Thursday, 6 April 2017

Weather Gods stand between Dalai Lama and Tawang

The Dalai Lama speaks to a congregation of locals in Dirang on Thursday

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 6th April 17

The weather Gods in Arunachal Pradesh might succeed in what Beijing has failed to do --- preventing His Holiness The Dalai Lama from visiting Tawang during his nine-day tour of Arunachal Pradesh.

If, on Thursday and Friday, heavy snowfall blocks the Dalai Lama from crossing the 13,700 feet-high Sela Pass, through which runs the road from Bomdila and Dirang to Tawang, he might have to drive back to Tezpur without visiting the frontier district that Beijing covets so avidly.

From Tezpur, he would drive to Itanagar to continue his tour of the rest of Arunachal Pradesh.

Weather has played spoilsport since Tuesday, when the Dalai Lama’s scheduled helicopter flight from Guwahati to Tawang was cancelled because of bad weather. That forced the Buddhist leader to drive for seven hours to Bomdila.

Currently in Dirang, the towering Sela Pass and another bumpy, seven-hour drive stands between the Dalai Lama and Tawang. The local Monpa community is also weighing the possibility of the Dalai Lama walking a few kilometres to cross Sela, if the snowfall permits four-wheel-drive vehicles to convey him a substantial way to the pass.

While that would be a dangerous task for an 82-year-old person, locals proudly remind Business Standard of the steeliness of this monk who walked three weeks across the Tibetan plateau in 1959, from Lhasa to the Sino-Indian border, with China’s Red Army on his heels.

Arunachal Pradesh and its political leaders are in combative mood, encouraged by New Delh’s new willingness to eyeball Beijing. Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijuju, who has made a political career of baiting Beijing, twisted around China’s oft-repeated formulation that Taiwan “is an inseparable part of China” to declare that “Arunachal Pradesh is an inseparable part of India and China should not object to [the Dalai Lama’s] visit and interfere in India's internal affairs.”

Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu threw petrol on the flames with his reported statement that his state does not share a border with China, only with Tibet.

On Wednesday, China served a sharp reminder to India that such statements tread on dangerous turf. The foreign ministry spokesperson in Beijing declared: “I would like to reiterate that Tibet-related issues bear on China's core interests.”

In unusually threatening language, the foreign ministry spokesperson warned: “The Chinese side will take necessary means to defend its territorial sovereignty and legitimate rights and interests.”

Earlier on Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry had summoned the Indian envoy to Beijing, Vijay Gokhale, to convey an official diplomatic protest.

While the Dalai Lama has backed India’s claim over Tawang in recent years, this was not always the case. After India’s independent in 1947, one of its first foreign policy acts was to write to the (then independent) government of Tibet in Lhasa, asking it to ratify the Simla Convention, which laid down the McMahon Line as the boundary between Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh (then North East Frontier Agency, or NEFA).

The Tibetan government, headed by the Dalai Lama, however saw the departure of the British from the sub-continent as an opportunity to formally reclaim lost territories --- one of them being Tawang, which the McMahon Line had ceded to the British.

Tibetan claims over Tawang continued even after Communist China invaded Tibet and established Chinese rule over the country in 1950. Only in 1951 did Indian troops enter Tawang and ensure the departure of the Tibetan official who administered the Tawang bowl.

Tibet, therefore, claimed Tawang when it was an independent country. However, the Tibetan government-in-exile’s obligations to India do not permit it to continue with that claim.

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