The Dalai Lama factor has caused the Buddhist Himalayas to be in a state of flux, especially in the current context of India-China relations, says former diplomat Phunchok Stobdan. The Tibet issue obliviously acts like a double-edged sword for parties playing the Himalayan game and it is time for New Delhi to play the reverse game and seek its own glacis in Tibet rather than let China realise its game plan in the Himalayas, he suggests.
In his new book, "The Great Game in the Buddhist Himalayas: India and China's Quest for Strategic Dominance", Stobdan says for all practical purposes, Tibet's problems seem to have become India's and this does not portend well unless New Delhi has thought up a contingency plan. The Dalai Lama, who has turned 84, had recently expressed his wish to return home but China has not responded to him. To build further pressure on China, he has threatened to be reborn in India.
"Undoubtedly, India has invested a lot in Tibet and that cannot be allowed to go waste. Thousands of powerful lamas and leaders have been sheltered and nurtured in India. However, the pattern of these people settling down in the southern Himalayan ranges and building mega infrastructure with dubious funds from outside the country cannot be allowed to continue endlessly," he writes. The book, published by Penguin Random House India, tries to deal with the complexities of the Buddhist Himalayas - the interplay between religion and politics, the sectarian divides, the historical turning or rift points, and the Himalayan linkages with Tibet - from a geopolitical perspective only.
It also tries to take into consideration the overriding power of the conflicting cultural interests that are linked to the geopolitical interests of both China and India. At the same time, it suggests how Buddhism could become a potential source for recultivating awareness towards an India-China congruity in the current context. Stobdan, who served as India's ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic, argues that the long-term presence of Tibetan refugees in India and the future of the institution of the Dalai Lama have created a sense of uncertainty.
"The Dalai Lama has already indicated that he would possibly take his next rebirth in India. Even for the main stakeholder, the US, to play Tibet politics, requires controlling the Tibetan leader's next reincarnation. This would mean the Tibetan issue will continue to create a situation to make the Himalayan region a bigger geopolitical tinderbox," he says. "In the process, India's own Buddhist institutions are speedily undermined to the detriment of India's interest. This is where China would try to win both the Tibetan and the Buddhist Himalayan game," he claims.
However, Stobdan feels in the current situation, India seems to lacks sufficient wherewithal to understand the critical interplay between Buddhism and the Himalayas, and this has weighed heavily on the minds of the Dalai Lama and his government-in-exile. "Of late, the 'Tibet card' is being redefined, albeit on the grounds of Buddhist diplomacy," he says.
Stobdan terms India's Tibet policy as "flawed" and claims this may have already strengthened the Chinese position. "Instead, the Chinese may have adopted a reverse-strategic-depth policy by leveraging the critical interplay between Tibetan Buddhism and the Indian Himalayan belt." The history of India's adoption of myopic thinking on the Tibet issue had its genesis much before the arrival of the Dalai Lama in India in 1959, he argues.
"The historians point to official records of Tibetans applying for Indian citizenship in the 1950s showing a bureaucratic shorthand in which markers of allegiance viz. 'Buddhist' and 'Communist' became synonymous with the territorial markers 'Tibetan' and 'Chinese', wherein 'incoming Tibetan monks were required to prove that they had 'Buddhist leanings' and were 'opposed to Communism'," he writes. He terms this as probably the "narrowest approach India could have adopted that defined the course of events, eventually to the detriment of India's own policy failure".
According to Stobdan, the most galling aspect in India has been the absence of a counter-strategy for reversing the game. On the India-China boundary issue, he says it has its genesis in their past colonial and imperial histories but neither country wants differences over the border to escalate into disputes.
The author also says that the Dalai Lama has been playing Tawang as a card, which he uses both vis-a-vis China and India. Upon reaching India, he refused to recognise India's sovereignty over Tawang and Arunachal Pradesh. After four decades of his stay in India, the Dalai Lama, while touring Tawang in 2003, said, 'Arunachal Pradesh was actually part of Tibet.' From India's perspective, Tawang and its estate tenants had been legally incorporated into India after the signing of the 1914 Simla Convention.
(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)