At a time when Dharamsala and Tibet appear to be at a very vulnerable position vis-a-vis Beijing, it will be imperative for Dalai Lama as well as his advisers, to seriously measure the pros and cons of his proposed visit to China.


Observers of Beijing-Dharamsala relations are these days keenly focused on the chances of Dalai Lama visiting China for a Buddhist pilgrimage to Wutai Shan. The issue might look casual or insignificant to the uninitiated who will see nothing special about a religious leader visiting a pilgrimage site. But knowing Tibet's place in China's geo-political aspirations and the significance of present Dalai Lama in their future game, this probable event holds the potential of changing the geo-political discourse of Asia far more than any eventful development of this region in recent decades.

Signals emanating from Dharamsala over recent years have led to speculations among many Tibet watchers that despite the eight-year long dialogue (2002-2010) having failed and stalled abruptly by Beijing, the talks are still on, though at some different levels. Many among Tibet-China watchers feel that an influential section among Tibetan exile leadership is keen to pull a deal between Dalai Lama's 'Central Tibetan Administration' (CTA) in Dharamsala and the Chinese rulers of Tibet. Or, at least, to send him on a visit to China before it is too late for the ageing Tibetan leader.

Though senior functionaries in Dharamsala have been maintaining strict secrecy, yet recent developments, including an unpublicised meeting of a minister ranking Chinese official with Dalai Lama in Dharamsala few months ago, have not gone unnoticed from the prying eyes. And now a chain of signals from Beijing and other quarters confirm that Chinese leaders are desperate to receive the former exiled ruler and supreme religious leader of their colony -- even if this visit is short and just for a 'pilgrimage'.

Hu Shisheng, an important Chinese brain on Tibet related issues and a Director at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), run by the State Council of China, said on 24th February this year in Beijing that Dalai Lama's pilgrimage to Mount Wutai (Wutai Shan) would be a 'historic event' and... 'really a breakthrough'. In another commentary, published a day before President Xi Jinping visited India, China's Sina.com quoted 'informed sources familiar with the situation' as saying that Dalai Lama's return to China would be a 'win-win' situation. Chinese media has widely quoted Wu Yingjie, the Deputy Secretary of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) as saying that the talks with Dalai Lama's personal envoy about Dalai Lama's return were 'proceeding smoothly'. On 2nd Oct 2014 the French news agency AFP even quoted Dalai Lama from Dharamsala as telling its reporter that he was in informal talks with Beijing over his 'long held wish to make a pilgrimage trip to China'.

It was exactly nine years ago on 10th March 2006 when Dalai Lama used his annual address on the national 'Uprising Day' of Tibet at Dharamsala to publicly express his desire to visit China for a pilgrimage. His statement came in the middle of ongoing talks between his envoys and Beijing. Observers initially thought that this statement was yet another salvo in the ongoing war of wits between him and Beijing. People around Dalai Lama believed that his visit to Tibet or China would attract a Tsunami of Chinese and Tibetan believers which would increase his bargaining power with Beijing.

But his statement was greeted with the usual sarcastic contempt that Beijing rulers have always kept reserved for the Dalai Lama since China occupied his country in 1951 and his subsequent escape to exile in 1959. On 13th April, 2006 Qi Xiaofei, Vice-Director of the Chinese state administration for religious affairs said, "The Dalai Lama is not only a religious figure, but is also a long-time stubborn secessionist who has tried to split his Chinese motherland and break the unity among different ethnic groups."

Interestingly in July same year rumours of Dalai Lama visiting Kumbum, the most revered monastery near Dalai Lama's birth place in Qinghai, spread like a wild fire. Soon the town was flooded with thousands of Tibetan and Chinese devotees to have a view of him. But as soon as the crowds started reaching a critical level the Chinese government media announced that it was a hoax and security forces pushed out the crowd. Observers believe that it was a well planned Chinese move to have a fair idea of and to prepare in advance for the public reaction if Dalai Lama actually comes on a visit.

After a gap of nine years this sudden 180 degree turn in Beijing's response to the idea of Dalai Lama's visit to China clearly reflects a new kind of self confidence which is replacing the characteristic irritability, scepticism and even fear psychosis demonstrated by the Chinese leaders on anything related to Dalai Lama or Tibet over past six decades. It is this very change in the Chinese gestures and public articulation which deserves serious attention of the Dalai Lama, his advisors and his supporters when they sit to weigh the advantages and risks of the Tibetan leader's proposed pilgrimage to China or fresh negotiations with Beijing.

Looking back at how deftly Beijing and Dharamsala have been playing their cards in past two decades, one cannot escape the stark contrast. While Beijing has been making impressive strides on almost every front to improve its grip on Tibet and check-mate the international opposition to its Tibet policy, Dharamsala has been consistently frittering away all the advantages and virtues that Dalai Lama and his fellow Tibetans had earned with great efforts since 1950s in their struggle against Chinese occupation of Tibet.

It is difficult for anyone to predict how much religious virtues or political mileage Dharamsala can hope, if at all, from Dalai Lama's visit to China. But we have a long history of Tibet-China relations to believe that Tibet or Dalai Lama have never been a match to Beijing's skills in interpreting or showcasing any positive step from Dalai Lama as an endorsement or confirmation of the communist leaders' actions and claims on Tibet. Most glaring example was the Dalai Lama's visit to China in 1954 which Beijing leaders presented to the world as an endorsement of Chinese rule over Tibet. It therefore leads one to believe that the proposed visit of Dalai Lama to China in present situation is bound to fill all that moral, legal, political and strategic void which China has been miserably missing about her colonial control over Tibet, especially since 1959 flight of Dalai Lama into exile.

As a diehard team of optimists and well meaning people, Dharamsala might be hopeful of driving a lot of world focus on Tibet through such a visit. It may also have many reasons to believe that a visit of Dalai Lama to China can open new doors for negotiations. Or, it will help Dalai Lama to understand the real intentions of Chinese leaders on Tibet. Dharamsala must also be quite genuine about its own intentions and expectations. But with centuries long unhappy experience of Tibetan leadership in dealing with China, it will be too naive to believe that they can beat China in extracting advantages out of any given situation.

Therefore sending Dalai Lama on a China visit in a situation when odds are heavily stacked against Tibet vis-a-vis China, there is a serious risk of confusing, demoralizing and finally losing all the three constituencies on whose support Dalai Lama has attained his popularity and Tibet has survived as an issue all these years in the world conscience. These constituencies are:

- Tibetan masses, living under the Chinese rule or in exile, who have successfully braved and maintained their resolve against Chinese colonialism while enduring all difficulties and dangers;

- Tibet support groups across the world who relentlessly and successfully gave an international dimension to the cause of Tibet and;

- the international community which includes parliaments, political leaders, civic society and action groups whose deep faith in democratic values and human rights of Tibetans gave Dalai Lama and Tibet the support and strength on which they stand today.

At a time when Dharamsala and Tibet appear to be in a highly vulnerable position vis-a-vis Beijing, it will be imperative for Dalai Lama as well as his advisors, to seriously measure the pros and cons of his proposed visit to China. To put these risks in specific terms:

One, the travel of a 'refugee' Dalai Lama to the same country from where he escaped 56 years ago on the ground that the conditions created by the colonial occupants of his country were too difficult and inhuman to live there, will amount to no less that issuing a 'no objection certificate' to whatever China has been doing in Tibet all these years. As an obvious corollary to this he is bound to lose his political, legal and moral identity and rights as a 'refugee' on his return to exile from such a visit.

Two, his visit will send this message to those millions of brave Tibetans who have endured all the atrocities and injustice at the hands of their colonial masters, that since their supreme leader has no problem with China, they too must stop bickering against Chinese occupation. Self immolation by more than 130 Tibetans in recent years (136 on record so far) to express their frustration against the Chinese colonial rule over Tibet only proves that unlike the dominant group of Tibetans in Dharamsala who appear to be pushing Dalai Lama to give up or patch up, the Tibetan people inside Tibet have not given up their national resolve or courage to face the Chinese regime. But the Dalai Lama visiting China and hugging Beijing leaders, is bound to deflate all the moral steam, patriotic zeal and national resolve out of Tibetan masses.

Three, Tibet support movement across the world has already lost most of its energy and enthusiasm because of Dharamsala's near-fanatic diktats against anti-China postures in recent years. It will be near impossible for these support groups to hold on to their cadres and support base when the world watches their hero hugging and shaking hands with the same 'villains' whom these groups have been opposing all these years. Once this support base and organizational structure crumbles or melts away, it will take another life time for Dalai Lama or his establishment to resuscitate international Tibet support movement back to life.

Four, enormous world media coverage of the visit of Dalai Lama to mainland China on the invitation and hosting of Tibet's colonial masters will simply leave this clear and unambiguous signal to the world that "all problems between the Dalai Lama and China have been sorted out". This means that all those individuals, organizations and action groups across the world who loved, admired and supported Dalai Lama simply because he was the best symbol of fight against the tyranny of colonialism, communism and anti-democratic powers will be made to believe that he no more needs their support.

Five, Beijing is bound to present this visit of Dalai Lama as the endorsement and certification of China's position on Tibet from none other than the supreme leader of Tibet and Tibetans. Hence it will lay its claim over all the respect, credibility and sheen that it had lost due to its sad record as a colonialist occupier of Tibet.

Six, if the Dalai Lama chooses China as the destination of his Buddhist pilgrimage, the communist masters of Beijing are bound to lap it up as the final 'ISO' certification of China as world's 'Buddhist Super Power' by the supreme spiritual leader of Buddhism. It will be interesting to see how a Dalai Lama and his exile establishment who have spent their life time in painting colonial rulers of their country as 'anti religion', 'anti Buddhism' and 'destroyers of Dharma' will manage this contradiction?

Seven, and last, but surely not the least, is the dreadful scenario of this happy looking marriage between Beijing and the Dalai Lama going to the rocks any day in future. Having dealt with China all their life, who else understands better than the Dalai Lama and his fellow Tibetans the real levels of honesty and loyalty that Beijing leaders hold towards their own commitments or agreements with others? On such a fateful day Tibetans would be shocked to discover that there is no one standing behind them as all cheering and clapping crowds have already melted away and the Tibet support movement has closed its shop long ago. In the eventuality of Beijing masters of Tibet turning back to their old games in Tibet, it is anybody's guess how much enthusiasm or commitment the world would be left with to save the Dalai Lama and his countrymen once again?

It is therefore high time for everyone who stands by the Tibetan people to realize and accept that Dharamsala has already lost a significant share of his political and strategic ground on the Tibetan front to Beijing and stands on an utterly weak and vulnerable ground vis-a-vis its (all) mighty opponent. Even his most optimistic sympathizers and supporters would agree that the Dalai Lama has nothing significant to gain from a Chinese 'pilgrimage' except some media grand-standing or, may be, some spiritual virtues as a practicing Buddhist. But who else other than the Dalai Lama himself would understand that such 'gains' are too petty and personal for a man who is already the darling of world media and is so deeply revered as the embodiment of Avalokiteshwara -- the God of Compassion?

Many critics of Dharamsala have expressed fears that a dominant section among the Tibetan exile leadership appears desperate on cobbling up a deal with China on whatever terms. But even a junior student of history or diplomacy can testify with full confidence that history, especially the history of nations and peoples, keeps changing and that the world has consistently witnessed the mightiest of regimes melting away into oblivion without a whimper.

Innumerable examples of countries like India and Israel would help Tibetan leadership to understand that the greatest strength of a nation does not lie in opting for most comfortable solutions in a crisis, but in enduring difficult times and wait to be available on the day when history holds your rightful share to be returned to you. It will require a deep rethinking and detachment on the part of the Dalai Lama to distinguish between the historic responsibilities which his great institution has bestowed upon him and the current desperation that is guiding a dominant section among his advisors.

On the part of such group of desperate advisors too, they are advised not to lose their faith in Dalai Lama's political, social and spiritual wisdom. They should understand that by transferring his political powers to a democratically elected exile 'government' of Tibet he has already empowered and freed the Tibetan society to take Tibetan struggle far beyond the physical limits of his own life span or even relying on the institution of Dalai Lama in their struggle. This means that Dalai Lama has already realized the capacity of Tibetan society to take ahead its national struggle for many generations to come irrespective of whether next Dalai Lama is leading them or not.

As a professed follower of Mahatma Gandhi Dalai Lama is already aware of the enormous powers that Gandhian way of thinking and action holds. Therefore, a far better option for him would be to adopt some of the techniques which Gandhi successfully employed in dealing with the British colonial Raj that was far more powerful than today's China. For example, by sitting on a hunger strike for the cause of those 135 Tibetan who gave the supreme sacrifice for the freedom and human rights of their colonized countrymen, Dalai Lama can shake the world conscience far deeper than by visiting Wutai Shan and getting photographed by the international media as he shakes hands of the occupiers of his nation.

The author is a senior journalist and a Tibetologist with more than 30 years of association with the Tibet movement. He can be contacted at v.kranti@gmail.com