13 Apr 2008, 0101 hrs IST,Girish Shahane
Violent protests in Tibet and a subsequent crackdown by the Beijing government have created a worldwide outpouring of sympathy for the Tibetan cause.
In India, where the Dalai Lama lives in exile, politicians, celebrities, and common citizens have sided with the underdogs. But those who support the idea of an independent Tibet are misguided, and Indians who do so are hypocritical to boot.
Here's why. The land claimed by Tibet's government-in-exile is far larger than the territory ruled by the Dalai Lama before he fled to India in 1959. Greater Tibet covers an incredible 25 percent of the entire People's Republic of China (PRC).
There is no legal or historical basis whatsoever for this claim. Moreover, were such a nation to split from China, it would feel incomplete without Arunachal Pradesh, often referred to as Southern Tibet.
The case for an independent state composed of the smaller Tibet Autonomous Region is also questionable. For centuries, theocratic rulers of the Roof of the World accepted the land was part of the Chinese empire. This elite declared independence during a period of instability in the early twentieth century, but China never accepted it.
It's true the fifties and sixties were dreadful for the region, but we must bear in mind that the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution were disastrous for China as a whole.
Recent years have witnessed an increased tolerance of traditional culture by Chinese authorities, alongside a rise in Tibetans' standard of living. Thus far, the liberalisation has stopped short of negotiations with the Dalai Lama, which is unfortunate, for he is one of the great moral figures of our time and has signalled he would accept genuine autonomy instead of the complete independence he had previously sought.
Tibet's best hope lies in the ruling party developing a respect for rights and freedoms throughout the PRC, and that's what world leaders ought to try and influence. However, that's not the way most Indians appear to see the matter.
The former foreign minister Yashwant Sinha argued we should intervene to secure Tibet's freedom: "We want good relations with China. I am not saying let's have war with China. But if we reach a point of conflict over Tibet, we should be prepared for that eventuality."
This is mind-bogglingly stupid. Indian forces have less chance of driving the People's Liberation Army from Lhasa than Harbhajan Singh has of scoring hundreds in each of his next fifty innings. Sinha didn't stop there. "We, along with the brave Tibetan activists, will not relent till we get justice from China", he thundered.
"If need be, I am prepared to march to Lhasa in support of this movement." George Fernandes, former defence minister, also advocated Tibetan independence, repudiating the policy of his prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee.
The reason such sentiments are not just ill-informed but hypocritical is that we have our own secessionist movements to deal with, and there is no public or political pressure to resolve those. The most prominent, the problem of Jammu and Kashmir is the elephant in the room which Indians debating Tibet are doing their darndest to ignore.
The two issues make for an interesting comparison. No nation regards Tibet as disputed territory, while every country, India included, places J&K in that category. (These days we are not allowed to refer to it as ‘disputed', but the Simla Agreement as well as our commitment to the United Nations makes clear it is).
Though we accuse Pakistan of occupying a chunk of our turf, we do nothing about that, apart from marking every imported atlas with a stamp saying the borders of India as depicted are inaccurate.
If Pakistan brings up Kashmir at multilateral forums, we complain it is contravening the Simla Agreement. But when it presses for bilateral talks, as recommended by that Agreement, we insist J&K is an internal matter. We parrot the slogan about the valley being an integral part of India, in the face of the fact that all nation-states are provisional entities.
During times of terror, we insist violence must cease before talks can be held. In periods of relative calm, we complacently conclude there's no need to rock the houseboat.
But Kashmir exacts a toll even when it is not in the headlines. There are hundreds of thousands of refugees displaced from their homes. There's the daily harassment of ordinary citizens fomenting resentment. And there's the expense of maintaining a massive security presence in the region.
The Siachen misadventure alone costs us some 1,500 crore rupees a year, and has led to the death of perhaps 2,000 Indian army men, most because of the climate and altitude.
Instead of paying lip service to the bravery of our soldiers, or using refugees to score political points, would it not be better to try to end the conflict, so troops can be drawn down and the displaced allowed to return?
Pakistan, which in the past has played a largely negative role, favouring insurrection over negotiation, has altered its stance, and offered a number of creative options for the state's future.
Our neighbour is looking beyond the binary of victory and defeat, and so should we. It isn't within the scope of this article to outline the history of J&K and debate who has better claim to it.
What matters is that there's a possibility of crafting a solution satisfying all sides. A window of opportunity has opened, but won't stay open forever.
Free Tibet. And what about Kashmir?-Review-Sunday Specials-Opinion-The Times of India