New Delhi: As violence escalated in Tibet over the past few days, the Indian government was sending quiet messages to the Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile in Dharamshala, asking Tibetans to refrain from violent protests on Indian soil.
Read: Quick Takes (Graphic)
Meanwhile, India, China, and the Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile largely stuck to their stated positions, although experts are still divided on whether the subtext of the Indian government’s stance will please or displease the country’s northern neighbour.
India’s stance remains that Tibet is part of China and that it will continue to allow the government-in-exile to function out of Dharamshala.
On Wednesday, India’s external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee is likely to make a statement in Parliament, and is expected to say as much.
From the time of Jawaharlal Nehru (who in 1954 stated that Tibet was a “part” of China) to Atal Bihari Vajpayee (in 2003, he declared that the “Tibet Autonomous Region is a part of China’’), political parties across the spectrum have admitted that the Tibetans must make their peace with Beijing.
Mukherjee is expected to reiterate that India, while “distressed’’ by reports of unrest in Tibet, hopes that all sides resolve the problem through dialogue and non-violent means.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who was elected for another five-year term on Sunday by the country’s top legislature, the National People’s Congress, said in a conference that “there is ample fact and we also have plenty of evidence that this incident was organized, premeditated, masterminded and incited by the Dalai clique.”
“Those claims that the Chinese government is engaged in so-called cultural genocide are lies,” he added.
In Dharamshala, the Dalai Lama, who has lived in India since he escaped from Tibet in 1959 in the wake of the Chinese annexation, threatened to step down, “if things become out of control.’’ He also advised Tibetans in India from marching all the way to Lhasa, as they had threatened to (and which India doesn’t want them to). “Will you get independence?” he asked.
“What’s the use?’’
The Dalai Lama’s dilemma has never been so acute, analysts say, pointing out that the Chinese have always refused to even debate the Middle Path model he suggested in 1988, when he abandoned the idea of secession in favour of living within China with cultural and religious freedom.
Lodi Gyari, a close aide of the Dalai Lama, who has been involved in five rounds of talks with the Chinese government, said since July, the Chinese had unilaterally ended the conversation and refused to talk. Describing the situation in Tibet as “fragile’’, Lodi Gyari added that the next few days would show whether Chinese President Hu Jintao, general secretary in charge of Tibet when the last big crackdown took place in 1989, would now allow hardliners to take control or reopen dialogue with the Dalai Lama.
Several analysts say India’s recent statement condemning the violence in Lhasa is significant because it comes in the wake of improving relations with China. In recent months Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have both visited China, and India has a growing $38 billion (Rs1.54 trillion) trade with the country.
Other analysts say India’s response has been measured.
P. Stobdan, a professor at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, said India could have fallen into the Western trap and instigated the Tibetan community in India. Instead, it had sternly told it not to indulge in any violence, he added. “By reminding the Tibetans that they are guests in India, Delhi has developed leverage with the Chinese and should use this leverage in imaginative ways,’’ Stobdan said.
India can ask China to resolve the issue, but it has to do so carefully, said another expert.
Srikanth Kondapalli, chairman of the Centre for East Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said Delhi could argue that because it hosts more than 200,000 Tibetan refugees at some cost, it could not stay uninvolved in the Tibetan story.
“We have a certain say, because there is no way these Tibetan refugees are going back unless things get better in Tibet,’’ Kondapalli added.
However, he added that Delhi’s call for dialogue between the Chinese and the Tibetans needs to be muted, particularly because of India’s own Kashmir situation.
“Imagine if the Kashmiris protest during the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010 and the Chinese comment on that protest,’’ Kondapalli said, pointing out that China had changed its position on pushing for a plebiscite on Kashmir to a peaceful resolution of the issue only by the late 1980s.
He also said India’s position is driven by politics and not business. He added on the Indian side, 60% of the $38 billion trade consisted of raw iron ore, while on the Chinese side, low-end manufactured goods dominated the basket.
“If trade and investment between the two countries was much larger, Indian businessmen may have put much more pressure on the Prime Minister’s Office to tone down the politics,’’ much like US businessmen have done in their country, Kondapalli said.