Tibet And The Price Of Nehru’s Folly

5/8/2017 1:38:15 PM
written By : Prasenjit K Basu Print

In March 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru (then Vice President of the Viceroy’s Executive Council in British India) convened an Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi. Tibet sent a delegation as, among others, did Nepal, Iran, Malaya, Indonesia and two teams from China (one communist, one nationalist). Both Chinese teams objected to the presence of a Tibetan delegation, but Nehru and Patel brushed aside their objections – correctly maintaining that Tibet had always been an independent buffer state in the Himalayas. 

Tibet was once a vastly larger nation, including all of what is now Qinghai province in China, western Sichuan and about a third of what is now Xinjiang (New Frontier in Chinese). The latter made Tibet and Mongolia contiguous, and Tibetans and Mongols developed profound cultural links that persist to this day; the mutually beneficial relationship entailed Tibetans controlling the spiritual sphere while Mongols were responsible for the political/temporal.  A Mongol king first gave Tibet’s spiritual leader the title of Dalai Lama (“Dalai” being a Mongolian word signifying “Ocean of Knowledge”). 

When Kublai Khan conquered Beijing, and defeated the Southern Song to unify the whole of China under the Mongol (Yuen) Dynasty in 1279, a tenuous link was established between Beijing and the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. The link was entirely lost when the Ming dynasty (a genuinely Han Chinese one) ruled China, but was re-established by the Manchu (Qing) dynasty. 

Manchus and Mongols had long ties of kinship and religion, and they both accorded great respect to the Dalai Lama, looking upon Tibetans as their spiritual gurus. The Mongols and Manchus were always seen as foreigners to China, and treated Han Chinese with a degree of contempt (as evident in the shaved heads and ponytails all Han men were obliged to wear by the Manchus). No Han Chinese dynasty (Ming, Tang, Shang, Han) had any links to Tibet, leave alone ruling it, until Mao’s PLA invaded Tibet in October 1950. 

The Manchus had widened their political remit over Tibet, taking greater control over Qinghai (“Inner Tibet”) in order to exert greater control over the warlike Kham Tibetans of that region, who were fierce defenders of their nomadic ways. Such political changes were acceptable to the Tibetan leadership in Lhasa’s Potala because of the mutual respect that existed between Manchus and Tibetans. When the Manchu dynasty fell in 1911, a new agreement on the borders between Tibet, China and British India was required, and the three nations met at Shimla to do so. The Chinese withdrew over disagreements regarding the Tibet-China border (but China has claimed ever since that the McMahon Line between Tibet and India has no validity because of that Chinese withdrawal).  

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