Remembering India’s capitulation on Tibet - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 8 August 2011

Remembering India’s capitulation on Tibet

Prime Minister Nehru, the current Dalai Lama, President Rajendra Prasad and the 10th Panchen Lama in 1956 at New Delhi at the 2500th anniversary of the birth of the Buddha

Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th Aug 11

An article in The New York Times last Saturday speculated that Beijing would try to legitimise its hand-selected (and therefore illegitimate) Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, by sending him to study in the Labrang Monastery in Xiahe at the somewhat advanced age of 21. Xiahe is in China’s Gansu province, but in the Amdo region of traditional Tibet, which the communists carved up between five Chinese provinces bordering the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). Gyaltsen Norbu badly needs the credibility of Labrang Monastery; he was declared the 11th Panchen Lama by Chinese authorities, six months after they arrested the 11-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who had been declared the 11th Panchen Lama by the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, following traditional Tibetan practice. Most Tibetans believe Gedhun Choekyi Nyima (often called “the youngest political prisoner in the world”) is the legitimate 11th Panchen Lama, while Gyaltsen Norbu is disparaged as “the Chinese Panchen Lama”.

This typically clumsy Chinese manoeuvre is a mere sideshow to the big story in Tibet, which is a six-month long security lockdown that has gone largely unreported in the world press. The lockdown, which has involved mass repression of Tibetans and hundreds of preventive arrests, was triggered by Beijing’s determination to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the “peaceful liberation of Tibet”, which took the form of the 17-Point Agreement (full form: Agreement of the Central People's Government and the Local Government of Tibet on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet).

The 17-Point Agreement, through which Lhasa bowed to Beijing’s sovereignty on 23rd May 1951, was India’s capitulation more than Tibet’s. After the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) marched into Tibet in October 1950 and destroyed the Tibetan army, India’s army chief, General (later Field Marshall) KM Cariappa declared that India could spare no more than a battalion (800 men) to block the Chinese invasion alongside the Tibetans. Then New Delhi refused to back Lhasa’s request for the United Nations to adopt a resolution against the Communist invasion. With global attention focused on the Korean War, and with India hoping to mediate between China and the US-led coalition, India feared that sponsoring Tibet’s reference to the UN would damage its leverage with China. And with Washington and London allowing New Delhi to take the lead on this issue (India, after all, was most affected by events in Tibet) China was allowed to subjugate Tibet unopposed.

New Delhi’s submissiveness obtained even less for India than it did for Tibet. The first words of the first clause of the 17-Point Agreement (“The Tibetan people shall unite and drive out imperialist aggressive forces from Tibet”) directly targeted India. New Delhi was the “imperialist” force that maintained --- continuing British practice since 1903 --- a military garrison in Gyantse, Tibet, across the Himalayas from Sikkim. Three years later India formalised its capitulation to Beijing. The Panchsheela Agreement of 1954, which recognised Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, bound India to withdraw its entire presence from Tibet.

Some of the ground ceded in that diplomatic blunder has been gradually clawed back by India. This began in 1959, when India granted refuge to the Dalai Lama and permitted the setting up of a Tibetan government-in-exile. Tens of thousands of Tibetan refugees that have trickled in over the years and continue to do so even today have set up a support base for an alternative government to the Beijing dominated one in Lhasa. Hundreds of Tibetan monks have been allowed to set up an ecclesiastical eco-system, central to Tibetan politico-religious belief, which parallels the Tibetan system that they left behind. In and around Bangalore and Mysore are the mirror images of the mighty monasteries --- Sera, Ganden and Drebung --- that were smashed during China’s “democratic reforms” and the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. Not least, India retains a core of Tibetan fighting capability in the secretive Establishment 22, manned by Tibetan volunteers who would be more than happy to be unleashed against the Chinese in their homeland.

These steps, though, are just enough to annoy China without doing what would be necessary to seriously worry Beijing. India’s reluctance to flash its teeth, and to instead keep reassuring Beijing that the Tibetan exiles are on tight leash, does little to keep alive the sense of hope that Tibetans here need for continuing their fight. New Delhi’s willingness to carry out preventive arrests of Tibetans on the eve of Chinese visits creates apprehension that India can be pressured in the same way as Nepal, which China pressures into brutal police repression of Tibetan exiles.

Nor has Tibet’s global icon, the Dalai Lama, struck any strategic notes in his quest for international support. Brushed off by New Delhi like a distant relative who has stayed too long, and avoided by foreign leaders as a political minefield, His Holiness has been reduced to engagement with second-rung celebrities like Richard Gere and support from dodgy divas like Paris Hilton and Sharon Stone. His marginalisation has been carefully orchestrated by Beijing, which reacts ferociously whenever any head of government proposes meeting the Dalai Lama. And when anyone risks Beijing’s ire, as President Obama did in meeting the Dalai Lama last month, the conversation always begins with a careful public repudiation of Tibetan independence. Sadly, India, despite all the levers it holds in Tibet, follows that same cautious path.

The hopelessness that has seeped through the Tibetan exile community in India manifests itself in a growing rejection of the Dalai Lama’s “Middle Path”, which involves a non-violent engagement with Beijing about Tibetan autonomy rather than independence. India’s many angry Tibetan youngsters are held back for now by their enormous respect for the 14th Dalai Lama, but his passing on will create a problem for China that will be far more potent than the legitimacy of the 11th Panchen Lama. If New Delhi looks ahead and calibrates its response inventively, it may go some way towards recreating the leverage in Tibet that it lost in the 1950s.


  1. @Ajai sir

    we lost our chance in 1950s with respect to Tibet, and we cant expect to get the chance again or wield the same kind of influence that we would have had earlier in the present changed scenario.

    I dread the day His Holiness Dalai Lama will be no more, thats the day the turmoil gripping Tibet is expected to spiral into India and I suspect we will have to deal as we deal with others, instead of paying heed to their sensibilities about the homeland Tibet.

    Most of those born in India to Tibetans parents are the most vulnerable as they havent seen the situation in their homeland Tibet, have respect for India and Indians but are confused about their divided loyalties.

    We cant expect things to improve unless situations outside India vis-a-vis Tibet act as catalyst and the biggest turnaround can be expected only when the US keeping aside its economic interest stands up to China and in a small step first asks for the release of Panchen Lama.

    The secretive Establishment 22 you talk about is merely a Indian ploy to placate seething Tibetans that as and when situations comes India will support there cause just like we did to Mukti Bahini for Bangladesh. But I suspect that is never going to happen.

    awaiting response


    Joydeep Ghosh

  2. Amazing...the use of the words Paris Hilton and Sharon Stone in a Broadsword article.

    Restoration of Broadsword quality please.

  3. unfortunately unless china is going through some catastrophic political change - a la USSR , any redrawing of boundary is most unlikely.

  4. With all due respect, India with its current diplomatic initiatives would be lucky to have the LAC made the permanent border with Tawang south of it.

    Anything more [Aksai Chin,shaksgam] is only wishful thinking, talking about on regaining control of Tibet is even beyond the realm of wishful thinking.

  5. Very Brave but an utterly saddening article.

    A dirty page of the history has passed and an entirely new page has to be opened.

    Gyaltsen Norbu “the so-called Chinese Panchen Lama” shall instead be declared as the "Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China" and shall be treated as such. He should be kept at Peking in his due forbidden palace.

    There is no way out but to forget the autonomy and to declare the full independence of Tibet. TBSF (Tibetan Border Security Force) shall be formed to defend the enhanced Northern and Eastern borders of Tibet with China with the help of standby Indian Armies in case. Visa system shall be abandoned between India, Tibet and Nepal.

    Han people shall be allowed a generous period of at least six months to peacefully leave the Tibet without harming any of their so-called properties. These properties may be distributed in a socialist manner to the Tibetan refugees returning back from India. However those Han people who support the liberation of Tibet shall be allowed to continue their businesses with no voting powers.

    If China remains worth it, it should be allowed to make the compensations for exploiting Tibet for so long and also to compensate for its wars against India, Vietnam and Russia.

    Chinese strategies, tactics and timings were excellently designed for their expansionism.

  6. We need bold leader to take bold decisions, India has always lacked such leaders, What can u expect from a govt who is trying to avoid the recent incident when 4 Indian army men were beheaded by pak army.
    They cant support thr own people, how wud they support others?even if its in our interest.

  7. Ajay Sirjee,

    You are crying foul over a lost cause. The Indian govt. specially under our beloved MMS is busy mollycoddling the enemies of India with his peace talks while thousands of Indians themselves are dying. The govt. just doesn't care. To liberate Tibet is not only a distant dream but also a lost case altogether. But why blame India alone, the Mighty USA and Europe who cry their throats out about freedom, justice, human rights and blah blah blah, and are busy crushing defenseless weak countries, shy away into their night dresses when it comes to China. Take my word, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, a Just one. Someday, the tyranny will end and they will meet their fates. After all, this is what Buddhism teaches us.

  8. Is there anything that Nehru did not end up screwing up. One man's mistake has cost the lives of so many people and perpetual loss face for India.

  9. Shukla ji your blog is sure to get a visit from the chinese dlones

  10. Col Ajai

    Tell me your reasons for this history lesson, which most of us already know.

    China or for that reason India as the time goes will not be able to hold Tibet. Today China has temporary advantage. Wait until the new Tibetan generation takes up arm against the Chinese in earnest. Right now they are quite, humble and reasonable, thanks to His holiness Dalai Lama. If the Tibetan become aggressive, then 2 million of the Chinese soldiers will not be able to contain the uprising. The terrain favors guerrilla warefare.

    It will be same if the shoe is in the other foot i.e. India Controls Tibet.

    Hence sir, rehashing the events of 1950 is not very wise. Nehru did, what the best Nehru could have done in 1950. Mao did what he knew the best i.e. forecifully occupy any land not his own in the vicinity. Now all eyes are focussed on what His Holiness or his successor will tell the people. Everybody agrees that Chinese are unwanted in Tibet.

    The question should be that how are the Chinese to be ejected out.

    I believe the answere is much more at the hands of the Tibetans themselves. If the current policies of Dalai Lama of peaceful negotiations fail then taking up the gun is the only way out. The latter Chinese will loose for sure.

  11. India's Tibet policy is a great disaster. Nehru's Hindi-Chini bhai bhai and 'One China' policy while China is the largest supplier of free of weapons to pakistan including nukes which is threatening India!

    Our policy toward china is flawed from first.

    Not only Indians but rest of the world believe in a FREE TIBET.

    Future Indians and Tibetans should work on it jointly.

  12. Huh... capitulation? Like India had any, and I mean any, capacity to block Chinese control of Tibet. Indeed Cariappa should have been honest and said clearly that India could spare zero soldiers to block a Chinese invasion of Tibet.

    How can can criticise India's later "forward policy" for adventurism while simultaneously criticising its timid (and realistic) response to the Tibet invasion?

    Rather than use emotive words like capitulation perhaps you could spell out some feasible steps India could have taken (and no "flashing its teeth" does not count).

    Equally relevant is the fact that India was at the same time invading Kashmir, Junagadh and Hyderabad in the name of anti-colonialism. We could hardly have turned around and accused the Chinese of aggression in Tibet with a straight face.

  13. @ Anonymous 20:30

    Well argued! Is Broadsword actually seeing some quality debate?

    While admitting that you have put your finger on the only counter argument, I believe India did have options at that time.

    Firstly, your argument that India's operations in Hyderabad, Junagarh and Kashmir meant that we could not condemn China's occupation of Tibet "with a straight face"... Oh, come, come! In international affairs, where national interest is involved, one can do anything with a straight face. Morality is never a hurdle.

    Your next argument... that India had no feasible options and "zero" soldiers to spare. I think that large areas of Tibet, especially Kham and Amdo which rose up after 1956, would have been willing to fight in 1950/51 if there was overt Indian support, with perhaps the induction of a couple of brigades worth of Indian troops.

    I can see your next argument coming... i.e. "what would a couple of brigades have achieved against two Chinese armies that were marching into Tibet?"

    The answer is: those armies were horribly tied up by the Kham and Amdo uprisings, once they began. An Indian intervention would have ensured that the uprising began right away, rather than waiting for five years while the PLA consolidated and built up.

    Furthermore, the western powers were looking to India to take the lead. An Indian intervention at that time (in one of the chilliest parts of the Cold War) would have surely drawn US support. Remember, the CIA got involved in the Tibetan uprising in 1956/57. They would have reacted straightaway. And, once the battle lines were drawn clearly, China --- which was already involved in the Korean War, remember --- might well have backed off.

    I'm not talking about "flashing teeth" here. I'm talking hard action.

    You came close to the truth, but ruled it out. We were timid in 1950... and foolhardy after 1959.

  14. @ajai sir

    when you uploaded the comments by anonymous 20.30 you should have done the same for my comments.

    I believe you chose not to publish them, are you scared of negativity?

    please respond


    Joydeep Ghosh

  15. The solutions are pretty straightforward --

    1) India needs to start a well-disguised proxy war against the Chinese with the help of Tibetan volunteers, ala Pakistani proxy war in Kashmir. (Tibetan Mujahideen yay!!) well atleast draw a blueprint for the plans for the passing-on times!

    2) Build up some more Tibetan army units for the eventual fight at the border, thus also providing them employment and keeping their skills at the bleeding edge (We will have the best soldiers on earth yay!!)

    3) Allow Tibetans to advance their culture within the country. Never discourage them! We can relearn a lot from them about our lost ancient Vedic/Buddhist culture, which was destroyed in the last millineum, but preserved in Tibet during this time (Buddha rules!!). We now need to preserve what has been destroyed in Tibet (Culture is our only identity)

    We need the Tibetans more than they need us!!
    Long live the mighty His Holiness!

  16. Our politicians are spineless and incompetent. Do we have anything more than bare minimum expectations of people like AK Antony? The Chinese openly mock us on Pakistan and Arunanchal, and our leaders wouldn't even use the biggest weapon available to us. If Dalai Lama is so naive that he wouldn't name a successor, then this bodes badly for India. A secular democratic govt in exile would be completely futile. Tibetans need the glue that is symbolized by the Lama to keep their hopes alive.

    As far as India's stand on Tibet vis-a-vis the Arunachal is concerned, what do you think will happen, sir, if the Chinese agree to make a deal? Then the Tibetans will scream betrayal and jump on us. Any border war with China, as indicated by this cold start nonsense, will inevitably, rapidly devolve into a total war, and there our folly of thinking that low intensity wars can be fought to teach our enemies a lesson, as a feasible idea will be wholly exposed. Cold start may be feasible if China and Pakistan were across the ocean or a thousand miles away from us. Either way, neither India nor China can survive a war with each other. Besides, I don't have much faith in our military leadership these days. I am sorry, but I don't have any faith in them.

  17. Ajai when we talk about Tibet someone should tell India and Indians about a remarkable man called Maurice Frydman, a Polish Jew who was instrumental in the Dalai Lama's escape from Tibet.

  18. Having served in Establishment No.22/Special Frontier Force as its Medical Officer from 1971 to 1974 on deputation from Indian Army, I have a different understanding of some these historical events. I derive history not by reading books, and I do not interpret history by researching archived documents. As a Medical Officer, my involvement with men includes knowing the minds of the men under my care. I know the mind of the Dalai Lama by knowing his followers whom I cared for. I know the mind of the Prime Minister when an order is transmitted to me from that Office. I know the mind of the US President when I use the military-aid that the US administration has provided to me. It was not capitulation. Both Tibet, and India had desired to resolve the crisis using diplomacy and both of them had good reasons to avoid violence as the first response. When India, and Tibet had joined the US to seek a resolution through armed uprising, China reacted with an act of aggression in 1962. But, China had accomplished the exact opposite of what it intended to achieve by its military adventure. Our Mission at Special Frontier Force continues to be that of evicting the military occupier from the Land of Tibet and I am hopeful that the political momentum will build up again in favor of the use of military action. China would learn the same lesson that Soviets had learned in Afghanistan.
    Major(Retd)R. Rudra Narasimham, AMC/DPC,
    Medical Officer, Est No. 22(1971-1974).


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