India has to stand up to China on Dalai Lama’s succession

Delhi Jul 23, 2019, 10.06 AM(IST) Written By: Prasenjit Chowdhury

File photo of the Dalai Lama. Photograph:( Others )

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If China links Tibet and Dalai Lama to a settlement of the long-standing border dispute, it amounts to distrust of India’s position. 

India, in its attempt to strike a rapport with China, should not renege on her time-honoured stand on Dalai Lama. 

Earlier, the NDA government had issued a note to senior officials, asking them not to attend events organised by the Tibetan government-in-exile. India has also supported the ‘One China’ policy, which states that Taiwan and Tibet are part of China’s mainland. Beijing made the ‘One-China’ policy a prerequisite for countries to establish diplomatic ties with it.

Chinese authorities have warned that Dalai Lama’s successor has to be decided within China and any ‘interference’ by India will impact bilateral ties. The Tibetan spiritual leader has taken China to task for raking up the issue of his successor, asserting that the subject would be decided by the people of Tibet. 

By tagging its sensitivities on Dalai Lama as a perquisite for settlement of the border dispute with India, China runs the risk of overusing its Tibet card, which India must not lose sight of.

Though Nehru’s unwillingness to condemn China’s invasion of Tibet and the expulsion of Dalai Lama in the 1950s was a mistake, his decision to give refuge to the spiritual guru and the ruler of Tibetan Buddhists, in India in March 1959, cannot be faulted.  

In the aftermath of the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950, Nehru and his military advisors thought the Chinese takeover of Tibet could neither be resisted by India nor any other external power. India signed an agreement with China on Tibet in 1954, renouncing its inherited prerogatives and recognising Tibet as a ‘region of China’. The forfeiture of India’s rights in Tibet happened without China being made to recognise the Indian-claimed boundary. 

Again, it was Atal Bihari Vajpayee in June 2003, who ceded Tibet to be ‘part of Chinese territory’ while trying to bargain Chinese recognition of Sikkim in exchange for Tibet.

The Uighurs have been condemned to a fate similar to the Tibetans, fighting Chinese domination for centuries, enjoying brief periods of independence twice during the twentieth century, facing threats from Han Chinese migration alongside rigours of “centrally” planned development policies besides being subject to newly- strengthened anti-terror measures. 

All of this cannot be, and is not Western propaganda. Nehru signed the agreement in 1954, knowing fully well that Tibetans would be disappointed. In 1959, following a crackdown on an uprising by the local population in Tibet, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, fled to India. Therefore, 2019 is the 60th year of the great event — incidentally when the Modi government’s policy of standing up to China is touted to be a sharp departure from Nehru’s China policy. 

India, overly careful in assuaging Chinese sensitivities, must not concede further. If the fear to offend Beijing becomes an obsession, or India is seen to be too much in awe of China as has been the case for decades, it might be unfairly treated at international fora like the Organisation for Islamic Countries (OIC) that remains critical of India, but is wary of offending China. 

With the succession issue of the Dalai Lama assuming importance, India would have to take a firm decision. The US Congress has made it clear that it would not recognise a Dalai Lama chosen by the Chinese government, nor does the current Dalai Lama believe anyone to trust the Chinese government’s choice. 

The point is this: has India, which has seen Tibet as part of China for over five decades, made more concessions than it has received? No Indian government has ever sought to extend political support to the Dalai Lama, despite the tortuous contours of Sino-Indian relationship. 

If China links Tibet and Dalai Lama to a settlement of the long-standing border dispute, it amounts to distrust of India’s position. 

The succession of Dalai Lama is distinctly different from China’s claims to Tibet. If India lends support to a future Dalai Lama chosen by China, it would not only fritter away its time-honoured policy on Tibet, but the mistake of 1954 would also turn a full circle.  

(This article was originally published on The DNA. Read the original article)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)