Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Assets as enemies

Assets as enemies: "China gains the most by the mishandling of the Karmapa Lama affair, argues N.V.Subramanian.

16 February 2011: In these post-post-Cold-War times when religious sensitivities and perceived persecutions have explosively combined with nationalism and worsened, in some cases, strategic rivalries, it is amazing and self-destructive that India has made such a grotesque mess of the Karmapa Lama affair.

It has been alleged since at least 2000 when the Karmapa Lama fled to India that he is a Chinese agent. This writer is in no position to confirm or reject this. But the manner of his investigation for possessing large sums of foreign currency/ owning benami lands accompanied by leaks from Indian security agencies and loose talk by the Himachal Pradesh chief minister have the potential to damage the Indo-Tibetan equation to the sole benefit of China.

Indeed, the damage already may have been done.

That China is active amongst the Tibetan community in India is no secret. With the world's fastest-growing and second-largest economy, China will do everything to protect and preserve its strategic rise. Tibet, the Uyghur question and Taiwan constitute its biggest sores: what it calls its core concerns. On a recent visit to the US, the otherwise defensive Chinese president, Hu Jintao, refused to back down on China's core interests.

It is reasonable to assume that India intelligence is fairly on top in regard to Chinese penetration in India and especially among the Tibetan community. It is possible to get paranoid about it but it is not helpful when political parties joined by the business press take up cudgels on behalf of Chinese PLA front companies. Occasionally, someone as highly intelligent as Jairam Ramesh (who did right on Adarsh, for example) falls into this trap.

And do not assume that Tibetans will not spy for the Chinese. Chinese control over Tibet is complete. There is significant if not considerable state-sponsored inter-racial mixing. And as India's foremost spy chief, R.N.Kao, insisted with this writer before his death, money more than any other factor (ideology, religious or other persecutions, and so forth) spurs treason.

As much as the Tibetans love their homeland (Tibet) and loathe the Chinese, a minority of them could be --and conceivably may have been -- turned. This is not a point overly to distress about. It is human nature.

That said, India so far has been very circumspect in handling issues related to Chinese-Tibetan spying. Because of the sensitivities involved, and since China is India's number-one enemy (this is the objective truth), it is inadvisable to explain these circumspections in detail.

If anything, the alleged suspicions about the Karmapa are an even more sensitive subject. India cannot be removed from Tibet's affairs because of the deep and age-old linkages between Indian and Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama is in India in his capacity as the religious leader of the Tibetans, although his temporal status is not always easy to dissociate from his presence and activities here.

To break those spiritual Indo-Tibetan ties, China has savaged India prominently from the time the Dalai Lama fled to this country. Its claim on Arunachal Pradesh and particularly Tawang aims at driving a wedge between Buddhist Tibetans and largely non-Buddhist Indians forgetting that Indians for the most part see Buddhism as an extension of Hinduism.

In the Karmapa affair, the Chinese appear to have hit pay dirt. India has so grossly mishandled the investigation that, whether or not the Karmapa is a spy, the Tibetans are seething with rage against a country that they have so far loved for demeaning and persecuting him. This is to China's advantage. In this present political culture of pseudo-secularism, the government, both at the Centre and in the state, has lost the instinct and finesse of managing spiritual sensitivities.

If this persists, India is doomed.

This writer is not pre-judging the Karmapa affair and seeks no shameful reprieve like that given to the Pakistani singer, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. The Karmapa investigations have commenced more than a decade after he fled to India. But by the same token, why wasn't he investigated before? And if he was, why weren't his activities - if they countered national interests - capped then and there?

Still, the damage is done. The past cannot be repaired. But for starters, there must be a gag order on the Karmapa investigations both at the Centre and in Himachal Pradesh. The BJP central leadership should silence its chief minister. Second, in consultation with the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan parliament-in-exile, there must be Indian oversight of the trusts, both spiritual and others, run by the Tibetans. If the circumstances and concerns necessitating this are properly explained, the Tibetans cannot refuse.

And finally, specific to the Karmapa affair, the Dalai Lama must be roped in to contain the damage. In religions of silence like Buddhism, the scope for mischief is at once great and minimal. After the first engagement with the Dalai Lama soon after he obtained sanctuary in India, perhaps a second formal one is imperative, especially in light of the Karmapa investigations.

The world has transformed in the more than five decades that the Dalai Lama has made India his home. He is a hugely revered figure in India. No one can better guide India on the Karmapa affair than the Dalai Lama although he would naturally be averse to taking sides.

This could also be a beginning for India to prepare for a future post-Dalai Lama world. The stakes here are enormous. India generally is strategically illiterate to understand this but it must commence now. The first test of this is that nothing of the Karmapa investigations henceforth must leak to the press -- and those investigations scrupulously must respect the spiritual sensitivities of the Tibetans.

The Tibetans are India's assets. The unfortunate history of Sri Lankan Tamil assets metamorphosing into enemies of this country cannot be repeated.

N.V.Subramanian is Editor, www.NewsInsight.net, and writes internationally on strategic affairs. He has authored two novels, University of Love (Writers Workshop, Calcutta) and Courtesan of Storms (Har-Anand, Delhi). Email: envysub@gmail.com.