इंद्रप्रस्थ विश्व संवाद केन्द्र

Part 2 of the three-part essay. 

Having realized the impact and grip of Buddhism, Buddhist institutions and senior Buddhist religious leaders over the Tibetan mind, Beijing leaders have been revising their policies since nineties. Freedom of limited religious practice and opening of some of destroyed or defunct Buddhist monasteries and temples was introduced. Rehabilitation and locating  many Tulkus, a typically Tibetan tradition of identifying high ranking incarnate lamas and sect leaders through rebirth, was allowed at a moderate level. Official search committees of lamas, headed by senior communist cadres, were allowed to search for the new incarnations of some popular deceased high ranking lamas.

For example, the 11th Panchen Lama (1995) and 17th Karma Pa (1992), two top ranking Lamas were discovered and enthroned with a big pubic fanfare by Beijing. It’s a different matter that 6 year old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the ‘real’ Panchen Lama as claimed by pro-Dalai Lama monks among the Tibetan search Committee, was arrested and has been never heard of since then. And the Karma Pa too quietly escaped to India to join Dalai Lama on the new-year eve of 2000. A few years ago Beijing announced a new law which prohibits recognition of any new incarnate lama without official certification by the Communist Party officials. Since then Beijing leaders have often repeated that only China has the final right to certify next incarnation of Dalai Lama.

China’s permanent Tibet solution

In order to present itself as the ‘Buddhist super power’ of the world, Beijing launched World Buddhist Forum (WBF) in 2006. Since then it has already held three well attended international conferences of WBF. Not only that the Dalai Lama was kept out of these conferences, Beijing has also been trying to present its own puppet Panchen Lama Gyaltsen Norbu as the supreme international Buddhist leader. While Dalai Lama has spent his life time in reviving the world’s interest in Buddhism, China has ingeniously grabbed the commercial leadership in the business of Buddhist items and crafts as world’s largest supplier. During past eight years it has organized nine international Buddhist Items and Crafts Trade Fairs at Xiamen. Tenth such fair is scheduled for October this year.

A massive Buddhist tourist infrastructure around many revived Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and temples across Tibet has also been developed since the turn of new Century. Millions of tourists from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, both Koreas and most other Buddhist countries now throng these monasteries every year. Even as Chinese Communist Party, secret police PSB and army keep a tight control over the monastic life and other religious activities, an impressive visual and touristic grandeur of these centers which were rehabilitated in recent years, has started helping Beijing in removing its ‘anti-religion’ stigma and presenting is as a ‘pro-Buddhist’ regime.

With this changing international perception going in its favour, if China also succeeds in cobbling up some reasonable agreement with the present Dalai Lama, Beijing will comfortably have its way in installing its own puppet Dalai Lama to impose a permanent solution to its Tibetan problem after the present ageing Dalai Lama quits this world.

Dharamsala’s lost opportunities

On the contrary, Dharamsala has been consistently losing its diplomatic, political and strategic ground in recent years, especially since it started its ‘negotiations’ with Beijing. Dalai Lama’s greatest political coup in recent years was the historic resolution passed by European Parliament on 6th July, 2000 which happened to be his 65th birthday.  Issuing an ultimatum to Beijing for signing an agreement with Dharamsala on the “new statute for Tibet” through the Secretary General of United Nations, it called upon its member States to “give serious consideration to the possibility of recognising the Tibetan Government in exile as the legitimate representative of the Tibetan people..,” if China failed in meeting this demand.

But what followed is a too hopeless diplomatic story of Dharamsala to be believed. China finally started talking to the envoys of Dalai Lama in 2002 but without involving European Union or UN. While Dharamsala has been claiming that it was a ‘Sino-Tibet Negotiations’ between Dalai Lama and the ‘Chinese Government’, Beijing let it be known unambiguously that it was just a ‘talk’ about the ‘scope of dialogue’ between the  ‘personal envoy’ of Dalai Lama and the delegation of ‘Central United Front Work Department’ . Interestingly, United Front is a ‘department’ of Communist Party of China and not a ‘Government Department’.

Looking back at these talks it becomes clear now that no real ‘Negotiations’ took place between 2002 and Nov 2008. It was only during the 7th round in May 2008 (the last round before the Beijing Olympics-2008) that the Chinese side made its first ever demand on their Tibetan guests to present in writing what Dalai Lama expected from China. A ‘memorandum’ on Dalai Lama’s behalf was presented to the Chinese side by the Tibetan envoy during  the eighth round which was held on 31st Nov 2008 following the successful conclusion of Beijing Olympics. This memorandum unambiguously offers to accept Tibet as a part of China “within the constitutional framework of People’s Republic of China” in return for ‘genuine autonomy’ for Tibet. But the memorandum was straight away rejected by the Chinese side saying that Dalai Lama was actually demanding ‘independence’ for Tibet in the guise of ‘genuine autonomy’.  Adding insult to injury, the Chinese leader of delegation Mr. Zhu Weiqun, Chairman of the United-Front Department, asked the Dalai Lama to “do something beneficial for the Tibetan people before he dies”

Taken for a ride

On the one hand China successfully managed to drag the dialogue without yielding anything. But on the other hand it made best use of this period to achieve all those pre determined important milestones which would take it grip over Tibet and international position to a point from where it could thumb its nose on anyone who dared challenge China on Tibet. Be it EU, the UN or Dalai Lama himself. For example China amazed the world in July 2006 by completing and inaugurating the 1142 km long railway link to Lhasa in just five years in the most difficult terrain of the world. It also successfully concluded Beijing Olympics-2008 without letting it meet the sad fate of Moscow Olympics.

This period also witnessed an unprecedented pace of economic and infrastructure development in Tibet which was accompanied by massive settlement of Han population across Tibet from the mainland. As a result, Tibetan populations have been reduced to nearly a meaningless minority in almost every town and city of Tibet today. Add to this an impressive network of more than 58,000 km of roads, 19 military and civilian airports, an undisclosed number of nuclear missiles, optical fibre link integrating Tibet with rest of China, and a railway network that now almost touches Nepal border. All this has converted TAR (Tibet Autonomous Region) into an enviable Chinese fort from what it used to be as the most vulnerable outpost of China until nineteen  nineties.

China also used this period to enroll Nepal’s help in blocking most of escape routes of new refugees from Tibet to India. As a result the number of Tibetans fleeing Tibet to join forces with the Dalai Lama and his establishment in India has reduced from an average of over 2500 to a trickle of less than 200 in past couple of years.

Avoidable divide in Dharamsala

One of the most debilitating loss for Dalai Lama during this 8-year long dialogue period was the deep confusion, demoralization and division that the Tibetan refugee community and International Tibet support movement suffered as a result of feverish attempts by Dharamsala establishment to please the Chinese leaders. Diktats from the CTA against holding  anti-China demonstrations and attempts to impose a blanket ban on raising slogans in favour of ‘Rangzen’ (Tibetan independence) nearly killed the pro-Tibet international movement which hardly had a parallel in recent world history. It is not surprising that while Tibetan refugee community stands confused and divided on ‘autonomy-vs- Rangzen’ debate, a large number of Tibet support groups across the world today are lying almost defunct or have lost their steam, even self esteem.

Unfortunately public expression by Dalai Lama of his unhappiness about Tibetan Youth Congress in some context in a religious congregation a few years ago, hurt the image and morale of this most influential and the largest socio-political organization of the Tibetan refugee community. An influential lobby in Dharamsala establishment, which claims to be committed supporter of Dalai Lama’s ‘middle-path’  exploited this public expression of the supreme leader in browbeating the pro-Rangzen groups including TYC as ‘anti Dalai Lama’.  Similarly another comment of the Dalai Lama about  certain set of prominent political thinkers of the refugee community too was misquoted and exploited by some ‘middle-path’ enthusiasts to demoralize and corner the followers of the ‘Rangzen‘ school among the Tibetan community. Such avoidable developments have severely damaged the social and political unity of the Tibetan community.  Interestingly, all this has been going on in the name of keeping the Chinese  leadership in good humour despite the fact that Beijing has been consistently rejecting Dalai Lama’s idea of ‘Middle Path’ and ‘Autonomy’ as Dharamsala’s secret ploys to split China from the back door.


(Writer Vijay Kranti is a Senior Journalist with special interests in Tibet and China) 

(The concluding Part 3 of this essay will be published tomorrow)