India has many things at stake for it to sit and watch Dharamsala’s influential lobbies hand over a living Dalai Lama to China.
Recently Dr Lobsang Sangay, the “Sikyong” (i.e. “President”) of Tibet’s “government in exile” in Dharamsala, created waves among Tibetans and Tibet watchers by announcing that the time had come for the Dalai Lama to return to his Potala palace in Tibet and “rejoin” the Tibetan people. Speaking at the inaugural function of the year-long “Thank You India” events, he presented the idea as one of Dalai Lama’s last unfulfilled dreams.
In the past too there have been many occasions when the idea of Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet, or going on a short pilgrimage to the Chinese Buddhist shrine Wu Tai Shan, was discussed. But each and every time that idea came from the Beijing side, where Chinese leaders have been desperate since decades to have the Dalai Lama back in their fold before he is dead and before the search for his next reincarnation starts. This is first time that the idea of Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet has been floated by a Tibetan leader who occupies the second highest position after the Dalai Lama himself in the exile hierarchy.
CHINESE ENTHUSIASM FOR DALAI LAMA RETURN
It was in the late 1970s that China was successful in enrolling Gyalo Thondup, the most ambitious of Dalai Lama’s elder brothers, to try and persuade him to return to Tibet. Following his efforts, a dialogue started between Dharamsala and Beijing, which has been running in fits and starts over the past four decades. In response to China’s invitation to him to return to, or visit Tibet “to see the truth with his own eyes”, a highly sceptical Dalai Lama offered to send only his representatives to get a feel of the ground reality inside Chinese controlled Tibet. He knew of too many instances of China going back on its promises to accept its invitation at the first go. One of the worst examples before him was that of the Uyghur leaders who were invited in 1949 for a “friendly” and “heart to heart” exchange of views with Chairman Mao. This was in response to the fierce resistance offered by the Uyghurs to Mao’s PLA against China’s takeover of their country, “Republic of East Turkistan”. The plane carrying the cream of all major Uyghur clans exploded midway and the resistance mellowed down, as expected. Their country was later rechristened as “Xinjiang” by its colonial masters in Beijing.
Beijing’s leaders, who had been consistently fed with fabricated and flattering reports from local communist leaders about the Tibetan masses’ love for Chairman Mao and their hatred for the exiled Dalai Lama (whom the Chinese regime has been trying to paint as a “gang of serf owners”) took the bait from Dalai Lama and allowed five of his delegations to visit various parts of Tibet. The visits were abruptly cancelled before the last delegation could complete its tour, because Beijing was shocked at the uncontrollable and mammoth public welcome given to the Tibetan delegates.
The dialogue was resumed by China at least twice again in the past 35 years. The last one, which lasted between 2002 and 2010, was held by Beijing after European Parliament issued an ultimatum to China in 1999 that if it failed to settle the Tibetan issue with the Dalai Lama in the next three years, it would recommend its member governments to recognise the Dalai Lama’s Dharamsala establishment as the real government of Tibet. While Dharamsala consistently termed these meetings as a Tibet-China “dialogue” about the “future of Tibet”, Beijing snubbed it every time by stating publicly that the delegates were on a “private” visit to China and the only subject of discussion would be to chalk out the details of Dalai Lama’s return to the “great Motherland”. So Dr Sangay’s statement about Dalai Lama’s return to Potala to “reunite” with Tibetans is nothing short of an official and public endorsement of the Chinese agenda on Dalai Lama and Tibet by Dharamsala.
As the “political head” of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), Dr Sangay occupies an almost equal status as the Dalai Lama himself. This follows Dalai Lama’s decision to change the Tibetan Constitution, transferring his political powers to the Sikyong and the CTA. Technically speaking, Dalai Lama is now only the supreme religious leader of Tibet, while the Sikyong is the political Head of State. Dr Sangay’s statement is, therefore, nothing short of being the official political policy of Dharamsala on Tibet’s future. It is interesting to note that while declaring his political plans about Dalai Lama’s future, Dr Sangay is using Dalai Lama’s personal dreams as the guideline for setting the future agenda of the Tibetan nation.
WHAT DALAI LAMA WILL LOSE
All said and done, Tibet cannot afford to decide its political future at the call of an individual whose own shelf life as Sikyong is just three more years. Above all, the Dalai Lama himself will have to weigh in the pros and cons of his decision about returning to Tibet. He cannot afford to ignore the fact that his popularity across the world comes from his resilience as a fighter against the tyranny of a powerful adversary through his ideals of non violence. He may not get the same respect from the world by surrendering to the tormentors of Tibet and its people. He also stands to lose his legal and moral status as a “refugee” if he returns to Tibet or even goes on a visit to China. He is bound to lose the sympathy and support of Tibet’s supporters from across the world, by surrendering to a country against which these individuals and groups have stood by him for decades. He should not hope that this support will revive if China goes back on its word. He will have to start his fight once again, right from the start.
The Dalai Lama is well aware that despite the most difficult conditions existing inside Chinese occupied Tibet, the Tibetan masses have bravely maintained their resistance to their Chinese masters. Over 150 self immolations in recent years by ordinary Tibetans are proof of this. Dalai Lama’s shaking hands with the Chinese masters of Tibet will surely deflate this national fervour for freedom forever. After destroying Tibet’s religion, culture and identity, China is bound to exploit the Dalai Lama as its main tool to present itself as the world’s Buddhist superpower. More than anything else, China will get the licence to foist its own choice on Tibet when it comes to appointing the next incarnation of Dalai Lama. That will seal Tibet’s fate, forever.
A common logic extended by the supporters of rapprochement between Dharamsala and Beijing is that this will improve the chances of the survival of the Tibetan identity and culture. But the Dalai Lama should remember what happened to the 55 non-Han nationalities over the past 70 years. In present day China, those 55 non-Han nationalities have been reduced to less than 8% of the population vis-à-vis their Han masters.
INDIA, THE BIGGEST LOSER
India too has many things at stake for it to sit and watch Dharamsala’s influential lobbies hand over a living Dalai Lama to China on a platter. With Dalai Lama’s return to the Chinese fold, all chances of rehabilitating Tibet’s historic status as a buffer between India and a bully China would be gone, forever. But worse would be the sudden transformation of the Himalayan states of India from India’s “first defence post” into a 4,000 km long belt, which will become prone and porous to Chinese machinations. Beijing is going to leave no stones unturned to influence the Buddhist communities of Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal, all of whom have deep cultural and religious bonds with their root monasteries and root gurus inside Tibet. New Delhi cannot ignore how China’s claim over Arunachal Pradesh as “South Tibet” has become the main fulcrum of its ongoing aggression against India’s sovereignty and national integrity.
Vijay Kranti is a veteran Tibet-China watcher and Chairman, Centre for Himalayan Asia Studies and Engagement (CHASE)