The Indian markets these days are flooded with Chinese products like dolls and globes. They come cheap and attract hordes of buyers. It is another matter that none of the shopkeepers give even a day'sguarantee on these items. But that'sanother story.
Lets move to a matter of grave concern. The UPA government, quite unashamedly, has told Parliament that the Centre is aware of the fact that maps and globes depicting Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh as integral part of China, are being sold and circulated in the Communist state.
Many would still be amazed to know that this fact was told to Rajya Sabha by no one less than Pranab Mukherjee, often termed as The No. 2 in Manmohan Singh Cabinet.
As the state of influx is, one would hardly be surprised if such products make entry into the country and influence some impressionable minds.
The government could have used this opportunity by getting on the offensive and force Beijing on the backfoot. Taking up the cause of Tibet would have given us the right ammo. Instead of offering moral support like the European Union, the UPA government feels shy of talking about it in the open.
Hardly would anyone disagree that pre-dominantly Buddhist Tibet has the potential of becoming India'sgreatest leverage in the negotiations with China. It also remains till date, its weakest nerve. And the Chinese strategy on Tibet and the Dalai Lama is the perfect example of turning weakness into virtue, something the present government at the Centre can learn from.
Signals coming from China are only ominous.
In a stern message, the Chairman of Tibet Autonomous Region Qiangba Puncog said that the chances of the Tibet'sspiritual leader and head of its Government-in-exile, were slim unless the latter gives up the demand for an independent Tibet. This was said at the recently held annual session of the National people'sCongress, China'stop legislature.
The statement would take many China watchers by surprise. The fact of the matter remains that the Dalai Lama has never demanded independence from China. He has merely wanted autonomy to Tibet, that has always remained free.
In fact, the suddenness of this statement is perplexing. The Dalai Lama had in fact on March 10, and in one of his most reconciliatory gestures, lauded Chinese President Hu Jintao for favouring harmonious society. He has even said in the statement that Tibetans were ready for genuine autonomy as enshrined in Chinese Constitution. Could anyone ask for more?
Coming back to Pranab Mukherjee, he has in the same breath, even said that the Indian government is watchful of China'splans to lay a Railway line through bordering areas adjoining India and connecting other cities of China with Tibetan capital Lhasa.
Does the External Affairs Minister, who till very recently manned the all important Defence Ministry, wants the country to believe that ?mere watchfulness? is enough?
Also, on March 19, a pro-Tibet organisation showed in New Delhi a video which has caused public outcry worldwide. It screened a 12-minute footage of a video which purportedly has a group of Tibetan refugees allegedly being shot at by Chinese border guards while passing Nangpa La pass into Nepal.
Interestingly, when the Dalai Lama objected to the strategic Qinghai-Tibet railway line, the Chinese reacted angrily and asked him to face up to history.
Which history are they talking about? The history of suppression of the rights of the peaceful Tibetan people under the brute power of gun, bringing about systematic demographic changes in the region; or building a miniature Potala Palace, the official residence of the Dalai Lama in Lhasa. The last is just another obscene effort to erase/re-create history to suit itself. The Communist state also plans to remove relics of historic, symbolic and cultural significance to the new structure to be housed in a treasure exhibition hall at the foot of red hill where the real Potala Palace is located.
As the world watches with great interest China'srise as economic giant. Struck by the strides in economy, many tend to overlook growing social unrest plaguing our neighbour across the Himalayas. In the latest incident, the fear of reduction in social welfare benefits prompted residents in Guixi in Jiangxi province in southern China to block railway traffic for six hours. Despite a battery of police personnel deployed there, the villagers came armed with stick and rods to protest against re-districting that they think will curtail whatever social benefits they are getting.
The previous week, protest in Hunan province against an issue like rising bus fare drew twenty thousand people together. What seemingly is a rather democratic way of expression, attracted harsh police crackdown in which one person is understood to have died.
If anyone thought that these examples of oppression in the Party-state was enough, the latest damning report comes from Tibet itself. The frustration against a repressive regime, bent to attack Tibet'soriginal culture, the pain of missing His Holines the Dalai Lama forced some Tibetals to shed frustration and take to the streets.
On March 14, they displayed an extremely rare open display of defiance. Media reports say, they gathered in Lhasa to perform an outlawed Tibetan Buddhist ritual offering something as innocent and inoucous as incense-burning as offering for the log life of teh exiled spiritual leader.
And the Chinese response to it – police detained a 42-year-old woman and blocked the Tibetans from participating. Another 60-year-old woman is also reported to have been assaulted by security personnel. No further information on either woman is available. Authories closed Tibetan shops in the area. Deployment of several hundred police forces have made movement around the city difficult.
These are indications enough that the Chinese are not ready to favourably respond to peace initiatives. And till the international community rises, the non-violent Tibetans would continue to languish in their own homeland.
One would assume that a government indulging in such activities would offer some apology. But one must trust the Chinese genius at throwing surprises, so anything similar on Tibet remains a distant dream.
In fact, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, during a rare meeting with journalists including foreign correspondents, in the cavernous Great Hall of the People, said the country was creating its own democracy. What he meant by that is anyone'sguess.
The condition of Han dominated seven per cent minority in China is known the world around. The Human rights Watch this month itself, has written to Wen itself about the poor human rights record of the Communist state. The watchdog demanded that Beijing end repression of activists and abolishing rather than reforming the so-called re-education through labour system.
The fate of right-demanding innocent students at the famed Tiananmen Square and the systematic annihilation of the Falun Gong cult, refuses to die in public memory.
But the Chinese premier is a courageous man (pun intended). He said that democracy, human rights and rule of law are not exclusive to western countries but rather a product of human development and history.
He went on to say the China was on the road to democracy, but not necessarily to Western-style of democracy.
Though, a mere aside it is interesting with regards to freedom of expression in the country. Wen, third raking leader in Chinese Communist Party hierarchy, was asked a sensitive question during the news conference. A foreign correspondent asked him about former premier Zhao Ziyang. This part was deleted from transcripts posted later on the internet.
It would be apt to remember that Zhao had appeared in Tinanmen Square in 1989 with pro-democracy students. As result, he was discredited by hardliners, stripped of his post and placed under house arrest. He died in 2005.
The issue is indeed sensitive to Wen. As an emerging leader then, he had visited the fateful site with him. The Chinese premier later went on to say the China was on the road to democracy, but not necessarily to Western-style of democracy.
So while China, has no qualms about its unique style of democracy, New Delhi staggers even on the moral course. Instead of playing hard ball and extract its lost rights of great National Interest, the Government is letting a crucial card just slip away.
How long will it keep turning a blind eye.
(The author is a senior journalist and an International Relations expert. He can be contacted at [email protected]).