by T.G. Arya*
On 29 May 2020, during a nationally televised debate on the Indo-China border face-off, Phunchok Stobdan, a former Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic, made an unnecessary and crudely-worded assault on His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The nature of the attack and the manner in which it was made has shocked diplomats and scholars and has hurt the sentiments not just of Tibetans inside and outside Tibet, but also Ladakhis and Buddhists around the world.
Dr. Lobsang Sangay, the President of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), issued a statement saying that P. Stobdan’s comment on His Holiness the Dalai Lama was deplorable and out of context. “President Dr Sangay further added that those sharing the views of P Stobdan are marginal and the majority of the people in Ladakh deeply revere His Holiness as their most beloved spiritual and moral leader.”1
Many Ladakhis came out in a strong protest against P. Stobdan, for his disrespectful remarks and blasphemy against Tsawai Lama, the spiritual guru. “Major associations in Ladakh such as Ladakh Buddhist Association, All Ladakh Gompa Association, LBA Youth Wing and Women Wing, The Thiksey and Diskit monasteries, Muslim association in Leh as well as the Anjuman Jamiat-ul-Ulama Isna Ashriya Muslim association in Kargil, Likir Monastery Gaden Dhargyas Ling, the Merchant Association of Leh, Office of the Nambardar Spituk, President Kunfan Deytsogs Tsgospa Spituk and ‘Leh Phung Do’ Nambardars and Lower Leh Nambardars (village leaders) in Leh, D.L. Pethub Khangtsen Education Society in Leh, Galdan Targaisling Cultural & Welfare Society Pethup Gonpa in Leh, Dre-Lukhil Khangtsen Education Society and Ngari Institute of Buddhist Dialectics have issued statements in contempt of the remarks.”2
The associations and the monasteries had also demanded an “unconditional apology” from Stobdan3. Feeling great pressure from all corners, P. Stobdan gave an apology through a video message and a short note as follows:
“In the wake of Chinese intrusion in Eastern Ladakh from early this month, I have been requested by several national and international media channels to give my expert comments. As an authority on national security issues, I have been making several geopolitical comments on the defense of Ladakh land and the nation. These are my personal views on the issue and do not reflect the opinion of any organisation or society. H.H the Dalai Lama is our supreme religious head who I deeply revere. I have attended several teachings, including Kalachakra initiations by him. Therefore, there is no question of profaning him from the spiritual angle. These are purely expert geopolitical comments pertaining to the border-standoff with China. However, if the sentiments of some people are hurt by my comments, I deeply extend apology.”4
Although the manner of the speech on national television, the anger, and the facial contortion are all scarcely befitting of any scholar or security expert’s demeanour, Buddhism has taught us to forgive and forget. After all, the point of contention is Chinese border incursion, and India and Tibetans have a common interest in this fight against Chinese aggression.
However, P. Stobdan has later given an interview to The Print, an Indian online newspaper. This interview betrays the reason behind the hateful speech against His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The reason cited reveals P. Stobdan’s anti-Dalai Lama and anti-Tibetan refugee stance, which he has elaborated in detail in his book, The Great Game in the Buddhist Himalayas. He said, “Ladakh is not Tibetan or Chinese land, this is India’s land. If Tibetan government is in exile, then what are they doing in Ladakh? Ladakh belongs to the Ladakhis and India, and there can be no compromise.”5
Such statements are deplorable, divisive and dangerous. It is like playing into the hands of the Chinese Communist regime, i.e. creating misinformation, confusion and division, and finally attacking when the internal discord is at the peak. It is the Chinese who invaded Tibet, now they are after Ladakh and other border areas of India. It is preposterous to think that Tibetans are claiming Ladakh. It is the Chinese Communist regime that we should be wary of, not the Tibetan Administration in exile! What genuine security expert could think of such a false notion!
At this difficult time of the Chinese Coronavirus pandemic and the aggressive border intrusions, we all need to unite and fight together for our common cause. Instead of attacking the big bully China, P. Stobdan blames His Holiness the Dalai Lama for bringing the Chinese at the border, that too in very coarse and defamatory language. Such unfounded views and accusations from a former diplomat and a scholar are bound to create misunderstanding and division, and it will adversely affect our joint capacity to ward off the Chinese aggression. This is against the national interest of India and the Tibetans. Should there be any infighting, it will only make China happy and render India’s border more vulnerable.
His article, “Ladakh concern overrides LAC dispute” in The Tribune, drags the Fifth Dalai Lama [1617-1682 CE] into the dispute and smears him6. In his book, he writes, “The Tibetan presence in the Himalayan region cannot be dismissed as a mere political incident. It is the result of a brilliant strategy and flawless execution of China’s strategy.”7
Rather than challenge the enemy at the border, P. Stobdan wants to divert India’s attention to a falsified history and prove who has brought the Chinese at the borders! Let me briefly dwell on history and see if it is anyone’s brilliant strategy.
Tibet has been an independent nation since ancient times. India and Tibet shared a long historical, religious and cultural relationship. The long borders between the two nations have been among the most peaceful borders in the world. According to the ancient Indian Rigveda and Atharvaveda, Tibet is Trivistapa8 [the heavenly abode], with the Mount Kailash as the center or navel of the earth, the abode of Lord Shiva and Parvati. Tibetans look at India as Aryabhumi, a holy land, blessed by Lord Buddha and many renowned masters. This sacred bond is the background of Indo-Tibet’s relationship since ancient times.
In 1949, the Chinese Communist Party took over China, established the People’s Republic of China and it began to assert its claim on Tibet. When Tibet refused to join the Republic, China sent 40,000 armed troops to Eastern Tibet, invaded the region and threatened to enter Lhasa forcefully. Being a Buddhist and peaceful nation, Tibet had no arms and ammunitions to confront the Chinese machine guns and artillery. The young Dalai Lama and his cabinet members fervently sought help from India and the international community, to intervene and stop the Chinese occupation. But no help came. China forced Tibet to sign the 17-point agreement and took over Tibet. Continued silence from the international community further emboldened China to violate the agreement and commit genocide in Tibet. This culminated in the 10 March 1959 Tibetans’ national uprising, which was brutally crushed and resulted in the loss of many lives. His Holiness the Dalai Lama escaped Tibet to India, followed by some 80,000 Tibetans. This is Tibetan’s refugee story. Does anyone see any conspiracy in this by His Holiness the Dalai Lama with China against India?
Mao had said the occupation of Tibet is a must; Tibet is like a palm of a hand, a very strategic place. From there, through the five fingers of Nepal, Ladakh, Arunachal, Bhutan and Sikkim, China can control other regions. An attempt to realize this is what we are seeing now.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama always says, “India is our guru and Tibetans are the chela, that too a very reliable chela.” On countless occasions, on numerous domestic and global platforms, he has appreciated and thanked India for all the help extended to the Tibetan community, and said he considers himself “a son of India”. One of his four major commitments is to promote and preserve the teachings of the ancient Indian Nalanda masters. To question His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s integrity and loyalty, in such a twisted fashion, is like profaning the sacred bond that Indians and Tibetans have shared since ancient times.
If any doubt still persists, please refer to the CTA’s President Dr. Lobsang Sangay’s statement where he has made clear that Ladakh, Arunachal and Sikkim are part of India.9
With due respect to P. Stobdan for his expertise in geopolitics and national security, I request him not to attempt to severe this ancient sacred bond between India and Tibet, for reasons known best only to him. We should instead unite and fight the aggressor at the borders. If he still wants to go back to history, let me conclude with what Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, the father of the Indian Constitution, has said:
“Instead of according recognition to China in 1949, had India accorded this recognition to Tibet, there would have been no Sino-Indian border conflict. By letting China take control over Lhasa, we have in a way helped the Chinese to bring their armies on the Indian borders.”10
* Tsewang Gyalpo Arya is Director of Tibet Policy Institute, Dharamshala. Disclaimer: The views expressed above are author’s own.
7 Phunchok Stodan, The Great Game in the Buddhist Himalayas, p-xii
8 Mathan, Journal of Social & Academic Activism, Jan-Mar 2020 issue, p-20
10 Indian Leaders on Tibet, India Tibet Coordination Office, p-25-26