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I was at the Ashoka Hall of Rashtrapati Bhavan where Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu was given the Gandhi Peace Prize. In his acceptance speech he praised Mahatma Gandhi and India for all that they did for South Africa to win independence. Towards the end of his speech he said he wanted India to help Tibet get freedom and Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma (Myanmar) her liberty. He was careful not to mention China in the first case and the military junta in Burma in the second. 


Apparently, Tutu’s reference to Tibet, more of wishful thinking, frightened New Delhi. I saw Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon scurrying about at the reception which followed the prize function. My hunch is that he rushed from the nearby foreign office to arrange for an immediate disclaimer with the concurrence of Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee who was at the reception.

A short statement by the Ministry of External Affairs said: “It (India) recognises one China and treats Desmond Tutu’s remarks as personal.”

Of course, they were personal because he does not officially represent his country, South Africa. But his remarks reflect certain values with which India is associated. These are the values which guided Jawaharlal Nehru to give the Dalai Lama shelter in India, knowing well that it would one day cost the country dearly.

China’s annoyance with India began from that time and the 1962 hostilities were the fallout. I do not know what was the hurry to issue the clarification within minutes of Tutu’s remarks?

All know India’s position. It has stated many a time before, particularly the pronouncement that it has accepted the suzerainty of China over Tibet. Beijing knows that New Delhi has never helped Tibet in its struggle which still continues. Then where was the need for a clarification? It indicates fear, not an apprehension of misunderstanding. If after striking the rapprochement, India had to hurry with the disclaimer it means that the relationship is still one-sided. The release of old papers by China at this time to allege that India fired the first shot in the 1962 war shows that Beijing wants masters, not friends.

The Manmohan Singh government should know that Dalai Lama has himself changed his stand from independence to autonomy. What he wants is autonomy within China.

The January issue of News from China, an official publication of Beijing, has described Lhasa as the capital of Tibet, “an autonomous region.”

There seems to be some common ground. The talks which the Dalai Lama’s representative is presently holding with China are reportedly on the question of autonomy, not freedom. Why should India feel nervous if someone, not even the government’s representative, wishes New Delhi to help Tibet in its struggle for an identity?

In fact, I was impressed by the Dalai Lama’s address to the Tibetans at the Buddhist conference in Delhi the other day. He exhorted them to learn Chinese, the language which he said they would be using in Tibet.

The Dalai Lama’s was a Gandhian approach which China does not appreciate today but will do so tomorrow.

I am worried about the extent to which New Delhi is going to placate Beijing on the border question.

National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan said the other day that they were discussing Arunachal. Where does Arunachal come into the picture? That is our territory. The Dalai Lama who should know has also testified so in a recent statement. By all means, we should be flexible in measuring claims and counter-claims. But we should not entertain claims on the territory which is ours and beyond question.

In contrast to the clarification on Tibet, New Delhi was mum about the Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Is it because Myanmar is nowhere near China in power? In fact, Myanmar is wanted more than China to defeat the hostile Nagas, the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and such other elements operating from Myanmar or near its territory.

Delhi has tried to befriend Myanmar even at the expense of its image.

At one time India was in the forefront of struggle for Aung Kyi’s freedom. She represented democracy and her detention was a challenge to the world’s conscience, so said New Delhi. But now it has changed its tune because the security forces feel that Myanmar has to be won to quell the insurgency in the northeast.

Aung Kyi has been dropped like a hot potato and New Delhi’s new love is the military junta in that country. Its top leaders have been invited to India and given a red carpet reception.

Top Indian officials have gone to Myanmar. Pranab Mukherjee was there recently and reportedly promised to supply arms to the junta.

It is sad that New Delhi should be doing so in the year when it is celebrating the birth centenary of Mahatma Gandhi’s satyagraha, an enunciation of truth and values. Aung Kyi has been suffering all by herself for years. If there is any country which should have stayed by her all through, it is India. It is a pity that it has jettisoned her. But then, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh admitted at the function, “Few of us have had the courage to practise what Gandhiji preached.”

How New Delhi lives in fear is clearer from the observation by America’s envoy to India, David Mulford. He has said that the US will be following Mukherjee’s visit to Iran “with interest” for any violation of its legislation — the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act 1996. “They should be aware of it,” Mulford says.

Under the act, the US government is required to penalise any foreign firm that invests more than $40 million in the energy sector of either country. Whether or not America does invoke the closure is not pertinent as its ambassador’s statement from the Indian soil itself. We had the British viceroys when we were ruled by London. Now we have the American ambassadors who behave like the viceroys when we are our own masters. Let’s watch what the US does now that Mukherjee has visited Tehran.

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