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Our grand Tibetan strategy

How on earth is the Indian Govt to know what’s going on? On one side are the claims of the Dalai Lama and on the other we have the testimony of the Chinese Govt. Manas Chakravarty examines...

india Updated: Apr 05, 2008 23:13 IST

Many of us may have been disconcerted and puzzled about how our government appears to be toeing the Chinese line on the disturbances in Tibet. Rest assured, nothing could be further from the truth. People who have never conducted foreign affairs have no idea about the anguish that Pranab Mukherjee went through when he warned the Dalai Lama to stay out of politics, nor of the distress he felt at the loss of innocent lives.

The problem is: how on earth is the Indian government to know what’s going on? On one side are the claims of the Dalai Lama and his Tibetan exiles and on the other we have the testimony of the Chinese government. His Holiness is certainly a hugely respected religious leader and has won the Nobel Peace Prize, but then, hasn’t a gentleman by the name of Zhang Qingli, Tibet’s Communist Party boss, called him a “wolf in monk’s robes, a devil with a human face, but the heart of a beast”? Sure, most of the protestors are Buddhist monks and generally monks are supposed to be peace-loving folk, but hasn’t the Han Chinese state media called them the “scum of Buddhism”? And while we in India have always heard the Dalai Lama speaking the unvarnished truth, hasn’t the Chinese ambassador to Canada accused him of being a “serial liar”? So now you know what an extraordinarily difficult task it is for the Indian government to make up its mind.

Why not take the opinion of third parties? This is what Amnesty International had to say about the Han government: “Thousands of people who pursued their faith outside officially sanctioned churches were subjected to harassment and many to detention and imprisonment. Thousands of people were sentenced to death or executed. Migrants from rural areas were deprived of basic rights. Severe repression of Uighurs in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region continued, and freedom of expression and religion continued to be severely restricted in Tibet and among Tibetans elsewhere.” Ah, but then can you trust Amnesty International?

Or take Human Rights Watch’s allegation that “we have witnessed a systematic effort to silence, suppress and repress Chinese citizens who are trying to push the government into greater respect for fundamental rights”. Perhaps, but who’s to tell whether they are unbiased? Mr Wu, an upright Han official, claims the next plan hatched by the Dalai Lama is to organise suicide squads. The situation turns even murkier when we consider that Bhaichung Bhutia, who’s almost certainly a rabid religious fascist, has turned down the honour of carrying the Olympic torch. Contrast the behaviour of the Chinese government, who generously arranged conducted tours of Tibet for foreign journalists and diplomats, taking every care to ensure that they were never allowed to go out unescorted so that they would not be targeted by violent monks.

On the other hand, perhaps a truly independent and impartial point of view would be that of Prakash Karat. His stand about Tibet being an integral part of the Han empire is eminently reasonable, no doubt based on brother Comrade Hu Jintao’s demand that the Dalai Lama must stop “fanning and masterminding ongoing violent criminal activities in Tibet and in some other regions”. True, the Chinese also believe Arunachal Pradesh to be part of their empire and have helped themselves to Aksai Chin, but what’s a little territory between good friends? Too much has also been made about our ambassador in Beijing being peremptorily summoned by the Chinese government at 2 am in the morning. After all, the official who met her also had to stay awake at that unearthly hour.

Finally, you might cynically think this is a great opportunity to put some much-needed pressure on the Han empire, wringing concessions from them on the boundary dispute? You have no idea about the grand strategy: the Chinese know very well we can apply pressure but if we don’t, that will make them feel all warm and fuzzy towards us. Who knows, they may even give us a few medals in the Olympics.

Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint