Edited Report of a ROUNDTABLE ON A NEW POLICY FOR TIBET held at India International Centre, New Delhi on October 3rd 1965 under the auspices of the Tibet Swaraj Committee

 Introduction: Tibet is now on the agenda of the current session of the General Assembly at the United Nations. Contrary to the warnings of the prophets of gloom, as a cause it has refused to die. It has broken through the shackles of being merely a case of violation of human rights, and is now restored to a political issue; and in its candid note to the Chinese Government, published in October, the Indian Government created history by referring to the Chinese military presence in Tibet as an invasion. 

With these currents of a change afoot, it was deemed essential to take steps towards revising our thinking on Tibet, and to search out new policies that would more adequately give effect to these new winds of change. In this context the Tibet Swaraj Committee decided to hold a Roundtable, to discuss A New Policy for Tibet, as the first of several meetings to chalk out a composite programme for this new orientation.  

The character of this first roundtable has been exploratory and definitive- searching out and clarifying areas and trends of change. The basis of the whole discussion has been the affirmation of independent Tibet as a true and sovereign nation.  

Dr. G. K. Mookerjee:


…from 1951 to 1952 I worked at the Historical Division when I studied the problem with a certain amount of personal interest. There were very few documents on Tibet available at that time because most of them had been taken away by the British, when they left India. Of course today there is much more literature than was available at that time. The government as you know at that time decided to accede to the Chinese request for the integration of Tibet into China, but the current government thinking has talked of an ‘Invasion of Tibet’. One thing is however clear. The Tibet issue is not finally solved and it is one of the problems that will occur again and again, and we will have to tackle it again sooner or later.

M. L. Sondhi:

It is no longer possible to speak of a Communist bloc. There are many centres of power within the Communist world. Peking is one such Communist centre of power, and it is regarded as the power centre in Communist Asia. It cannot tolerate even the suspicion of any other power centre and immediately moves in to defend its status whenever the possibility of a challenge occurs. Moreover, China has power ambitions in Europe which cut across Communist and non-Communist lines. These provide us with situations which we can exploit. 

However this attitude is wrong. There is more than one power centre in Communist Asia. For India not to recognise this is to hold China to be more powerful that she really is. 

Then there is the question of ideology. In spite of all they do, the Communists are hampered by their doctrines, of Marxism, Leninism, Maoism etc. and all their various combinations. They are always under a compulsion to keep up the doctrinal myth. International experts on Communism are agreed that Communism breeds in-fighting due to this doctrinal compulsion. Whereas it is not possible for India to originate a conflict within the members of the Chinese Communist circle, it can always take advantage and exacerbate those that already exist.  

In the non-Han areas the linguistic minorities are a growing headache for China; this phenomenon of the search for self-consciousness of minority groups is part of a world process, and one which India will also have to face, for example, in relation to the Nagas and Sikhs. The Tibetans are highly self-conscious people, and China is finding it difficult to eradicate their individuality. There are growing doubts in China itself regarding the wisdom of their policy of destroying the culture of Tibet. The cultural problem is a crucial one. The intellectuals in Tibet must be having problems. Just now China is making much of the PLA. But at some stage she will have to recognise the Communist Party of Tibet, and then the intellectual problems will be on the increase. Cultural policy has always been a source of great difficulties for Communist rulers in Europe as well as Asia. In these circumstances a massive effort by Tibetans in exile with Indian help could help maintain the ferment in Tibet, and sharpen the conflict between national interest and Communist ideology. The Indo-Tibet border is far from sealed, and it could be used to smuggle reading material into Tibet, or it could be dropped through the air. A high power broadcasting station would be of great help in maintaining cultural resistance by the Tibetans. Lastly, the Tibetans in India could be organised, the intellectuals among them, to work towards the obstruction of the Chinese political goals.  

Constitution-making is an important business in all Communist countries. The ruling elite in Peking is subject to considerable pressure by Chinese revisionists and after Mao-tse-tung, there is bound to be an intellectual upheaval, which will create pressure to revise the constitution. In this context the need for some work on the Tibetan Constitution can be emphasised. There is no need to be cynical about the practical consequences of such work. There are many aspects to be discussed, the abolition of the so-called feudal system, the guarantees of civil and individual liberties etc. There is considerable scope for new ideas in all Communist countries where the intellectuals feel quite distant from the ruling elite. The Communists are most vulnerable in this area. India can create a major political asset for itself by introducing into Sino-Indian political conflict constitutional questions in the context of Tibet’s future. Tibetans in exile should be encouraged to think in terms of a constitution for their country in which there is ample scope for the encouragement of rapid economic advance, social and economic rights and democratic government.  

The military question is very important. Tibet has importance in the context of Disarmament and Arms Control which has not been fully appreciated in India so far. There is a good case for a detailed study of the matter by military and political experts. To quote what one of them, Oscar Morgenstern has to say: ‘Tests might be made secretly……in Tibet, where the prevalence of earthquakes makes a distinction between these and secret tests entirely impossible.’ The Indian Government should immediately take up a study by its experts on what measures are necessary for preventing the military use if Tibet by China in the context of future nuclear development. Indian policy should encourage the development of the Tibetan question on the lines on which the Austrian question was kept up by the Western powers. Endless patience is necessary. We should remind the Chinese in every note that we send to them that the Tibetan issue is and will remain an outstanding international issue till the present Chinese policy is changed.  

Then there is the question of military assistance. This has been a great failure on our part .we must review this policy of arms embargo. There are still revolutionary forces operating in the Kham region of Tibet, and we should at least initiate the policy by sending through private agencies non-military supplies like medicines etc. 

The intensification of India’s relations with other Buddhist countries in Asia will have a relay effect on China’s relations with Tibet. The extent to which India connects itself with a Buddhist renaissance in which the initiative is retained in Indian hands will pose a grave dilemma for the Chinese. Unfortunately India is not fully utilising its tremendous intellectual power in the manner in which, for example France under De Gaulle has mobilised its resources to exploit its relationships with countries under French cultural influence. 

G. K. Mookerjee:

The Chinese will never be able to consolidate their hold in Tibet- the Tibetans will continue to resist. They will put pressure in international circles to revive the question: India will have to do it.

Dr. Lokesh Chandra:

…In Soviet works, Tibet is not referred to as the ‘Tibet region of China’. There are many classical studies from Russia on Tibet, indicative of a change in attitude…The cultural offensive mentioned is very important; the Chinese used it in Mongolia. The Russians had forbidden use of national script; when the Chinese came, they brought 2,000 copies of the biography of Chingiz Khan in the national script, and it was sold in two hours. Now the Academy of Sciences has permission to use the national script.

Giri Lal Jain:

I am broadly in agreement with what Dr. Sondhi has proposed. The Tibetan issue is far from closed, and will not be solved till either of two conditions are fulfilled : -

1. Tibet becomes independent again or
2. The Tibetan people are really swamped by Han immigration.  

So far as the present situation is concerned, the Han settlement has not been a success. Most of the Chinese have returned, due to difficulties with regard to food and climate. This is an important development and we should not fail to take note of it.  

Tibet is a nation by every definition of the word. It has long history, and the Tibetans are acutely self-conscious of their separate and distinct identity. The Chinese occupation of Tibet in the past has never lasted longer than a decade or two. The arrival of the nuclear age makes Tibet an important issue. If the Chinese develop nuclear missiles and place them in Tibet, this will have grave consequences for us in terms of our security…Our performance in Tibet is one of which we must be ashamed. We owe the Tibetans a tremendous debt, and there is no escape from it. There is much that can be disclosed to our discredit. Our policy of expediency has failed.

If we had spent ten crores a year on Tibet, it would have sufficed to stall the consolidation of Chinese rule in Tibet…To blame anybody else is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Till the year before last we even refused to support the case of Tibet in respect of Human Rights in UN. It would be premature to say, with regard to the present shift in our stance, whether it is a change in content or posture. Now India has officially held China guilty of having invaded Tibet. Perhaps the change is a result of greater confidence in our ability to defend our frontiers.  

…If we do not take certain risks now, we will expose ourselves to impossible risks 20 years from now…the Chinese will be able to act with impunity once their nuclear missile programme makes sufficient headway and our defence commitments will become impossible.  

Even fairly intelligent persons in India with interest in Tibet do not have adequate information. The government expounds its policies in a vacuum, and does not make available the facts on which its policies are based. This is particularly true in the field of defence. In military affairs the depth of our ignorance is colossal. No newspaper can comment with any knowledge on military affairs, unlike his counterparts in Western countries. 

…To discover Tibet is to discover India. We must all do what we can, independently, to promote the presentation of Tibetan culture, which is also part of our culture.

M. L. Sondhi:

One point of clarification: you have said that our ability to do anything in Tibet turns on our ability to defend our frontiers. Do you mean by this that our frontiers are more vulnerable than those of other countries? There is another idea of strength, of the potential to increase the effectiveness of our influence, a capacity to instil fear into our enemies, which covers more than mere geographical location.   

Giri Lal Jain:

Yes, that is an important distinction, and I agree that to cut the Sinkiang-Tibet road would be a strategically good exchange for a road into NEFA. What I meant was that if our frontiers were fairly adequately protected, it would give us greater confidence, in contrast to the helplessness we have experienced before.   

Mr. Hem Barua:

…The Government of India did not think that Tibet would be assimilated into China; it believed in the Chinese guarantee of an autonomous region; it was not been translated into practice, and this latest move of the government’s may be due to the discovery that Tibet is now a part of China. It is now trying to adopt a new line.   

Prof. Balraj Madhok:

I have always been a critic of government’s Tibet policy. I agree with all that has been said here on the matter, and do not wish to repeat it. One thing needs to be understood by the government and the people, and that is the phenomenon of the cultural infiltration by Tibet. Tibet has infiltrated our borders; in Ladakh and Lahaul Valley, for instance, the people use the Tibetan script, their language has ties and links with Tibet. Lahaul and Ladakh have cultural and language links with Tibet. A political officer-in-charge of Tibetan affairs once said to me, that you can not save the border areas if the Chinese policy of Sinification in Tibet succeeds. In the upper reaches of the Himalayas, the people are Buddhist and racially akin to Tibetan- e.g. in Himachal Pradesh, Pathoragarh, Sikkim, Bhutan, NEFA and Ladakh. 

…The history of Tibet reaches back 2500 years. From the beginning Chinese influence has been temporary, and the first time they entered Tibet was at the invitation of the Dalai Lama in 1707. According to Tibetan sources the first king of Tibet was the son of Prasangjit of Kosala and a contemporary of the Buddha. From then on there has always been considerable Indian influence in Tibet. The Tibetans, however, have always resisted Chinese influence. The British contact with Tibet started with Warren Hastings (sic) when the British wished to start trade with Tibet. The Tibetans refused to honour the treaties signed between the British and the Chinese, so the British were finally forced to negotiate directly with them.   

In 1904, there was the Lhasa Convention, which contained 4 terms defining the relations between Dalai Lama’s Government and the British Indian Government. In these terms one may clearly see the Tibetan Lama is head of an independent state. In 1907, an Anglo-Russian treaty was signed, in which it was stated that Tibet was under Chinese suzerainty. This was a purely political affectation, because at that time the British had no fear of China and they wished to avoid the Russian charge of having brought Tibet under their influence. In 1914, the Shimla Convention was held to settle the Tibet-China border about which there was some dispute…Representatives of all the three countries met as equals. The Tibetans brought mule loads of documents to prove their claims, but the Chinese just refused to accept them.

B. Madhok:

We must educate public opinion. The idea that Tibet was an independent country which has been overrun is an idea that must be kept alive.

Giri Lal Jain:

If we can develop a more meaningful policy for Tibet other countries will change their attitudes towards us, since India will then have defined interests.

M. L. Sondhi:

Panniker has mentioned in his book that at one time, the Chinese were mortally afraid that Nepal might attack them, and he (Panniker) had to assure them that there was no such possibility. What would you say about this, Mr. Jain?

Giri Lal Jain:

The Chinese invaded Tibet a fortnight before they entered Korea, which shows that the two were connected for them. On October 25th 1950, they made advances into Tibet and then stopped. The military presence was of a nominal nature; it was used as pressure to get the Tibetans in Peking to negotiate. At that time, even intervention by Nepal would have tipped the balance.

M. L. Sondhi:

We must not over-estimate the capacity of the Chinese. They are certainly not as efficient as we make them out to be. Khrushchev was no god that he became an anti-Stalinist, but used his position as a leverage for power. There is always an element of caution in Communist methods so that the policies of extermination are not carried out completely efficiently unlike the programme executed by the Nazis. 

In Communist theory they prefer a civil government. One day they will have to recognise a Tibetan Communist Party. The Indian Communist Party is basically an inefficient administrative system. The Left is fighting the Right. Most Communist movements are experiencing this type of in-fighting. Once a Communist becomes a nationalist, he undermines the whole system.  

G. K. Mookerjee:

There are many such cases in the West also such a Wolfgang Leonhard for example. He was brought up by a Communist mother in Russia, and received his training as a Party Executive there. However, his nationalism proved too strong, and he escaped from Russia, then from East Germany; now he is resident in West Germany and is one of the strongest critics of the Communist regime.

Giri Lal Jain:

As a brain washing system, Communism has failed. Any comparison with religion is entirely bogus.

M. L. Sondhi:

It is impossible for Tibet to be swamped by Han immigration. If the Chinese were to make a success of it there, they would have to be motivated by an economic need to be richer than the Americans. Professor Lattimore has said that Tibet yields diminishing returns to any imperialism which tries to conquer it. And Communism has failed to find a solution to the food problem. 

However, I endorse Mr. Jain’s view that we must wake up to the time aspect of the problem ,and that the critical period is 5-10 years from now, during which we can do something.

G. K. Mookerjee:

Now let us bring this discussion to a practical conclusion. There are three ways in which we can give effect to the debate:

1.  We must keep the movement for Tibetan independence alive.

2.   We must undertake that the Tibet question be brought before the United Nations.

3.   We should organise these seminars as often as we can that we may draw up a programme of action.

We hope we shall meet very soon again, and draw up a programme of action.

Resolutions of this Seminar 

  1. That India should recognise the Government of the Dalai Lama as a Government in exile.

  2. That the Dalai Lama should be given travel and broadcasting facilities both at home and abroad.

  3. That India should sponsor the Tibetan issue at the United Nations.

  4. That material assistance should be extended to the Tibetan resistance.

  5. That India should demand international inspection for possible nuclear weapons site in Tibet.

  6. That Indians and Tibetans should initiate a discussion on a democratic constitution for Tibet.

  7. That India, with the help of Tibetans in India, should launch a cultural offensive against Chinese-occupied Tibet.