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The Phantoms of Chittagong

January 08, 2003 15:22 IST

The Phantoms of Chittagong

Bihar is a strange state. Some 2,500 years ago, Gautama Buddha wandered there for more than 80 years, propounding the gospel of love and Ahimsa. At that time, it was the most culturally and politically advanced province of India.

Today, Bihar has become synonymous with backwardness, corruption, illiteracy and more than anything else, dirty politics. What has happened to the state?

One can only conclude that this ‘politics' has destroyed the dharmic fabric of the region.

Nobody is exempt. The Dalai Lama was recently the object of a personal attack by a few so-called ‘neo-Buddhist monks.'

Bodh Gaya, where after meditating under a pipal tree the Buddha achieved enlightenment, is gearing up for the Kalachakra sermon. More than 300,000 devotees are expected to attend. While preparations are underway for the Dalai Lama's discourse, which will be followed by a public initiation, some followers of Dr B R Ambedkar (who may not have recognized them as his disciples) have violently assailed the Tibetan leader. They went so far as to ask for his expulsion from India.

The neo-Buddhist monks distributed a pamphlet in Hindi, Bharat ki bhoomi par gair desh ki sarkar (An alien government on the Indian soil) questioning the logic of the Dalai Lama running a government-in-exile in India. But they are wrong: India has never recognized the Dalai Lama's administration as a government-in-exile. Only once has the Indian government thought of according official status. After the 1965 war with Pakistan, Lal Bahadur Shastri informed a representative of the Dalai Lama that after he returned from Tashkent he would take this decisive step. Unfortunately for the Tibetans (and for India), the prime minister never returned from Tashkent.

The Dalai Lama's organization in Dharamsala, known as the Central Tibetan Administration, is a set up suggested by Nehru during his first meetings with the Dalai Lama in 1959. The then Indian prime minister, while reviewing the rehabilitation of Tibetan refugees, made it clear to the Dalai Lama that the only role India could play was in educating Tibetan children. Since then, education, health and preservation of religious traditions have been the CTA's main objectives. All donations, including $2.25 million from the US Congress, received through official channels are used for these objectives.

Whoever has gone to Dharamsala will acknowledge that the education of the refugee children is a success story.

Another ludicrous allegation made by the monks is that as 'the Dalai Lama heavily depends on security guards for being alive, he can not be accorded divinity.'

I have never read anywhere that the Tibetan leader pretends to be ‘divine' (in any case, it is not a very Buddhist term). On the contrary, he has always emphasized he is an ‘ordinary Buddhist monk.' The fact he is protected has no connection with his religious belief or spiritual attainment.

India is a ‘secular' State, at least in the sense that ‘divinity' is nothing to do with a threat perception as perceived by intelligence agencies.

The rest of the pamphlet is not worth quoting, mainly saying the Dalai Lama wants to take over Sikkim with Chinese support. It is too harebrained to be taken seriously.

This vilification campaign raises a more important aspect of the Tibetan presence in India and their role in supporting India in its hours of difficulties. Not only have the Dalai Lama and his people never schemed against this nation, they have always been at the forefront of India's struggle for its integrity.

It is a pity certain facts are not well known, if not completely ignored by the media and Indian public.

Do many in India know that not only did Tibetans participate in the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, they were instrumental in the fall of Chittagong?

Some American archives, pertaining to the 1971 war, were declassified recently. These documents (as well as some earlier transcripts of Henry Kissinger's secret negotiations with the Chinese) give a fairly good idea of Kissinger and his boss President Nixon's dirty tricks against the Bengalis and India. But who ever speaks about the role of the unsung Tibetan heroes of the Special Frontier Forces?

Under the cover of the Mukti Bahini, Tibetans infiltrated East Pakistan (soon to be Bangladesh) a few weeks before the beginning of the war. They conducted raids to destroy bridges and communication lines deep inside Pakistan's eastern province. The operation was so secret that most generals of the Indian Army's Eastern Command in Calcutta did not know about the activities of 3,000 Tibetans jawans commanded by a Tibetan Dapon (the equivalent of a brigadier of the Indian Army) who helped the Indian Army advance.

From the day of its inception in November 1962, the Force had been placed under the Cabinet Secretary, which in fact meant the Indian prime minister. In 1971, the founder of the Research and Analysis Wing, R N Kao, by-passing the army, directly sent orders from Delhi to the Tibetan force. It is unfortunate that Kao recently passed away, taking with him his secrets.

So did Major General S S Uban, the Indian general who founded the SFF (his designation was inspector general). Though he wrote his memoir The Phantoms of Chittagong, he only obliquely refers to his troops as Tibetans. In another book on the 1971 operations, the present governor of Punjab, Lieutenant General J F R Jacob, then chief of staff, Eastern Command, does not say anything about the Tibetan prowess.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet the Tibetan Dapon responsible for the operation, but he was unwilling to speak except in general terms.

An Indian web site [Bharat Rakshak] provides more information on the SFF's achievements in Bangladesh: 'With war right around the corner, the SFF was given several mission plans, including the destruction of the Kaptai Dam and other bridges. The Inspector General urged that the SFF be used to capture Chittagong, but this was found not favourable, since SFF members did not have artillery or airlift support to conduct a mission of that magnitude. After three weeks of border fighting, the SFF divided its six battalions into three columns and moved into East Pakistan on 03 December 1971.'

By the time Pakistan surrendered, the SFF had lost 56 men -- nearly 190 were wounded -- but they blocked a potential escape route for East Pakistani forces into Burma. They also halted members of Pakistan's 97 Independent Brigade and 2 Commando Battalion in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

As they did not exist officially for the Government of India, nobody could be decorated. However, some brave Tibetan commandos were awarded cash prizes by the Indian government.

It is strange the bona fides of the Tibetan refugees and their dedication to their country of adoption is now being questioned.

I will not mention all those who lost their lives on the Siachen Glacier and during the Kargil conflict in 1999. Though the SFF have been replaced in many high altitude battlefields by the Ladakh Scouts and other local troops who can acclimatize easily for high altitude warfare, they are ready to fight and defend India's frontiers.

When the Indian public gets to know these genuine facts, people are always deeply touched. I witnessed this recently when some young Tibetan students from Chennai gave a public performance. At the end they sang a poem written in Hindi by a Tibetan SFF jawan who had participated in the Kargil operations. The poet-jawan had written this song of joy, sorrow and emotion to express his gratitude to his second motherland and to the people of India who had given refuge, protection and education to his countrymen. Though Hindi is not the forte of the people of the South, when the students finished singing many in the audience were crying.

The Dalai Lama is perhaps today the most renowned world leader practicing compassion and Ahimsa. In 1989, he was rightly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, for his three-decade use of non-violence to solve the Tibetan issue. While actively practicing the Buddha's teachings, he has always stood by India, even when it went against his very principles. Is this not the highest token of his love for his adopted country?

The most well known case is the Pokhran nuclear tests. While the US and other world powers ordered immediate sanctions against India, the Dalai Lama declared: 'I think nuclear weapons are too dangerous. Therefore, we have to make every effort for the elimination of nuclear weapons. However, the assumption of the concept that few nations are OK to possess nuclear weapons and the rest of the world should not -- that's undemocratic... India should not be pressured by developed nations to get rid of its nuclear weapons.'

That the Dalai Lama understood India's point of view when the rest of the world condemned it, even when this stand was diametrically opposite to his deeper beliefs, proves the caliber of the man who has always termed India 'Aryabhumi' and declared that Tibet is a child of India.

Is it not time for India to recognize his genuine contribution to world peace, universal responsibility and the defense of the highest Indian spiritual values and confer on him the Bharat Ratna?

That he can today be accused of anti-national sentiment is proof of the rock bottom level that adharmic politics has reached. Let us hope the prayers for world peace by devotees in Bodh Gaya will balance this tendency.

 

Claude Arpi