The Olympic torch arrives in Indian today. The glitterati are split on whether to carry the torch or boycott the ceremony in protest against the repression in Tibet.
Baichung Bhutia, Soha Ali Khan, Kiran Bedi and Sachin Tendulkar have decided to stay away, though each has their own reasons. Aamir Khan will run with the Olympic torch, though the reasons he gives on his blog for doing so are rather weak. “If I am not mistaken, almost all societies have been responsible for human rights violation either directly or indirectly, sometimes in seen ways and sometimes in unseen ways, sometimes physically, sometimes economically.” That is trying to equate the organized repression of a non-violent movement with other types of state action. No state is perfect, but some are less perfect than others.
China is not usually receptive to international pressure. It had few qualms about dealing with the murderous warlords of Darfur. But the Olympic Games are a different matter altogether. China sees it as its grand coming out party, when it showcases its economic and sporting might to the rest of the world. This is the time when it will not want trouble, when it will want to put on its best behaviour and try to impress the world. The Tibetans realize this.
We have few illusions. A few protests on the streets of New Delhi and a few press statements are unlikely to change the nature of the Communist regime in Beijing, any more than the Western boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980 made the Soviets withdraw from Afghanistan. Nor will the UK pull its troops out of Iraq because it will host the Olympics in London in 2012. (Few remember today that the 1956 games in Melbourne were boycotted by some West European countries in protest against the Soviet invasion of Hungary and by a few Asian and African countries because of the invasion of the Suez Canal by British troops.)
The government is duty- bound to ensure that there is no trouble. But private citizens have a choice. A few moments of solidarity with the Tibetans could rattle China just a bit. It is a gesture — though perhaps only a weak one — in support of the Tibetans.
Will China be more open to international persuasion in an Olympic year? Write to us at email@example.com