Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

The authorities obviously hope to pacify and sanitise Tibet behind a cloak of censorship, keeping away prying eyes while silencing dissident voices.  Modern technology, however, makes this a difficult task.

The Cry of Freedom

The authorities hope to pacify Tibet behind a cloak of censorship.  Modern technology, however, makes this a difficult task.

By B G Verghese

Deccan Herald/Tribune, 17 March, 2008

Rumblings in Tibet over the high handedness of the Chinese authorities in paying little heed to popular grievances have spilt over into the streets not merely in Lhasa but even beyond the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region to Kham and Amdo  resulting in spirited demonstrations, clashes and several deaths. Troops and armoured vehicles have been called out to subdue unarmed but defiant monks and youths. The protests were timed to coincide with the 49th anniversary of the 1959 uprising that forced the Dalai Lama to flee and seek refuge in India. The causes remain the same: Beijing’s reluctance to concede autonomy and cultural freedom to the Tibetan people despite solemn promises.

The authorities obviously hope to pacify and sanitise Tibet behind a cloak of censorship, keeping away prying eyes while silencing dissident voices.  Modern technology, however, makes this a difficult task. Moreover, such a policy must, as always, adversely affect the credibility of whatever version Beijing tries to sell the world with the expected ideological gloss about having frustrated the alleged machinations of the Dalai Lama and his henchmen who have long been in league with Imperialist forces to “split” and undermine a resurgent China.

The Dalai Lama has been straining to bring the Tibet issue to an honourable and just resolution with genuine internal autonomy and guarantees for Tibetan cultural rights in regard to religion, language and the region’s ecology. He himself has said he would like to retire as an ordinary monk, with governance being left to a leadership responsible to a freely elected assembly, and with external affairs and defence left to Beijing to manage. Despite several rounds of dialogue, the Beijing seem adamant about continuing with a coercive policy of forcing demographic and cultural change as a means of tilting the balance increasingly in its favour. It has thus far regrettably never been able to see the tremendous advantage of changing tack and using Tibet as a bridge rather than as a bastion in the exercise of regional and even global power that reveals unsatiated hegemonistic tendencies. 

The Dalai Lama has appealed against resort to violent protest. But the Chinese seem bent on a crackdown that will only add to the bloodshed and bitterness. The bankruptcy of China’s Tibet policy has once again been exposed at the very time that Beijing is readying to showcase its undoubted achievements and prowess to the world on the occasion of the forthcoming Olympic Games. The Games were founded to bring people together to compete in sport and the arts of peace in order to build friendship. But a country at war with itself is not going to be able to sell technology and growth as absolute values. The current unrest clearly disproves oft-repeated official claims that the Tibetans are happy and contented and only a handful of trouble makers are out to disturb the peace.

The Indian Government and people have been restrained in their support of the Tibetan cause even as they host the Dalai Lama and his administration in exile in Dharamsala. But there is no mistaking where the nation’s sympathies lie. India’s ties with Tibet go long back in time and a Tibetan delegation was present at the Asian Relations Conference in March 1947 in Delhi along with representatives of the then Government of China. Delhi abandoned all subsisting extra-territorial rights in Tibet formally in 1954, having accepted Chinese sovereignty over it some years earlier on the basis of declarations of “national regional autonomy” incorporated in the 17-Point Agreement of May 17, 1951 between Tibetan representatives and the new People’s Republic of China.   

Beijing’s hope that, at worst, Tibet will submit after the passing of the Dalai Lama and that time is on its side is misplaced. The freedom movement is more likely to become more radicalised and demanding and there are already straws in the wind that suggest that a new Dali Lama incarnate will be found among “free Tibetan people”.  Indeed, it is China that might well discover that the aspirations unleashed by deregulation and economic growth will increasingly seek a more open and democratic political and cultural dispensation. The faultlines are already there and could deepen and widen quite dramatically.

Intolerance is not only evident in China. In Iran, where the conservatives have again been returned to power in the latest elections, there is legislation on the anvil to
amend its penal law to deal with “apostasy, heresy and witchcraft” which is aimed at even more stringent persecution of the long-suffering Bahais than hitherto.

But why turn to Iran or China or the West, where too multiculturalism and liberal values are under serious threat in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the domestic jurisdictions of the Great Powers that pretentiously set the rules. There has been a marked rise of intolerance in India too against which the Supreme Court has inveighed. Majority and minority communalism are equally dangerous. So is regional chauvinism, the arrogance of power and syndicated crime that largely flourishes, as most recently seen in Goa, because powerful men and interests are behind it.

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