India’s decision in 1958 to provide refuge to Tibetans fleeing their country is seen as one of the biggest humanitarian acts any country could have made. Fifty years ago, when there was a rebellion in Lhasa, the Chinese cracked down. As many as 2,000 people perished in three days of fighting between Tibetans and the People’s Liberation Army. The then Indian government of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was criticised internationally for not condemning the Chinese crackdown, but the 80,000 Tibetan refugees were accommodated in Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka.
The “scrupulous silence” of the Manmohan Singh government to the uprising in Tibet 50 years later is therefore not very surprising, especially in the context of the vastly changed geo-political scenario where pariah China has become a belligerent, even arrogant, tiger on the poise. Still, India’s meek response to the human rights assault opens up a delightful counterfactual question: If the 1958 uprising had taken place in 2008, would post-liberalised India’s political and ideological alignment have accepted the refugees as welcomingly as socialist India did?
Would a Congress-led government, dependent on the Left parties for support, have turned the Tibetans away? What would a BJP-led government’s response have been? Or is the CPM’s general secretary Prakash Karat right in saying that Indians who want to join a chorus for an independent Tibet today are doing a great disservice to India: “Are we going to support a free Nagaland? Or a free Jammu and Kashmir?”
Photograph: A 2003 picture of Chinese soldiers who put on monk’s robes when the monks refused to play as actors in a movie, forwarded Thejas H.K..
Also read: Beijing orchestrating Tibet riots