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Should India Back Tibet?

Should India Back Tibet?
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AS was expected, Tibetan groups staged protests during President Jiang’s visit. But what do they really want ? The answer depends on who you ask.

"If sacrificing Tibet leads to durable, friendly ties between New Delhi and Beijing, there will be no hindrance from our side," asserts Prof Samdhong Rinpoche, the soft-spoken speaker of the Dharamsala-based Tibetan parliament-in-exile. "The Dalai Lama may move on, the Tibetans here may be asked to leave or become Indian citizens...we won’t protest." But, he asks, can India ever expect such a lasting, genuine friendship with China?

The question is taken up by Anand Kumar, sociology professor at JNU and secretary of the Indo-Tibet friendship society. "Being the two largest nations in Asia, India and China have a history of conflict. At best we can be competitors, at worst antagonistic. We can never be friends." Under intense pressure from the US, European Union and Australia, which recognise Tibet as a country under occupation and condemn rights abuse there, the Chinese, he says, now want reassurance from its largest neighbour over Tibet. Tempa Tsering—secretary, information and international relations, in the exiled regime—welcomes better Sino-Indian ties, but "not at the expense of another country. That’s most unfortunate." He cited Prime Minister Deve Gowda’s ‘promise’ at the Rome food summit that the Dalai Lama would be barred from indulging in political activity in India, and wondered whether Gowda had given away too much without getting anything concrete in return. "Did Beijing make any proposals vis-a-vis its nuclear arms deal with Pakistan? Did it make any concessions over its claims on Arunachal and Sikkim?" "Independent Tibet," observes Tsering, "was an effective buffer state with China, with a 4,000 km border on the Indian side. Before the Chinese invasion, this was manned by a few Indian policemen armed with sticks. Today, India spends Rs 60 crore daily to guard the same border." The Rinpoche agrees with those who say China wants to neutralise India by encircling it. He feels cosying up to Pakistan and Burma—where it now has a naval base—was part of Beijing’s plan to isolate India strategically. He also points out that the Dalai Lama’s unconditional offer of talks and the "middle path offer" of an autonomous Tibet (keeping security, foreign affairs under Beijing) found the Chinese unbending. "Tibet," says he, "has now become a card which people play according to their interests." "We handed over Tibet to China on a platter," says T.N. Chaturvedi, BJP MP and former CAG. This, he says, is not just the question of a democratic cause. It affects India’s interests directly: the Chinese have set up missile bases and deployed a 5 lakh-strong army contingent in Tibet. They are also dumping nuclear waste there. "Instead of taking advantage of Jiang’s own political trouble, Gowda is hoping to increase his own global stature," he adds.

Rabi Ray, former Lok Sabha speaker and vociferous pro-Tibet lobbyist, agrees. "Whatever happened," he asks, "to the resolution passed after the Chinese aggression of ‘62, which said we won’t rest ‘till we get back all the occupied land?" Recently, the Germans reacted strongly to China’s pressure against a meet on Tibet, to be inaugurated by the Dalai Lama. The Germans went ahead with the meet, and even passed a resolution in parliament condemning rights abuse in Tibet. Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, affirming trade ties with China were crucial, passionately argued that rights abuse was far more important, says the Rinpoche, who attended the session.

A release by the Tibetan Youth Congress and the Tibetan Women’s Association warned that Jiang’s visit was aimed at consolidating China’s regional dominance, "taking advantage" of the coalition regime in India. It also quotes Nehru as telling Parliament on December 7, 1950, that "the last voice in regard to Tibet should be the voice of the people of Tibet and nobody else". As Kumar recalls, the rest of the world was sleeping then. Now the world backs Tibet, and India has lapsed into fitful slumber.

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