Saturday, November 14, 2009


China seems to be more afraid of the Dalai Lama than most of us suspect. The Tibetan spiritual leader has been troubling them no end for decades, and their apprehensions are only increasing with every passing day. For those who believe that non-violence is powerless in these times and that without the gun nothing can be achieved, there is no better example than the Dalai Lama of the enormous power that the path of unyielding truth can generate.

Is it not ironical that super power China is today seriously concerned about virtually no one save a monk in ochre robes? With all their nukes and guns and tanks they can pressurise, even defeat, most nations on the battle field. But with what do they fight a man whose only weapon is the truth he speaks and the spiritual power that all can feel but none can see?

At stake is no small piece of land "on which not a blade of grass grows", that can just be written off, Nehru style; the fight is for a vast region the size of Western Europe, a land that was invaded by China's People's Liberation Army in 1950.

For 60 years, China has systematically replaced Tibetan language and culture with Chinese, and attempted to change the demographics of Tibet by pushing in Han Chinese settlers into it. Estimates of the number of Chinese living there now vary widely, due to opaque Chinese administrative structures, but in many cities, including capital Lhasa, they now outnumber Tibetans.

China claims that Tibet is a part of China; Tibetans believe otherwise. Both cite history to support their claims. Be that as it may, the fact is that 60 million Tibetans do not accept that their country is a part of China. In 1912, the 13th Dalai Lama stated that the relationship between the Chinese Emperor and Tibet "had been that of patron and priest" and that Tibet was an independent nation. The present Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 following the Chinese invasion has, however, accepted the reality of Chinese rule and has been demanding genuine autonomy within China, with three conditions: a) Beijing to control only defense and foreign affairs, b) the regions of Kham and Amdo to be added to Tibet and c) Han settlers to leave. For the Chinese, obsessed with total control and Han domination, this is absolutely unacceptable.

But the Dalai Lama cannot be wished away, as China desperately wants. 50 years after he left Tibet, he continues to exercise enormous influence among most Tibetans living not only in Tibet but also in China. It is surprising that communist China has not realised so far is that the more it tries to demonise him to assert its claim over Tibet and justify what it is doing there, the more respected he becomes in the eyes of Tibetans and the more the power that the Tibetan people's undying quest for freedom from its yoke gets.

The Chinese are afraid of this rising non-violent power that, it may be recalled, was seen by the whole world when it erupted suddenly in 2008, despite choking Chinese control. They remember the energy that Mahatma Gandhi unleashed, the undying fire that an incarcerated Nelson Mandela lit. So they are desperate to knock it out, before it is too late. But they just don't have the right tools to do it. So, almost like mindless robots, they continue to repeat the same mantra ever time the Dalai Lama visits a country and is honoured and received with respect by heads of state. The more he travels, the more vicious becomes China's criticism of him; the more China abuses, the greater the honour this holy man of peace receives.

That is probably why China seems to be losing it. Concerned about reports that President Obama will meet the Dalai Lama on his return from a visit to China, it has made an absolutely absurd call to America's first African-American President. It has likened slavery in America to the state of Tibetan society under the Dalai Lama!

"He is a black President and understands the slavery abolition movement." These are not words of Tibetans who want freedom from Chinese occupation and slavery, but of Beijing which wants Obama to buy this ridiculous line and shun the dangerous and "splittist" Dalai Lama. In fact China is even claiming that its stance is like Lincoln's; it too is abolishing slavery in Tibet. If China is to be believed, the Dalai Lama is the racist that the US must shun, and Hans and Tibetans are actually one people!

The US has already yielded to China's pressure. President Obama did not meet the Dalai Lama when he was in the US recently, to avoid annoying the Chinese before his visit to that country. The US may give in even more; supreme national interest and China's growing economic and military might will dictate policy.

Of what use is that awesome power when it comes to tackling a man of God? Communist China has lost its connect with its own spiritual past. It now almost exclusively follows Mao's dictum that "political power grows through the barrel of a gun...whoever has an army has power, for war settles everything." That certainly applies when you deal with nations and people ready to fight you with guns of their own.

But what do you do when someone refuses to pick a gun but also refuses to yield? How do you fight him? The British were not able find out and they left India. The Chinese can also not fight the power of a monk with their might alone. But they can find the answer; they only have to look into their own rich history, the values which they have discarded almost completely. Once they do that, may be they will want to leave Tibet on their own. It is also equally possible that then Tibetans will happily accept being part of China on honourable terms that both have experience of.

One thing is for sure. By continuing to abuse His Holiness the Dalai Lama - he has even been called a "jackal in ochre robes" - China is only accumulating bad karma. It is never going to win over the non-violent people of Tibet or legitimise its oppressive rule over them this way. It has to either annihilate them or yield. The latter will happen; it is only a question of time.


Barkha Dutt spoke to the Dalai Lama after this post was written. Watch him and listen to his words. An illuminating experience:

Readers may also read: China and India: competition of civilisations