trip to Arunachal Pradesh
Wednesday 19 April 2017, by
After the debacle at the hands of the Chinese in 1962, I went to Bum La Pass from where the Dalai Lama had entered India to seek asylum. His land, Tibet, had been occupied by the Chinese who also destroyed their culture. The Chinese imposed communism and had no respect for either the Dalai Lama or his monastery. The Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh has brought back memories of the days when the Chinese annexed Tibet. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, did not raise any objection because he was then on friendly terms with Chinese Premier Zhou-Enlai.
True, Tibet was under the suzerainty of Beijing but the autonomy of Tibet was considered unviolable. Suzerainty means a government exercising political control over a dependent state. Suzerainty does not translate into absorption. Tibet was not even a part of China but India agreed to the suzerainty part. Beijing betrayed Nehru further when in 1954 it made Dalai Lama’s stay in Lhasa impossible. The biggest betrayal was when China attacked India eight years later.
The Dalai Lama’s visit may not have raised doubts about Tibet but it has renewed the debate of its annexation by Beijing once again. The Dalai Lama visited Arunachal Pradesh a few days ago despite China’s warning to India that his visit would affect the normal relations between the two countries.
It is heartening to see that India did not pay any attention and went ahead to bless his visit. But I cannot understand why Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju had to emphasise that the Dalai Lama’s visit was purely religious. It is up to the Dalai Lama to describe what took him on a week-long trip to Arunachal.
The rift between India and China is all about the latter’s claim over Arunachal Pradesh. China had for long been claiming this Indian State to be its territory and referring it to be the abode of the spiritual leader. Hence, the visit of the Dalai Lama to Arunchal would not be in its interest because they regard him as “a separatist”.
As for Kiren Rijiju’s remarks, he says that China was trying to project the Dalai Lama as a political person. “We don’t have any intention of engaging with the Dalai Lama so as to irritate China,” says the Minister. The spiritual leader, during his week-long stay, is expected to conduct religious discourses in Tawang, Bomdila and other areas of Arunachal Pradesh.
According to the Ministry of External Affairs, the spiritual leader had visited Arunachal Pradesh six times before—between 1983 and 2009. Rijiju thinks that no artificial controversy should be created over his present visit because he is considered as India’s guest. The Minister is also expected to accompany the Dalai Lama during his trip as the latter will be consecrating a gompa (Buddhist place of learning) at Rijiju’s native village, Nafra.
China’s problems with India have its roots in the British demarcation of the India-China border. Even today, China refuses to acknowledge the MacMahon Line that demarcates Arunachal Pradesh to be a part of India. Any activity that takes place in this area is viewed sceptically by the Chinese soldiers. Visits from Indian diplomats and government authorities have always caused the issue to flare up.
For instance, the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang to address his followers irritated China to no end. And any person with even a little knowledge of the India-China-Tibet problem knows that Beijing has always had a love-hate relationship with the Dalai Lama. Another issue that irked the Chinese was the huge voter turnout of the local people in the State elections.
It was reported in 2009 that the voter turnout was almost 72 per cent in the Assembly elections that year. China had also opposed the then Defence Minister A.K. Anthony’s visit to Aruna-chal Pradesh. They even went on to openly question Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the State. Although the then Prime Minister was not named, he was the subject of a veiled criticism. The Chinese mouthpiece called his visit as an “audacious and reckless move”.
It is difficult to understand why New Delhi bends over backward to please Beijing, be it in the cases of stapling of visas, or the treatment meted out to Indian traders in China. Some years ago, an Air Force officer was denied a visa to China because he belonged to Arunachal Pradesh. The government did not voice its protest and instead dropped the officer from a military delegation that went to Beijing. The delegation’s strength was just reduced to 15 from 30. There is news that during the border talks, the Chinese representatives asked India to tell how much of Arunachal Pradesh it was willing to part with.
Silence seems to have become New Delhi’s policy. India is a mute spectator to yet another uprising crushed in Tibet. Any protest in Tibet aimed at preserving the indigenous culture is taken by Beijing as a “mischief” perpetrated by the Dalai Lama. This is invariably followed by more cruelty. Clashes between ethnic Tibetan protesters and the Chinese police had led to the death of protesters, apart from landing many in jail in the past.
Buddhism, which is at its strongest and purest form in Tibet, is akin to Hinduism, a religion which 80 per cent of Indians profess. The Nalanda University, which is being revived at its old site in Bihar, will trace how Buddhism broke off from its mother religion, Hinduism, and became a separate religion. Yet the bond between Hinduism and Buddhism remains intact. Lord Buddha is considered one of the gods that the Hindus worship.
While China has often called on countries not to host the Dalai Lama, it has adopted a different approach towards India, knowing well how sentimentally Hindus are attached to Buddhism and the Dalai Lama. Beijing wants him to be confined to Dharamshala where he and his followers have been settled since 1959. That China has been more than successful goes without saying. That the Dalai Lama has still visited Arunachal Pradesh goes to show New Delhi’s military strength. It was a different story in 1962 when the soldiers did not even have shoes for a mountain combat.
The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com