‘Is China’s intention not clear?’
‘Do we still think that if we are nice to China, it will be good to us?’
Sujeet Kumar, the Biju Janata Dal member of the Rajya Sabha, calls himself an accidental politician.
An engineer with degrees from the Said School of Business, Oxford University and the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Mr Kumar was also a fellow at the World Economic Forum before returning to India to join politics in 2011.
He was recently appointed convenor of the All-Party Indian Parliamentary Forum for Tibet.
The forum was started in the 1970s by former Union minister M C Chagla. Over the years, it had leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, George Fernandes and Shanta Kumar as its members, but the group has been almost defunct for several years.
It was revived last year after a few MPs attended a dinner hosted by the Tibetan Parliament in Exile.
A longtime champion of the Tibetan cause and follower of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Mr Kumar was chosen as the convenor by consensus.
The All-Party Indian Parliamentary Forum for Tibet wants the Government of India to confer the Bharat Ratna on His Holiness who has lived in India for 63 years since his flight from Lhasa in 1959.
“His Holiness deserves a Bharat Ratna. He has been the greatest ambassador of Indian values and has contributed immensely to Indian soft power,” Sujeet Kumar tells Rediff.com‘s Archana Masih in a telephone interview.
You have been a follower of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for over ten years. How did you get drawn to him and the cause of the Tibetan people?
I first met His Holiness ten years ago and felt a great connect with his teachings. Incidentally, I travelled to Tibet in 2009. I was living abroad at that time.
I felt a great sense of belonging while travelling in Tibet. I felt as though I had an affinity with Tibetan culture and the people of Tibet.
I didn’t go to Lhasa, but to other places in the larger Tibetan plateau.
I then started reading about Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and Tibetan writings. Tibet was never part of China. It is occupied territory.
I read a lot and felt more inclined towards the Tibetan cause. Being an MP has given me the opportunity to voice the Tibetan issue.
What did you encounter in Tibet? What was your experience like?
We travelled from Kunming in Yunnan province to the Tibetan Plateau.
It was an eye-opening trip for me. For the first time, I saw the brutalities inflicted by China on the Tibetan people and culture. There was no freedom of religion. People could not follow Tibetan Buddhism and were forbidden from keeping the photo of His Holiness in the monasteries.
This was after the 2008 unrest in Tibet when several Tibetans self immolated themselves in protest against the Chinese occupation.
During my trip I realised that Tibetan identity would be lost forever if the world kept silent. Tibetan music, art and culture are priceless. China is making every attempt to kill it.
It has populated the Tibetan plateau with Hans from the mainland. Every Tibetan family has to host one Han Chinese — can you even imagine what it must be to have an outsider stay with you all the time?
The All Party Indian Parliamentary Forum for Tibet has decided to request the government to confer the Bharat Ratna on the Dalai Lama. How do you intend to take this campaign forward?
We will be approaching MPs, civil society members and organisations. Many MPs like Shashi Tharoor, Jairam Ramesh, Maneka Gandhi have come forward to support this cause. We will compile all this and submit it to the home ministry and hopefully, His Holiness will be conferred with the Bharat Ratna which he absolutely deserves.
We will be writing to the honourable Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha to invite the Dalai Lama to address a joint session of Parliament.
India has given Bharat Ratna to three foreigners in the past. Why hasn’t it given it to the Dalai Lama who has been such a fine ambassador for India?
His Holiness is not an Indianm but has been the greatest ambassador of Indian values. He has contributed immensely to Indian soft power.
Somehow the Government of India has been diffident and perhaps does not want to antagonise China. We must show some strength.
The late founder of your party, Mr Biju Patnaik, was a strong Tibet supporter and played a leading role in setting up the Special Frontier Force comprising Tibetans.
Odisha was among the first states to provide refuge to Tibetans in the early 1960s.
In that background, do you feel India should have followed a more aggressive stance towards China, especially since the 28 month-long standoff in Ladakh?
China is like a typical school bully. The more you fear a school bully, the more they bully you. The moment you stand up to them, they back off.
We have been accommodative of China’s demands over the years. China wants us to bend, but we are ready to crawl. We must show some spine.
The world respects the language of strength. Unless we speak that language, no one will take India seriously.
China gives stapled visas to people of J&K and Arunachal Pradesh. It is building the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) through PoK (Pakistan occupied Kashmir), has created a war-like situation on the Ladakh front, they are trying to encircle India through their strategy.
Recently, a Chinese spy ship docked at Hambantota port in Sri Lanka.
Is China’s intention not clear? Do we still think that if we are nice to China, it will be good to us? China is a backstabber.
Look at our attitude towards Taiwan. Taiwan is a friendly country which is so keen to help us with semi conductors in the hi-tech industry. It is a vibrant democracy and we have not stood by Taiwan.
I am not saying that we should accept it as an independent country. I know that is a complicated situation, but at least we should stand by our friends if we want them to stand by us.
We seem to be taking a one foot forward, one foot backward approach in our Tibet policy. What is lacking in India’s Tibet Policy?
I’m not saying it is this government alone, but successive governments have not stood up to China. This government has shown some courage, but that is not enough.
Successive governments have let down India and the biggest blunders have been committed by Prime Minister Nehru.
India shares a large border with Tibet, not China. We have to be economically strong; we have limitations because the Chinese economy is five times India’s. Unless we have a strong economy, we will not be able to match up to China.
MPs from the Tibet Forum are travelling to Dharamsala to attend the parliamentary session of the Tibetan government in exile. What can be expected from this trip?
Six-seven of us MPs will be attending the Tibetan parliament, meeting the speaker, MPs and have an audience with His Holiness.
The idea is to show solidarity with the Tibetan cause.
What have you learnt from your interactions with the Tibetan people? What are their concerns?
They are grateful for India’s support and refuge. First and foremost, they want to keep the issue alive.
Very few in India know about the Tibetan issue and how they have been driven out of their homeland by China.
One mandate of the forum is to make the people aware of the Tibetan cause.
They should always keep the hope alive that one day they will return to Tibet.
I always inspire them by saying that India achieved freedom after 200 years of struggle. Their struggle is 63 years old, I tell them not to lose faith.
It is for His Holiness the Dalai Lama to pick his successor, but China wants a role in choosing his successor. What role should India be playing to prevent Chinese designs in the succession?
India has to take the lead in countering China’s propaganda in appointing the next Dalai Lama. Only His Holiness is empowered and entitled to choose his successor.
India should play a prominent role in getting the world community to denounce China’s designs.
I hope the Government of India has some action plan.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com
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