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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Buddha’s not smiling

February 2, 2011

Hindustan Times
February 01, 2011

‘Is the Karmapa a Chinese spy?’ ‘Is the possible successor to the Dalai
Lama a Chinese mole?’ ‘Is this another clever ploy of China to take
control of the border regions?’ The media have gone berserk with
speculations about the Karmapa Lama. Sadly, the coverage has failed to
do any groundwork

research. This episode not only exposes the way the Indian media works
but also jolts the Tibetan faith in Indian democracy and harms India’s
long-term interests in Tibet.

The police raid found a few crore rupees worth of cash. At most, this
may be a case of financial irregularity or non-transparent dealings by
the managers of the Karmapa’s monastery for which they should be held
accountable. Raising questions about a person being a spy for another
country is a serious matter. It destroys his or her reputation. The news
stories reflect a witch-hunt and betray the lack of an understanding of
Tibetan life in India.

Ogyen Trinley Dorje is the 17th Karmapa, the oldest lineage in Tibetan
Buddhism and the head of the Karma Kagyu sect. He is one of the rare
lamas recognised by both the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government.
There is nothing conspiratorial about it. Throughout the 1980s and early
1990s, China was more accommodative of Tibet-based religious figures,
consulting and coordinating the choice of reincarnations with the Dalai
Lama and other lamas in exile. This accommodativeness came to an end
with the crisis over the Panchen Lama’s reincarnation in 1995.

The Karmapa’s selection after the demise of the 16th Karmapa was not
without its own controversy as there is a rival candidate, Trinley Thaye
Dorje, who had the backing of a senior Karma Kagyu figure, the Shamarpa.
The Shamarpa is reputed to have close connections within the Indian
security establishment and bureaucracy. But most Tibetans have accepted
the Dalai Lama’s choice. In fact, within China-controlled Tibet,
veneration for the Karmapa is next only to that of the Dalai Lama. Even
within the Gelug (the sect of the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama)
monasteries in Tibet, one comes across the Karmapa’s picture and it is
clear that for ordinary Tibetans, the Karmapa’s proximity to the Dalai
Lama adds to his sacredness.

It is true that the Karmapa has avoided making anti-China political
statements and Beijing has therefore not denounced him. Again, there is
nothing suspicious about this. The Chinese had refused to openly
criticise even the Dalai Lama in 1959 until he made a public statement
after his exile. Beijing does not want to denounce the Karmapa and thus
contribute to the creation of another globally recognised figurehead
around which the Free Tibet movement will mobilise. Moreover, in recent
history, Karmapas have avoided overly political positions since in the
traditional Tibetan State, the Gelug sect was dominant. By focusing
solely on religious affairs, the present 17th Karmapa is following the
footsteps of his previous reincarnation.

It is unfortunate that without appreciating the nuances of sectarian
politics within Tibetan Buddhism and Sino-Tibetan relations, the Indian
media portrayed the Karmapa’s apolitical stance as suspicious.
Continuing speculation about the Karmapa’s escape from Tibet in 1999
reminds me of a Japanese conspiracy theory film where the filmmaker
argued that he was ‘sent’ to Sikkim to get control over the ‘Black Hat’
kept in Rumtek monastery in Sikkim. Interestingly, this film was given
to me in Beijing!

Decades of repression during the Cultural Revolution has not been able
to shake the belief that Tibetans have in their lamas. The Indian
media’s onslaught on the Karmapa will only reaffirm Tibetan respect for
the Karmapa. But it will certainly backfire for India as followers of
Tibetan Buddhism in exile, in the border regions, in Tibet and in the
rest of the world, will resent this humiliation of the religious figure.
Had it been the Shahi Imam or Baba Ramdev, would the media have taken
such liberties in going to town with such an unconfirmed story?

Hardline officials in China must be laughing their heads off at the
Indian media circus. They know that this will not only create confusion
in the exiled Tibetan community in India, but will also create a
disenchantment about India among Tibetans inside China. India has let
the Tibetans down on many occasions since the late 1940s when the latter
sought help and support in making their claims for independence
internationally and in 1954 when the Panchsheel agreement was signed
with China over the old Tibetan State. India has provided refuge to more
than 100,000 Tibetan exiles. But we must not forget that the exiled
lamas provide a stability and keep the people in the borderlands
pacified in a manner more effective than the Indian military. Tibetans
are over-generous with their gratitude to their Indian hosts and are
hesitant in reminding India of a small inconvenient truth: until 1951,
the disputed border regions were neither Chinese nor Indian but Tibetan.
In return, the very least Indians could do is not malign Tibetan
religious leaders before they are even proved guilty of their
misdemeanour. Is that too much to ask?

Dibyesh Anand is an associate professor of international relations at
Westminster University, London and the

author of Tibet: A Victim of Geopolitics

The views expressed by the author are personal
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