The peal of spring thunder over Tibet is likely to die out soon. China, which never lost its grip over the restive province, is likely to tighten its hold even more. What is being witnessed is a battle of attrition in which Tibetans are on the losing side, as they ever have been in their history.
Since the protests began on 10 March, some 80 people have lost their lives (China says 13). The protests that began in Lhasa have fanned to other centres of Tibetan concentration in Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan provinces. The geographic spread of the protests should leave no one in doubt about Tibetans yearning for cultural space, if not independence from China.
It’s evident that China’s “nationalities policy” that aimed at integration of culturally distinct provinces such as Tibet and Sinkiang has not worked. The flaw lies in trying to erode these cultures and overcoming resistance by providing economic incentives and opportunities in these provinces and elsewhere.
At the same time, the Tibetan “independence” movement has showed marked incompetence since it began in 1959, when the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India. Tibetan leaders assumed that involving the international community in their fight against China would do the trick. It has not and will not. No independence movement has succeeded by relying on such a strategy alone. In Tibet, where the action ought to be, China has “pacified” all opposition. Sporadic protests cannot replace systematic resistance. Unsurprisingly, the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan leadership have successively watered down the demand from independence to autonomy to mere cultural freedom.
The situation has Indian policymakers in a jam; there is a groundswell of support for the Tibetan cause (in Parliament, for example), but the official line is cautious. The problem is where (and how) to draw a line between support for Tibet and interfering in China’s internal affairs, more so when India has been trying to mend fences with China. Yet, there is no way out of the problem but for China to engage in a dialogue with the Dalai Lama. The problem is how to make the Chinese understand that. Unless that is done, fires will ignite again in the future. The challenge for India is how to tread the fine line.
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