Is Tibet reaching a decisive phase?

March 17th, 2008 - 10:53 am ICT by admin  

(News Analysis)
By Mayank Chhaya
Fractures in Lhasa and elsewhere in Tibet run far deeper than not just what China would have the world believe but had probably convinced itself about. It is more than likely that Beijing would stamp out the spiralling protests with urgency mixed with ruthlessness, especially because it is desperate to ensure a smooth conduct of the impending Olympic games. However, what it is unlikely to accomplish is put a firm lid on the searing heat generated by the uprising. From all available accounts out of Tibet coupled with the tone of the Dalai Lama’s reaction, it is becoming clear that a decisive state may have been reached in the six-decade old Sino-Tibetan standoff. This is particularly surprising because there were no recognizable signs pointing in the direction of such an assertive expression of disaffection. Although the six million Tibetans are singularly ill equipped to take on the mighty Chinese establishment, the timing of the protests is fraught with history and has the potential to fundamentally alter the equation.

The Dalai Lama has said he is “helpless” in the face of such widespread protests and, more importantly, that he would not instruct his followers to relent. On whether he can ask his followers to surrender by midnight on Monday, he told a news conference in McLeod Ganj, “I have no such power.”

The Dalai Lama said he had received a call on Saturday from Tibet requesting him not to stop the protesters. He promised he would not. “Now we really need miracle power,” he said, “But miracle seems unrealistic.” The Dalai Lama has said he has the same sense of foreboding about the current crisis as he had during the March 10, 1959 uprising. He said, according to a Chinese military document between March 1959 and September 1960, 87,000 were people killed.

Since 2006, when the fifth round of talks took place between the representatives of the Tibetan government-in-exile and Beijing, the Dalai Lama has said the attitude inside Tibet has hardened and there has been criticism even of his approach. That was an implicit admission that ordinary Tibetans inside Tibet may no longer be willing to follow his “middle way” approach, which eschews any precipitate action. This could be equally true of the younger generation of Tibetans in exile in India. There are hotheaded Tibetans, whose number is hard to establish, who continue to advocate complete independence as opposed to “meaningful autonomy” being called for by the Dalai Lama.

One of the major reasons behind the current unrest can also be attributed to a growing sense of economic inequity among the local Tibetans compared to the Han Chinese people who have been resettled in the region. The Dalai Lama has referred to the discrimination practiced by the Chinese. Although Beijing has brought about visible development to Lhasa and other areas, it has mainly impacted the Han Chinese population. Riding on top of the sense of having been occupied is this powerful sense of economic inequity which also acting as a trigger for the current violence.

Many Tibetan experts believe that the level of disenfranchisement has grown and in the process compelled them to believe that they have no stake in the current state of affairs. This disaffection could lead to serious problems in the near future. “Wait and see,” was the Dalai Lama’s response when asked if the discontent among ordinary Tibetans would breach his middle way approach.

(Mayank Chhaya is the author of the Dalai Lama’s authorised biography ‘Dalai Lama: Man, Monk, Mystic’. He can contacted at

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