Tuesday, September 4, 2012





The rumblings from the Tibetan areas of China continue. The more the Chinese suppress, the more the Tibetans protest. The more the Chinese demonise His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the more the Tibetans respect him. The more the Chinese flaunt the economic progress made by the Tibetan areas under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the more the Tibetans long for His Holiness.

2. The Chinese recently took the CPC appointed Panchen Lama, who normally lives in Beijing under heavy security, on his annual one month, CPC-sponsored exposure to the Tibetan people. He camped in Lhasa under the protection of the PLA and was taken round the various monasteries where the influence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama continues to be strong.

3. The Chinese hopes that the Tibetan people would start venerating the CPC-sponsored Panchen Lama were belied. His presence in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and his visits to the monasteries were tom-tomed by the Party and Government-controlled media. There was hardly any excitement in the Tibetan areas.

4. News of the sermons and travels of His Holiness the Dalai Lama outside Tibet in his political and religious exile evoke greater interest and greater excitement among the Tibetans in the TAR, Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan than the sermons and activities of the Panchen Lama.

5. In desperation, the Chinese have been trying to prevent news of the sermons and activities of His Holiness from reaching the Tibetans in China. They have stopped allowing the re-entry of Tibetans who go to Nepal and India to attend the religious meetings of His Holiness. They are trying to find out how news about the happenings in the Tibetan areas travel to the outside world almost the same day and is broadcast by Radio Free Asia, the radio station funded by the US State Department.

6.The Internet has been censored and blocked. Mobile telephone services have been vigorously controlled. The Tibetans have been denied access to social media networks. Despite this, news continues to trickle out and trickle in. There is a two-way trickle which the Chinese intelligence agencies have not been able to identify and stop.

7. The chain of self-immolations continues---mostly in the Tibetan areas of Sichuan, but increasingly in Qinghai and Gansu too. The total number of fatal self-immolations since March of last year crossed 50 last week.The Chinese do not know how to stop it. Their intelligence agencies have not been able to profile Tibetans who are likely to commit self-immolation.

8. There has been no flow of intelligence from the Tibetan community about plans for self-immolation. Arrests and severe punishments to Tibetan bystanders who do not stop the self-immolation attempts have not worked.

9. There have been more raids and more arrests. The Kirti monastery of Sichuan, where the self-immolations started last year, was raided once again last week and the monk inmates subjected to intimidatory  questioning. The Zilkar monastery in the Qinghai province was raided on September 1 and four of the monks there were taken away for custodial interrogation.

10. Reliable sources report that one question the Chinese security officials have been posing to every Tibetan interrogated by them is: How does the news travel to the Dalai Lama? How does the news travel from the Dalai Lama?

11. The Chinese are confused. Despite their denying the Tibetans easy access to modern means of communication, news continues to travel and travel fast. There have been reports of large-scale preventive arrests in the Lhasa region. The trouble has till now been confined to the Tibetan areas of Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu. The Tibetan areas of Sichuan continue to be the epicentre of the wave of self-immolations.

12. Though the TAR has not yet been affected in a big way by the self-immolation movement, it is becoming the epi-centre of the Gandhian type satyagraha practised by the Lakhar movement, which is a Tibetan self-identity movement which tells the people: Be Tibetan, Eat Tibetan, Dress Tibetan, Speak Tibetan, Live Tibetan, venerate His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

13. The recent arrests in the Lhasa region were meant to stifle the Lhakar movement. The Chinese have not succeeded.

14. There is a protest chakra going on in the Tibetan areas of China. The more the protests, the more the suppression. The more the suppression, the more the protests.

15. It is a new type of protest movement, the like of which Tibet has not seen before. Self-motivated, self-induced, self-driven with no identifiable leaders and organisational structure behind it. It is kept sustained not by anger but by the pride of the Tibetans in themselves, their culture, their religion, their traditions, their heritage, their guru.

16. Despite their most brutal suppression, the Chinese have not been able to destroy the pride and hopes that continue to drive the movement. Today, the odds seem heavily against the Tibetans.

17. So they did against Mahatma Gandhi in the 1920s and against Nelson Mandela in the 1970s and the early 1980s. And then the odds turned in their favour. Brutal suppression failed to prevail.

18. Can history repeat itself in the Tibetan areas of China? ( 5-9-12)

(The  writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com  Twitter @SORBONNE75)




If the political parties in Tamil Nadu do not conduct themselves with a sense of balance and responsibility and indulge in competitive exploitation of the discontent in certain sections of the population over Sri Lanka-related issues, they may end up by creating passions beyond control in both countries.

2. All right-thinking Tamils should be concerned over the acts of anger directed against two football teams of Sri Lankan students in Chennai and against Sri Lankan Christian pilgrims in southern Tamil Nadu in recent days. This resulted in the football teams having to go back to Sri Lanka and in anxieties over physical security among the pilgrims. There is a reason to suspect that some of these incidents were more politically-orchestrated than spontaneous expression of anger by the local people against the Sri Lankans.

3. There is a genuine anger among sections of the people of Tamil Nadu against the Sri Lankan Government over the following aspects of its policies towards the Sri Lankan Tamils:

( a ).The lack of progress in finding a political solution to the aspirations of the Tamils.

( b ).The   lack of a sincere enquiry into the death of a disproportionate number of Tamils during the last hours of the Sri Lankan Army’s assault to kill Prabhakaran, the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and capture  the LTTE headquarters thereby defeating the LTTE’s insurgency.

( c ). The perceived use of disproportionate force by the Sri Lankan Navy against Indian Tamil fishermen who mistakenly fish in Sri Lankan waters, leading to frequent deaths of our fishermen.

4. This anger has been turned by the local political parties against the Government of India also for the following reasons:

( a ). The perceived reluctance of New Delhi to exercise adequate pressure on President Mahinda Rajapaksa to make him fulfil his commitments to the Tamils and the Government of India on their political future and  protect our fishermen.

( b ). The unwillingness of the Government of India to take any punitive action against the Sri Lankan Government by way of suspending the military-military relationship between the Armed Forces of the two countries. Under this relationship, officers of the Sri Lankan Armed forces are permitted to join training courses in different training institutions of our Armed Forces.

5.In view of the forthcoming elections to the Lok Sabha in 2014, there has been a competitive exploitation of all these  issues by  many of the political parties including the ruling AIDMK and the opposition DMK in the hope of winning poll dividends.

6. The anger, which was initially against the Sri Lankan Government, has been turned into anger against the Sri Lankan people, mainly Sinhalese, coming to Tamil Nadu for private reasons such as pilgrimage, tourism, sports etc. Fortunately, till now, the exploited anger has not led to any untoward  incident of violence against the Sinhalese. If the temptation to politically exploit this anger by different parties is not resisted, there is a danger of a backlash by the Sinhalese against the Indian nationals ( not necessarily only against the Sri Lankan Tamils) working in Sri Lanka.

7. In recent years, India’s economic relations with Sri Lanka have considerably improved and a number of Indian companies have established their branches in Sri Lanka. There has also been an increase in the number of Indian Tamil tourists visiting Sri Lanka. If there is a backlash against  them, we might be faced with a vicious circle of ethnic violence in the two countries.

8. There never was much popular support for the LTTE in Tamil Nadu. Nor were there strong feelings of solidarity between the people of Tamil Nadu and the Sri Lankan Tamils living in refugee camps in Tamil Nadu. When the LTTE was defeated by the Sri Lankan Army and Prabhakaran killed in May,2009, the reactions among the people of Tamil Nadu were fortunately low.

9. If a politically-motivated attempt is made now to rouse the feelings of the people of Tamil Nadu over the attitude of the Sri Lankan Government towards the Sri Lankan Tamils, the resulting passions may take unpredictable shape.

10. The Government of India finds itself in a dilemma. The protection of the people of Sri Lanka visiting Tamil Nadu is the responsibility of the Government of Tamil Nadu. The Government of India cannot act unilaterally in the matter. In view of the 2014 elections, no party is prepared to adopt a reasonable attitude. Even the DMK, which supports the Dr.Manmohan Singh Government in the Centre, has joined the anti-Sri Lanka campaign in Tamil Nadu unmindful of the difficulties of New Delhi.

11. The Government of India is not in a position to exercise adequate pressure on the Rajapaksa Government either on the issue of the political future of the Sri Lankan Tamils or for the protection of our fishermen. Nor is it in a position to force the Government of Sri Lanka to hold an enquiry into the violation of the human rights of the Sri Lankan Tamils.

12. In view of the strong political and economic support for Sri Lanka from China and Sri Lanka’s developing relations with Pakistan, we do not have much of a card for coercive diplomacy against Colombo. The Government of India has to do  the best of a bad bargain.

13. The dilemma  faced by the Government of India  is partly the result of its failure to foresee and pre-empt the politically caused emotions with an eye on the 2014 elections. Unless it persuades the ruling ADMK to tone down any politicisation of the problem, the DMK, its ally, is unlikely to co-operate with it. It would not like to be projected by the ADMK as not being supportive enough of the Sri Lankan Tamils and our fishermen.

14. The only way of dealing with this issue is through a possible  quid  pro quo by conceding the demands of the Tamil Nadu Government in other matters not having an impact on our foreign policy in return for its giving up its present policies relating to Sri Lankans.

15. To address the sensitivities of the Tamil Nadu Government, the Government of India could also modify its policy in relation to the training of Sri Lankan Armed Forces officers in our training Institutions. In future, training slots could be offered to the Sri Lankan Armed Forces only in respect of those courses where the training is imparted in institutions outside Tamil Nadu.

16. This is a tricky political matter to which a solution based on an all-party consensus with the political parties of Tamil Nadu has to be found by our Prime Minister asserting his authority and taking the necessary initiative. His  reluctance or inability to exercise authority could make the situation messier. ( 4-9-12)

(The  writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com  Twitter @SORBONNE75)