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58 years ago, the Dalai Lama escaped China's clutches & entered India. Here's how

Ranjit S Kalha | Updated on: 31 March 2017, 20:29 IST
(File photo)

About 58 years ago almost to the day, HH the Dalai Lama entered India through Khinzemane post situated on the McMahon Line that separates Tibet from India in what was then the centrally administered North East Frontier Agency (NEFA).

His journey was very hazardous, full of danger and it was indeed a miracle that he survived without being intercepted by the Chinese PLA. The Dalai Lama waited on the Tibetan side of the border for a day till he received confirmation that he would be granted asylum and on receipt he crossed over.

There was never a doubt in PM Nehru's mind that the Dalai Lama should be granted asylum for there was deep revulsion within India at the way the Chinese had treated him.

The Dalai Lama is revered by millions of Indians not only as the reincarnation of the previous thirteen Dalai Lamas, but also as the reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara or Chen Rezig, the Bodhisattava of compassion. Apart from the Communist Party of India (CPI), all other political parties, the press and civil society supported Nehru's decision. Even the Chinese never objected to the grant of asylum to the Dalai Lama, for they too had granted KI Singh, a Nepalese dissident asylum.

It was but to be expected that the Chinese would be livid at the developments in Tibet. The escape of the Dalai Lama from Tibet advertised to the world the utter failure of Chinese policies towards Tibet. It was a serious blow to their prestige in the Afro-Asian world.

Rather than look at the causes of the trouble within themselves, for it was the harsh policies that they followed that caused the rebellion to spread all over Tibet, the Chinese chose to put the blame on India and Nehru in particular. As the Guang Ming Ribao of 23 April 1959 warned 'There can be no greater tragedy than a miscalculation of the situation. If the Indian expansionists are seeking to pressure China, they have picked the wrong customer'.

The Chinese followed this by a vituperative personal attack on Nehru in a People's Daily article of 6 May 1959 entitled 'The Revolution in Tibet and Nehru's Philosophy'. The article was reportedly personally approved by Mao and an open indictment of Indian interference in Tibet's internal affairs.

Recently a Chinese published account in 'Remembering Chairman Mao/Yi Mao Zhuxi' authored by Wu Lengxi (Beijing:Xinhua, 1995) contains an interesting reference to Deng Xiaoping's speech delivered on 25 March 1959 in which he reportedly asserted that the Indian government and Nehru in particular were deeply involved in the rebellion in Lhasa, but that the time had yet not come to voice public criticism of India.

Deng went on to say that 'when the time comes we will certainly settle accounts with them' (emphasis added). What further irked and incensed the Chinese was the statement made by the Dalai Lama on arrival in India that 'ever since the Dalai Lama entered India at Khinzemene (emphasis added) he had experienced in full measure respect and hospitality extended by the people of Kameng Frontier Division of NEFA... and the government of India had spared no effort to make his journey through this extremely well administered part of India (emphasis added) as comfortable as possible'.

These references by the Dalai Lama indicating that this area was a part of India, completely undercut the Chinese position on the boundary dispute with India. It well known that the Chinese position on the boundary dispute with India, is based entirely on the position taken by Tibet, for China by itself has no locus standii otherwise.

If this episode is reviewed from the Chinese standpoint, there are certain apprehensions in their mind that perhaps can be understood. Firstly, from about 1956 the CIA had begun to stoke the fires of the Khampa rebellion in Tibet and between September 1957 and January 1960, the CIA made 19 airdrops of 47 trained Khampas along with arms well inside Tibet.

Although the CIA was flying over India, it would be extremely naive to imagine that the Chinese did not suspect an Indian connivance with the CIA. Secondly, at the height of the Lhasa uprising Nehru decided to write to PM Zhou on 23 March 1959, giving in detail India's territorial claims both in the western and eastern sectors. The Chinese would have noticed that, at a moment of their greatest difficulty, Nehru was questioning their control over the Tibet-Xinjiang road link through Aksai Chin.

What followed thereafter is history and rather well known to bear repetition. Sino-Indian relations steadily deteriorated to the point that open hostilities broke out in 1962.

The Dalai Lama has since never gone back to Tibet and continues to reside in exile at Dharamshala, India. He continues to be the centre of the Tibetan community and the person to whom the Tibetans look for guidance in practically all matters. The Tibetan people give to him a faith and a belief and a trust unparalleled in any other relationship.

The Dalai Lama still retains the ability to initiate sufficient turmoil inside Tibet to cause the Chinese deep anxiety and anxious moments. The Dalai Lama's prestige in the Buddhist world and elsewhere continues to be high and polemical attacks on his persona by the Chinese authorities are seen by the Tibetans as contempt for their way of life and their dignity.

Visitors to Lhasa even today report that Tibetans turn south, bow and offer salutations. This demonstration of faith is not lost on the sharp political mind of the Chinese rulers in Tibet.

Therefore it comes as no surprise that the Chinese watch the Dalai Lama's every move, with careful consideration and are very wary and concerned at his potential for trouble. It is for this reason that they have taken such a strident stand on his forthcoming visit to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh.

(This article first appeared on the author's blog, and has been used with his permission)

First published: 31 March 2017, 19:49 IST