The Tribune - Spectrum

, February 17, 2002

Truth about Tibet

Parshotam Mehra writes from Chandigarh

Harbans Singh’s review of Subramaniam Swamy’s "India’s China Perspective" under the caption "An American solution to the Sino-Indian tangle" (The Tribune, December 9) makes interesting reading. Sadly, some errors of omission and commission have entered into his argument and it would help the reader to set the record straight.

To start with: "Tibet, Dr Swamy has conclusively proved, has been and is part of China." This is not correct. For all that the author has done, as not a few others of his ilk, is to repeat the Chinese version of events. The fact is that Tibet has, over the centuries, forged a close and indeed intimate relationship with its great neighbour to the east, as even with India to the south. And at times, as in the present instance since 1951, a powerful and militarily strong regime in Beijing has overrun the land and ruled over it as though it were part of the mainland.

The reviewer’s further statements that "even the institution of Dalai Lama came into existence with the approval of Beijing" and that "a Ming prince, Anda Khan" conferred the title on the Gelugba fly in the face of facts. The founder of the Gelugpa (not Gelugba), or the Yellow Hat sect of Tibet, was Tsongkha-pa (1358-1419). The title of Dalai Lama however was conferred on the third of the line, So-nam Gyatsho by the Tumet Mongol prince Altan Khan whom he had visited twice over. Dalai is a Mongol translation of the Tibetan Gyatsho and means ocean: a Lama whose knowledge and wisdom are as vast, and deep as the ocean. It is hard to identify the Ming prince Anda Khan.


In 1720, the Dzungar Mongols had invested Lhasa ostensibly to depose Lhazan Khan, the Mongol "king" of Tibet, and restore the rule of the Dalai Lama. The loot and rapine that the Dzungars had unleashed brought in the temporary, if also timely, intervention (1720-23) of the Ch’ing emperor K’ang Hsi. It was the 7th Dalai Lama, not the 9th, who was put back on the Lhasa throne.

While it is true that the Anglo-Russian convention (1907) contains a self-denying clause that both powers deal with Tibet through China, its application was limited. For the convention safeguarded direct relations between British commercial agents (in Tibet) and the Tibetan authorities and of Buddhist subjects of both Russia as well as Britain, with the Dalai Lama and his functionaries. The direct relations with Tibet were barred only in terms of either power seeking concessions of railways, roads, telegraphs and mines or other rights. The convention had recognised China’s "suzerain rights" in Tibet as well as Britain’s "special interest", owing to its geographical position, in the maintenance of the status quo in its external relations.

The reference to the tripartite Simla Convention of 1914 is not exactly helpful. The McMahon Line extends from the trijunction of India, Burma and China in the east to Bhutan in the west, over a distance of 850 miles — and not "from Laos to Bhutan". The convention did not demarcate the frontier; the line was shown on a map instead. While it is true that the Chinese refused to ratify their initialling of the convention and the map, it would be incorrect to say that the Tibetan plenipotentiary disowned the map. He did not.

Kingdon Ward was not "arrested by Tibet for entering Lhasa from Tawang". He had journeyed (1935) from Tawang to the region of Migyitun where the Subansiri passes through the main Himalayan range towards its eventual junction with the Brahmaputra returning by another route, through the Tawang tract, to Dirangdzong. Lhasa had lodged a protest with New Delhi on what it believed was a trespass.

All the above references are to the near middle of the review, paras 8-9 and 11-12.

Hindi nationalism

Vinod Shahi writes from Jalandhar

Cultural politics of Hindi Nationalism is part of the process of decolonisation and not "colonial and hegemonistic" in its essence, as has been viewed by Akshay Kumar in his review of Alok Rai’s book on "Hindi Nationalism" published on January 6 in The Tribune. The discourse, it appears, which the review starts, belongs to the oft-repeated post-colonial rhetoric which equates the post-colonial immigrant literature and Indian writing in English to the anti-colonial essence of the indigenous literature.

The inability to differentiate between the two has led to some ludicrous arguments like these: Why can’t there be some research work on the Indianness of Premchand and Nirala? Or the one that questions the very structure of Hindi education because the writer can find students failing in Hindi even in Hindi heartland due to its colonial and hegemonistic content. Such arguments can only be floated if we can find research projects on the Englishness of Shakespeare, Americanness of Hemingway or Germanness of Walter Benjamin; and also if we fail to find students failing in English in England.

Actually, the issue of Indianness of Indian writers can only be raised in reference to the immigrant or non-immigrant English writers of India, prominent among whom are writers like Nirad Chaudury whose Indianness is debatable. Actually, the essence of post-colonial literature that has gained some academic recognition in the West lies in being either in "periphery" or in "unconscious Id-like cultural storehouses" locked for the acceptable and recognised conscious mainstream of culture.

So, the post-colonial literature depends heavily on this cultural mainstream but this is not true or applicable to the indigenous literature which evolved through a struggle which was basically anti-colonial and after independence as a part of the de-colonialisation process, though struggling to be free from the neo-colonial influence. The cultural politics of Hindi literature should also be analysed in this context.

Cultural politics of Hindi literature appears to some as "colonial and hegemonistic" which is going the English way; whereas it should have been secular, open, multi-faceted or part of a polytext. The thesis for such multi-textuality holds good for neo-colonial designs, though not always so despicable. Cultural politics of Hindi literature is not something that can be discussed in a void but only as part of the socio-cultural and historical perspective in which it participates.

After the first independence struggle of 1857, the imperialistic designs of the English led to the devastation of the cultural fabric of the Hindi heartland along with the econo-socio disintegration. This Hindi heartland, which then belonged to the poorest of the poor, gathered itself from the ashes and tried to focus on Hindi as an instrument of cultural identity. The cultural identity of Hindi is still far from being colonial or hegemonistic as it is divided among so many states and their respective cultural interests.

Dr Ram Vilas Sharma advocated for a maha-state of all Hindi-speaking areas of Bihar, UP, MP, Rajasthan and Haryana so that some sort of Hindi nationalism could emerge and be "hegemonistic" to complete the tasks of decolonialisation left behind. Had there been any such cultural hegemony, as has been argued by Akshay Kumar, how could such a thesis become debatable in Hindi literature and that too recently? We can, though, expect cultural politics of Hindi nationalism, if at all it exists, to be secular but surely not at the cost of being "subaltern" like the post-colonial one.

Subash C. Sharma writes from Rewari

This has reference to Akshay Kumar’s review titled "Cultural politics of Hindi nationalism" (January 6). In his otherwise incisive review (read write up). Kumar betrays well entrenched bias of certain Indians with an English literature background for whom it has become a fashion to question (the authenticity of) anything Indian — be it culture or literature — in an effort to show themselves off as really groomed in English literature. Hence, he seriously errs when he doubts the Indianness of Prem Chand and Nirala. Nor does he cite any ground for his skepticism. When the Englishness of Shakespeare or Milton is (taken for granted) by self-styled English Indians, on what ground so they doubt the Indianness of Prem Chand and Nirala?

The reviewer again errs in blurring the distinction between Hindi as a subject and Hindi as the mother tongue when he observes "...even if a ..small percentage of students from Hindi heartland fail in Hindi, it is a matter of grave concern". Don’t the students in English heartlands in England or America fail in English literature as a subject?