The Phantoms of Chittagong
The Rediff Special/ Claude Arpi, 8 January 2003: Bihar is a strange state. Some 2,500 years ago, Gautama Buddha wandered there for more than 80 years, propounding the gospel of love and Ahimsa. At that time, it was the most culturally and politically advanced province of India.
Today, Bihar has become synonymous with backwardness, corruption, illiteracy and more than anything else, dirty politics. What has happened to the state?
One can only conclude that this ‘politics’ has destroyed the dharmic fabric of the region.
Nobody is exempt. The Dalai Lama was recently the object of a personal attack by a few so-called ‘neo-Buddhist monks.’
Bodh Gaya, where after meditating under a pipal tree the Buddha achieved
enlightenment, is gearing up for the Kalachakra sermon. More than 300,000
devotees are expected to attend. While preparations are underway for the
Dalai Lama’s discourse, which will be followed by a public initiation, some
followers of Dr B R Ambedkar (who may not have recognized them as his
disciples) have violently assailed the Tibetan leader. They went so far as
to ask for his expulsion from India.
The neo-Buddhist monks distributed a pamphlet in Hindi, Bharat ki bhoomi par
gair desh ki sarkar (An alien government on the Indian soil) questioning the
logic of the Dalai Lama running a government-in-exile in India. But they are
wrong: India has never recognized the Dalai Lama’s administration as a
government-in-exile. Only once has the Indian government thought of
according official status. After the 1965 war with Pakistan, Lal Bahadur
Shastri informed a representative of the Dalai Lama that after he returned
from Tashkent he would take this decisive step. Unfortunately for the
Tibetans (and for India), the prime minister never returned from Tashkent.
The Dalai Lama’s organization in Dharamsala, known as the Central Tibetan
Administration, is a set up suggested by Nehru during his first meetings
with the Dalai Lama in 1959. The then Indian prime minister, while reviewing
the rehabilitation of Tibetan refugees, made it clear to the Dalai Lama that
the only role India could play was in educating Tibetan children. Since
then, education, health and preservation of religious traditions have been
the CTA’s main objectives. All donations, including $2.25 million from the
US Congress, received through official channels are used for these
Whoever has gone to Dharamsala will acknowledge that the education of the
refugee children is a success story.
Another ludicrous allegation made by the monks is that as ‘the Dalai Lama
heavily depends on security guards for being alive, he can not be accorded
I have never read anywhere that the Tibetan leader pretends to be ‘divine’
(in any case, it is not a very Buddhist term). On the contrary, he has
always emphasized he is an ‘ordinary Buddhist monk.’ The fact he is
protected has no connection with his religious belief or spiritual
India is a ‘secular’ State, at least in the sense that ‘divinity’ is nothing
to do with a threat perception as perceived by intelligence agencies.
The rest of the pamphlet is not worth quoting, mainly saying the Dalai Lama
wants to take over Sikkim with Chinese support. It is too harebrained to be
This vilification campaign raises a more important aspect of the Tibetan
presence in India and their role in supporting India in its hours of
difficulties. Not only have the Dalai Lama and his people never schemed
against this nation, they have always been at the forefront of India’s
struggle for its integrity.
It is a pity certain facts are not well known, if not completely ignored by
the media and Indian public.
Do many in India know that not only did Tibetans participate in the
liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, they were instrumental in the fall of
Some American archives, pertaining to the 1971 war, were declassified
recently. These documents (as well as some earlier transcripts of Henry
Kissinger’s secret negotiations with the Chinese) give a fairly good idea of
Kissinger and his boss President Nixon’s dirty tricks against the Bengalis
and India. But who ever speaks about the role of the unsung Tibetan heroes
of the Special Frontier Forces?
Under the cover of the Mukti Bahini, Tibetans infiltrated East Pakistan
(soon to be Bangladesh) a few weeks before the beginning of the war. They
conducted raids to destroy bridges and communication lines deep inside
Pakistan’s eastern province. The operation was so secret that most generals
of the Indian Army’s Eastern Command in Calcutta did not know about the
activities of 3,000 Tibetans jawans commanded by a Tibetan Dapon (the
equivalent of a brigadier of the Indian Army) who helped the Indian Army
From the day of its inception in November 1962, the Force had been placed
under the Cabinet Secretary, which in fact meant the Indian prime minister.
In 1971, the founder of the Research and Analysis Wing, R N Kao, by-passing
the army, directly sent orders from Delhi to the Tibetan force. It is
unfortunate that Kao recently passed away, taking with him his secrets.
So did Major General S S Uban, the Indian general who founded the SFF (his
designation was inspector general). Though he wrote his memoir The Phantoms
of Chittagong, he only obliquely refers to his troops as Tibetans. In
another book on the 1971 operations, the present governor of Punjab,
Lieutenant General J F R Jacob, then chief of staff, Eastern Command, does
not say anything about the Tibetan prowess.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet the Tibetan Dapon responsible
for the operation, but he was unwilling to speak except in general terms.
An Indian web site [Bharat Rakshak] provides more information on the SFF’s
achievements in Bangladesh: ‘With war right around the corner, the SFF was
given several mission plans, including the destruction of the Kaptai Dam and
other bridges. The Inspector General urged that the SFF be used to capture
Chittagong, but this was found not favourable, since SFF members did not
have artillery or airlift support to conduct a mission of that magnitude.
After three weeks of border fighting, the SFF divided its six battalions
into three columns and moved into East Pakistan on 03 December 1971.’
By the time Pakistan surrendered, the SFF had lost 56 men — nearly 190 were
wounded — but they blocked a potential escape route for East Pakistani
forces into Burma. They also halted members of Pakistan’s 97 Independent
Brigade and 2 Commando Battalion in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
As they did not exist officially for the Government of India, nobody could
be decorated. However, some brave Tibetan commandos were awarded cash prizes
by the Indian government.
It is strange the bona fides of the Tibetan refugees and their dedication to
their country of adoption is now being questioned.
I will not mention all those who lost their lives on the Siachen Glacier and
during the Kargil conflict in 1999. Though the SFF have been replaced in
many high altitude battlefields by the Ladakh Scouts and other local troops
who can acclimatize easily for high altitude warfare, they are ready to
fight and defend India’s frontiers.
When the Indian public gets to know these genuine facts, people are always
deeply touched. I witnessed this recently when some young Tibetan students
from Chennai gave a public performance. At the end they sang a poem written
in Hindi by a Tibetan SFF jawan who had participated in the Kargil
operations. The poet-jawan had written this song of joy, sorrow and emotion
to express his gratitude to his second motherland and to the people of India
who had given refuge, protection and education to his countrymen. Though
Hindi is not the forte of the people of the South, when the students
finished singing many in the audience were crying.
The Dalai Lama is perhaps today the most renowned world leader practicing
compassion and Ahimsa. In 1989, he was rightly awarded the Nobel Peace
Prize, for his three-decade use of non-violence to solve the Tibetan issue.
While actively practicing the Buddha’s teachings, he has always stood by
India, even when it went against his very principles. Is this not the
highest token of his love for his adopted country?
The most well known case is the Pokhran nuclear tests. While the US and
other world powers ordered immediate sanctions against India, the Dalai Lama
declared: ‘I think nuclear weapons are too dangerous. Therefore, we have to
make every effort for the elimination of nuclear weapons. However, the
assumption of the concept that few nations are OK to possess nuclear weapons
and the rest of the world should not — that’s undemocratic… India should
not be pressured by developed nations to get rid of its nuclear weapons.’
That the Dalai Lama understood India’s point of view when the rest of the
world condemned it, even when this stand was diametrically opposite to his
deeper beliefs, proves the caliber of the man who has always termed India
‘Aryabhumi’ and declared that Tibet is a child of India.
Is it not time for India to recognize his genuine contribution to world
peace, universal responsibility and the defense of the highest Indian
spiritual values and confer on him the Bharat Ratna?
That he can today be accused of anti-national sentiment is proof of the rock
bottom level that adharmic politics has reached. Let us hope the prayers for
world peace by devotees in Bodh Gaya will balance this tendency.