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Tibet & Kashmir make one morality play

By M K Bhadrakumar

There is dramatic irony that the polling in the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency took place on a day when we have been celebrating the official visit by the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh, presumably to highlight the “democracy deficit” in China’s Tibet province. China’s policies in Tibet are reprehensible. The destruction of Tibetan patrimony during the cultural revolution was terrible. The suppression of the human rights of Tibetans, the demographic changes being wrought in Tibet through Han migration, the damage being done to the region’s fragile ecology (China’s record of environmental destruction on its own territory legitimizes concerns about its activities in Tibet), the increasing militarization of Tibet when no external threat to China’s control of that territory exists, the water projects being built on the Brahmaputra disregarding lower riparian rights  all of this has a central bearing on not just the Tibetan question but India-China relations too. What I find appalling is that if we are to remove the word “Tibet” from the above polemical tract and replace that explosive word with “Kashmir”, we might get a fair mirror image of the state of affairs within our own country. Isn’t it a cynical act that we choose to throw stones from glass houses? The problem with diplomats is that they are either oblivious or are indifferent toward the conditions of the common people they represented abroad at one time or the other  the “cattle class”.

What unfolded in Srinagar yesterday has been probably the lowest ever turnout in an election in a parliamentary constituency in the history of independent India. More importantly, even compared to the low level in the 2014 parliamentary poll, the voter turnout has dropped from 26 percent to around 7 percent this time around, in a matter of just under two years. And we ended up killing 8 civilians on top of that. The ingenuous mind of ours is perfectly capable of coming up with convoluted explanations why such a sad thing should have happened at all, but that is neither here nor there. The heart of the matter is that in Srinagar, capital of the state of Jammu & Kashmir, people’s faith in the working of Indian democracy is almost zero. And this abysmal thing is happening while the ruling party at the Centre, Bharatiya Janata Party, is also running the state government.

For all thoughtful, patriotic Indians, there is cause for deep worry here. How long can we keep a part of our country under submission through methods of state coercion? Not only that, we also want to annex the (beef-eating) populations in the Pakistan-Occupied parts of Kashmir. I do not understand what we hope to achieve by wasting time and resources to promote western democracy and human rights in China (or Pakistan) when large tracts of our own country are steeped in such miserable conditions with no hope on earth in sight, and virtually open-ended military occupation has become necessary to quell widespread alienation among people borne out of poverty and destitution or simply neglect and discrimination.

To my mind, China is doing a far better job in the development of Tibet in comparison with India’s track record in Kashmir or the north-eastern states. I tend to agree with the Chinese approach that problems such as in Tibet or J&K (or north-eastern states) can be tackled through development over time if it is gone about with sincerity of purpose. The alternative is to redraw national boundaries, which in contemporary world setting is unrealistic and in any case offers no solution in cases such as the land-locked regions of Tibet or Kashmir or Nagaland. My purpose here is not to defend China but to underscore certain home truths, which even experienced diplomats tend to conveniently forget or deliberately ignore. The difference between China and India is that Beijing is at least making a big effort to spur Tibet’s growth and development, whereas, our leadership at both the central and regional level possesses neither the political wisdom nor the erudition and intellectual capacity needed for making sustained effort. China probably realizes all this, because it’d rather focus its mind on Tibet’s development instead of indulging in mud-slinging or rabble rousing over J&K. Even if a couple of “Dalai Lamas” were available from Kashmir Valley, I doubt if China would waste time to lionise them. It is inconceivable that any retired Chinese foreign secretary would draw vicarious pleasure over the pathetically low voter turnout on April 9 in the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency.

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