Friday, September 25, 2009

The Dalai Lama must visit Arunachal

O h yes, you have read the reports right. Monks at the Tawang monastery and elsewhere in Arunachal Pradesh are indeed praying for a hassle-free visit of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama,” the second head priest of the Tawang monastery, Lama Lopon, told me as I reached him on his cell phone this week. Special prayers by these Buddhist monks for a smooth visit to the area in mid-November by the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader are being held in the first place because China has decided to oppose his visit. The reason for Beijing’s opposition to the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh is obvious — it claims almost the whole of that State as its own.

The timing of Beijing’s muscle flexing over the Dalai Lama’s proposed visit to Arunachal Pradesh is significant. It has come in the wake of reports of increased Chinese intrusion into India. Well, India has sought to downplay, if not deny, the reports about the Chinese intrusions. Both New Delhi and Beijing have called such reports as ‘media hype’. Obviously, by the media in India! Our National Security Adviser M K Narayanan has gone to the extent of saying in a television interview that the media hype on the issue must stop or else it could actually flare up the situation along the Sino-Indian border. India says channels of communication are open with the Chinese and there is no cause for worry.

There is no reason why we should not believe those who are running our country. I am not sure though if we should have blind faith in their wisdom. Yes, India and China cannot afford a war now. And the Chinese must understand that year 2009 is not 1962 when the Red Army made a successful foray into this part of India. We would now like to believe that the Indian military machine today is in a position to successfully repulse the Chinese if need be. Having said that, one would agree with the Indian establishment that friendly relations between the two Asian giants is the need of the hour, purely for reasons related to global commerce and geo-politics. The border dispute can be put in an altogether different basket and life must go on.

Now back to the Dalai Lama issue. It is on this that New Delhi finds itself on a slippery wicket. But, the Dalai Lama must visit Arunachal Pradesh and New Delhi must see to it that he does so. If anybody in India thinks that letting His Holiness visit Arunachal Pradesh as planned could escalate tension with China must realize that Beijing would get an opportunity to reinforce its claim on the whole of Arunachal Pradesh if we are to be bothered about Chinese feelings on the matter. Of course, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna’s recent statement was reassuring. He said: “Arunachal Pradesh is a part of India and Dalai Lama is free to go anywhere in India. The only point is that he is not expected to comment on political developments.”

The Tibetan spiritual leader, seen by his followers as a God-king, had made several earlier visits to Tawang and other parts of Arunachal Pradesh. The Dalai Lama’s visit to the area always assumes special significance because it was through Tawang, perched at an altitude of 10,000 feet above sea level, that he had escaped from China in 1959 and entered India as a young man. “People are eagerly waiting to welcome the Dalai Lama. The Chinese must not link his visit to Sino-Indian ties,” T G Rinpoche, a Buddhist leader and a former MLA in Arunachal Pradesh, said.

The questions is why should China be so obsessed with Tawang or Arunachal Pradesh as a whole? Some of the main reasons could be:

• Arunachal Pradesh can give China access to the Brahmaputra Valley and the rest of north-eastern India
• China will gain contiguity with Bhutan in its eastern flank also if Arunachal Pradesh could be gained
• Unlike the Aksai-Chin, India has the benefit of all-weather communication lines to the Chinese frontier through Arunachal Pradesh
• The Tibetans have an emotional attachment with the famous Tawang Monastery, founded by the Merak Lama, Lodre Gyatso, in 1681 in accordance with the wishes of the 5th Dalai Lama, Nagwang Lobsang Gyatso. Moreover, the sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, was born in Tawang.
The Chinese wish list can be dismissed as mere fantasy, but the fact remains that the frontiers of these two Asian nations met for the first time in history only when China annexed Tibet in 1950. China then decided to wage a war against India, and that too within just a little more than a decade after becoming the latter’s neighbour.

If that is history, this is not: as recently as on 11 April 2005, during the visit to India by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, India and China had signed an agreement on the ‘Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question.’ Article VII of this agreement says, “In reaching a boundary settlement, the two sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas.” China has since blatantly violated the spirit of this agreement by repeatedly renewing its claim over Tawang or Arunachal Pradesh as a whole. Am I surprised at this U-turn or whatever turn? No, if one is talking about the Chinese. THE SENTINEL

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