The Indo-Tibet Forum


ML Sondhi

Issued by the Tibet Swaraj Committee
January 1992

Tibet is entering upon a new period of history as the final catastrophe overtakes the Chinese Communist regime in Beijing.  The Chinese lobby is desperate and trying to shape beliefs, attitudes, prejudices and values in new Delhi in such a way that Indian decision-makers should act irrationally even in pursuing their own goals.  The Dalai Lama’s Government-in-Exile has done a commendable job in creating an international environment for Tibetan human and political rights, and the summit meetings of H.H.  The Dalai Lama with the British Prime inistr and the President of the United States are proof of the success of Tibetan diplomacy.  Unfortunately inside India the efforts of the Tibetan Government and Indians helping the development of Indo-Tibetan unity have been fragmented and unsystematic.  In Tibetan official circles the importance of Indian support for Tibet has been somewhat underestimated.  Rarely have Tibetan officials and advisers sat down with Indian mainstream political leaders for brainstorming sessions on common Indo-Tibetan issues.  The Indian media has also been tackled in a half-hearted way and no effort has been made to adopt a bold and creative approach to moulding media opinion on political issues.

The magnitude, complexity and urgency of the problem became clear when the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi adopted “blitzkrieg” methods during Li Peng’s visit and the most bizarre decision of the Chinese Communist mandarins was to promote ethnic hatred between Tibetans and Indians.  The Chinese of course overestimated their own capabilities.  Their abject stupidity was evident from the pressure they brought on the Delhi police to physically assault the Tibetans.  The young girls from Tibet who are studying in Indian universities were more than a match for the ingrained mental blockage of the Chinese Embassy-Delhi police nexus.  Thanks to Professor M.L. Sondhi, Mr. P.N. Lekhi, Senior Advocate, Mr. George Fernandes and the Judges of the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court of India, the Chinese Embassy was badly shaken by the New Delhi episode.   

Still one should not dismiss the actions of the Chinese Embassy and the Chinese Intelligence Agencies so lightly.  They have a mastery of the art of manipulating Indian public opinion since the day the P.L.A. entered Tibet and sold the idea of “peaceful liberation”.  The diplomatic and extra-diplomatic methods, instruments and structures of the Chinese embassy have to be matched and outmanouvered by Tibetan diplomacy and by the institutionalised cooperation of Tibetans and Indians with the full sanction of the Constitution of India. For a start the Bureau of H.H. the Dalai Lama in New Delhi should be equipped with greater technical knowledge for tackling the diplomatic issues of the 1990s.  It has not only to establish a network of international contacts, but also a network of Indian contacts with a multi-professional focus.  It should include opposition and government, and also the Indian intelligentsia which can help to relate the cause of Tibetan freedom to political, economic, military, social and cultural interests of India. 

It is also necessary to develop an Indian lobby for Indo-Tibetan understanding and education on issues of contemporary international significance.  There is urgent need to promote free exchange of ideas between Tibetan and Indians and the participants in this lobby should include apart from politicians, bankers, lawyers, journalists, economists and students.  If possible there should be daily briefings to counter Chinese communist propaganda and lectures should be arranged by high-level visiting faculty members from all over India.

In general it is necessary for Indians and Tibetans to develop more and more contacts and follow the example of H.H. The Dalai Lama who has always paid tributes to Mahatma Gandhi and other Indian masters and stressed that both Indians and Tibetans have to come together for the renewal of world civilisation.  Both Indians and Tibetans need to come down to earth and come to grips with the harsh realities of the Chinese challenge.  Since cultural exchanges always receive extensive coverage in media, the first step should be to organise an INDO-TIBETAN FRIENDSHIP FESTIVAL in New Delhi which should strengthen cross-cultural communication between Indians and Tibetans.  It should provide an opportunity to Indians and Tibetans in arts, culture, education, media, and social and historical sciences to talk to each other and learn from each other.

The Chinese aim was to create hatred and animosity between Indians and Tibetans and even foment riots in different parts of India where uptil now the Tibetans have been living in peace and amity with Indians.  To defeat the Chinese evil designs, we have to work on the ground level in India.  We have to use the message of Dharma given by H.H. The Dalai Lama for generating overarching ideas to forge a cultural and social consensus which will strengthen the cause of Tibetan freedom and Indo-Tibetan unity.


It is only natural that the Tibetans, our neighbours and also our guests for several decades, should examine Indian institutions for hints as to how to conduct their own affairs in the process of adapting to the modern world.  The Tibetan Youth Congress is one example, and the same went for the earlier Tibetan constitution which is now being redrafted.  Politically also, there is a moving testimony from the late Tsepon Shakabpa, who records that when on a visit to India in the forties, while Tibet was still a free country, he had witnessed a political meeting at Chowpatty beach where Indians had raised the demand for national independence.  He had hoped that Tibet would also absorb some of these methods of public participation in political affairs, and indeed today, amongst the exiles at least, his aspirations appear to be well on the way to fulfilment.

In the context one may, in the present situation, draw attention to a couple of other interesting and perhaps relevant factors.  The Indian national movement, launched tentatively in 1885 as a method of demanding more Indian participation in the governmental process, grew into demands for swaraj, or self-rule, and finally to ‘purna swaraj’ or full self-rule i.e. complete independence.  In the first couple of decades of the twentieth century, even to think of Dominion status within the British Commonwealth was considered a strong demand, but the incidents of Jallianwala Bagh and the subsequent Martial Law in Punjab gave a radical twist to the hitherto gentlemanly Indian approach.  Tagore returned his knighthood, Gandhi understood that he was up against a ruthless power that would stop at nothing to maintain its supremacy despite its conciliatory talk, and finally at Lahore in 1929 the goal of purna swaraj, was passed by the Congress Party.  The Tibetans also need to consider very seriously, what they desire and what they are in reality likely to get from the Chinese.  There is much airy talk about ‘autonomy’ within the Chinese ‘motherland’, with foreign affairs and defence remaining twith Beijing: but the atrocious and brutal behaviour of the Chinese within Tibet raises many questions as to whether they could actually contemplate any genuine level of self-rule.  They reneged on their promises given at the time of the so-called 17-pt ‘Agreement’: given their paranoia, racial arrogance, and security perceptions, their total lack of comprehension of a Tibetan way of life, democracy, human rights etc., one would be less than na´ve to take them seriously now, if at all they mean anything when they reiterate-as they have done for the last twelve years without any signs of meaning it – that they will talk with the Dalai Lama about anything short of independence.  The British had more credibility than that.  

If conceding to the limited demand of autonomy, the Tibetans throw away all their cards – the most important and irretrievable being that of H.H. the Dalai Lama himself, then they will have taken a giant step backwards, and lost much of the hard won position which prevails today as a result of years of patient diplomacy.  Purna swaraj is both tactically and strategically a safer procedure.

The second point relates to the influence of Western friends, those both well-intentioned and those making instrumental use of the situation.  (The Indian surveillance agencies of course have deeply penetrated the Tibetan establishment), So far as the foreign policies of various governments are concerned, the Tibetans have developed enough sophistication and expertise to understand the international power game.  However there is one aspect which is a more subtle, and ultimately a more powerful disruptive influence, and that is the one of language.  The Americans have been known to say to their Indian strategic counter – parts – ‘we don’t mind if you disagree with us but just use our terminology’.  In other words, so long as we accept their overarching paradigm of thought, minor adjustments within it are tolerable.  Gandhi, in the course of his opposition to British rule, was clever enough to coin his own vocabulary, so it was the other side that had to scratch its head and decipher the meaning of satyagraha, swadeshi, swaraj, brahmacharya etc.  The word is father to the event: not for nothing has the philosophical heritage of this country emphasised the reality of sabdabrahman: and in a related vein, Europe is also today discovering the importance of language, signs and symbols.  One notices however, a regrettable tendency on the part of the Tibetan decision-makers to borrow their vocabulary from western discourse.  Sovereignty, suzerainty, autonomy are as foreign to the Tibetan situation as being called members of the Chinese ‘motherland’.  The Tibetans should enumerate certain key concepts, which describe crucial and essential elements in their socio-political reality or its new aspirations.  By evolving their own discourse, theTibetans will keep a basic control over their own movement: they have understood the need to maintain their cultural identity (though one notices several unnecessary concessions to superficial westernisms and language in their international conduct):  equally important is it to develop (for obviously a tailor-made modern political vocabulary did not previously exist on the roof of the world) a socio-political identity.  In this exercise, some selective borrowing from Indian procedures could be helpful: not completely for we are not exemplars.  B ut with Mahatma Gandhi, already an acceptable figure to the Dalai Lama through his non-violence, there is much scope for further study: not simply of his declared goals of rectitude and morality, but of his actual praxis, the methodologies he used to create one of the most remarkable cultural cum social cum political movements for national independence.  Not least because thanks to the winds of freedom and democracy which are sweeping the globe, Tibetan freedom is nearer than most imagine.   And it’s expression and character will be swaraj, not ‘autonomy’.


THE STATESMAN (January 2, 199) A.G. Noorani in “Talking about Tibet” tilts at western windmills and augments the Chinese Ambassador’s effort to practice the art of “divide and rule”, and to sow doubt and discord between Tibetans and Indians.  He wants to move our minds away from the public outcry in India against Li Peng and urges a “Sonnenfteldt” doctrine for Communist Asia.  Noorani is frightened to see the building up of international pressure in favour of Tibet.  1992 may well be a nightmare for the likes of him, since Indian public pressure will most likely build up in favour of Tibet.  The Dalai Lama can wait for 3 to 5 years for the liberal elements in China to win.  He should now be in no hurry to negotiate with the Chinese.  Is withdrawal of the Strasbourg Declaration was a masterly diplomatic manoeuvre.  He can now widen his options withIndia (the BJP President Murli Manohar Joshi is a strong supporter of Tibet, while all that the Chinese can bank on are a few political pilgrims who have been taken to Beijing, support within the Congtress Party is increasing for the Dalai Lama the old Socialists are rallying round the Dalai Lama while the CPM is losing ground as a credible political force in Indian politics).   Noorani wants to bridge the gap between the Dalai Lama and Li Peng.  We are not aware whether he tried to bridge the gap between Brezhnev and Havel. It might be worthwhile for Noorani to wait for a Chinese Gorbachev to come along and then start his bridge building activity.  Noorani says that Tibet has never really been a matter of “serious” concern for the West.  More relevant, Tibet never was or will be a serious concern for the likes of Noorani.  The fundamental reason why Indians are friends of the Dalai Lama is because of our old Hindu-Buddhistic heritage and the fact that the Tibetan people have been victims of the greatest crime of genocide and colonial occupation in the post-Western era in Asia.  The Indian-Tibetan relationship is unique and Indians can be proud of it, and arm-twisting the Dalai Lama (which Noorani suggests in so many words) can never be part of our fraternal relationship. 

SUNDAY MAIL (January 5-11, 1992).  Ashok K. Mehta who is described as a retired Major General and founder member of the Defence Planning Staff of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, systematically undermines the Indian negotiating positions under the pretext of “Time to act boldly o border dispute”.  Like the Chinese propagandists he banks on cognitive inertia in New Delhi.  He is blissfully ignorant of the need to answer external pressures and demands.  India has all to gain from a stable and balanced international system; China all to lose from such a development.  Time is on India’s side if we can achieve an autonomous identification of interests and priorities in Sino-Indian relations.  In the security field, China now faces Yeltsin, who is a nationalist, more pro-Tibet and less inclined to offer concessions to China like Gorbachev was.  The role of the Chinese intelligence apparatus in India has not been systematically examined.  There are some clear pointers of the way in which ISI (Pakistan) and Chinese intelligence have spread their tentacles in India, even reaching out to Indian military and para-military forces.  The highest priority should be to adopt steps to curb Pakistani and Chinese intelligence activity in India.  To begin with India should remind China that we find their stand on Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim unacceptable.  The time has come for a more demanding Indian position:  There is no place for the Munich Spirit in the Eastern Sector.  In sum, now is the time to act boldly and rid the country of the ISI – Chinese intelligence network

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