India Has Been Over-Cautious: Dalai Lama
(by Soma Wadha | Outlook | November 24, 1997)

The Tibetan cause has assumed new proportions in the world, particularly in the US, which has seen a surge in the support for the Dalai Lama and his movement much to the chagrin of the Chinese government. The appointment of Gregory Craig as special US coordinator for Tibet and his proposed India visit with secretary of state Madeleine Albright have posed some difficult choices for India. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, spoke to Soma Wadhwa for nearly an hour in Dharamsala on Craig's appointment, on his own policies and the Indian government's handling of Tibet and China. Given the tricky arena, he carefully pondered over his answers, which were punctuated by long pauses. Excerpts:

Q: Will you meet Gregory Craig?

A: I am going to Delhi. But my trip was finalised long before Craig's appointment. However, I will meet Craig, though the dates or details have not yet been finalised.

Q: What are your expectations? Is this appointment American tokenism or part of a political process which will see more US intervention?

A: (Long pause) It's a long history. I made up my mind around 1973 that sooner or later I would have to talk to the Chinese government. Then, obviously, the question of complete independence for Tibet would be difficult. Also, China's economic development has been fast and it is becoming clear that Tibet will get material benefits from joining it. "I am not seeking independence for Tibet but genuine self-rule. Craig is to help materialise this and develop a mutual trust between China and Tibet." So my middle-way approach took shape. When in late '78 and early '79 China wanted to contact us, we responded promptly. Since then, the Chinese government's attitude has become harsh and conditions within Tibet worse. So, I have been appealing to the international community to step in and help us. To pursue China and bring them to the negotiating table. Many countries have responded, some publicly and some behind the scenes. They made efforts to initiate the dialogue. Finally, now, the US has appointed a special coordinator for Tibetan affairs. How much he does we will see. I am optimistic. Mainly because China is changing it is today very different from what it was 20 years ago. Also, the Tibetan spirit is very strong (pause). Let's see about the special coordinator. It's too early yet.

Q: Does India need to be apprehensive about the US showing special interest in Tibet?

A: (Pause...laugh) I don't know. It's just the beginning (laughs). I can't say yet what can be done... My approach is the middle-way which means I am not seeking independence for Tibet. I am seeking genuine self-rule in order to preserve Tibetan Buddhist culture. So, the US special coordinator is to help materialise my middle-way approach and to help develop some kind of mutual trust between China and Tibet. So, I wouldn't think India has anything to fear. But if people feel so... it's up to them. I cannot tell people what to feel. It's not my business (laughs).

Q: Does prime minister IK Gujral's policy on China his softer stance on neighbours bother you? Do you feel that he might give in to China more than what the Tibetans would like?

A: I paid a courtesy call on Gujral after he became prime minister and have known him since he was foreign minister. India is an institution. Unlike some other countries where the entire foreign policy depends on one person, India's attitude towards the Tibetan issue will not change (just because of one person). In the fields that the Indian government could do something it has done the maximum: refugee resettlement, preservation of our culture, education. The Indian people are sympathetic and warm towards Tibetans. But with regard to China and the Tibetan question, the Indian government has always been over-cautious. India's basic posture that Tibet is an autonomous part of China is in tune with mine. And no one person can change that.

Q: But what of the criticism in your own community that your middle-way approach is too soft and may cost Tibet its independence?

A: Yes, many Tibetans and some of my Indian friends are very, very critical of me. They are more concerned about the Tibetans' legitimate rights. But I feel national boundaries are not important in today's changing world. Two separate communities can happily join in mutual benefit and one community can be divided if there are no common interests. Whether or not Tibet was an independent country in the past is a matter of the past. I look forward to the future. My critics think emotionally, my approach is more practical and intellectual (guffaws)... Some think it is silly intellectualism....

Q: And yet, a referendum carried out within the exiled Tibetan community seeking their opinion on whether they preferred self-rule, a middle-approach, satyagraha or complete independence had 64.4 per cent saying they would go with anything you decide for them. Is it a burden to be responsible for so many people?

A: Yes, sure. This is blind faith, I don't like it. Only through thorough discussions can the complexities and difficulties of a situation be revealed.

Q: Is that why you have been suggesting a restructuring of the institution of the Dalai Lama's election like the papal election?

A: Oh yes! Since '63 we're determined to work towards democracy. Elected representatives are an important part of democracy. It is not right to depend so heavily on one person. It's very dangerous. If on my way to Delhi I have a road accident then (laughs)... no Dalai Lama. The establishment of a sound democracy in Tibet should happen within my lifetime.

Q: Then, why not accept the 'autonomy' that the Chinese are granting you?

A: The Chinese insist that the Tibetans are already enjoying autonomy (laughs)... On paper we are... but what is it? All the decisions are taken by the Chinese, they hold all the important posts. That is why I insist on 'genuine' autonomy the right of the Tibetans to govern themselves.


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