Perched on a verdant mountainside in western Arunachal Pradesh is the world’s second largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery of Tawang. This multi- storied monastery is home to some of the rarest and oldest Buddhist scriptures and is the last remaining center of Tibetan Culture.
The Tawang Monastery is second only to the monastery situated in Lhasa, Tibet which is also the birthplace of the current spiritual leader of Tibet, the 14th Dalai Lama. Due to its religious and cultural importance for the people of Tibet, Tawang is at the center of the ongoing tug of war between Beijing and New Delhi.
Recently, Dai Bingguo, a former Chinese official who has participated with 15 rounds of border talks with India, said in an interview given to a magazine last week, that India and China must come together to resolve boundary conflicts and if India takes care of Chinese interest in its eastern borders (Arunachal Pradesh), China is ready to take care of India’s interest elsewhere (hinting at Aksai Chin). This statement came in the light of a planned visit of Dalai Lama to the Tawang monastery.
The history of Tawang stretches back to the British Colonial rule and the Shimla Accord of 1914, when representatives of British India, Communist China and a sovereign Tibet , met together to define a border between the neighbouring countries. The result was the McMohan Line, which is the current international Indo-China border of Arunachal Pradesh. While Tibetan representatives were content in putting Tawang south to the McMohan Line, the Chinese officials refused to accept this, and thus China was not a signatory of the Shimla Accord.
Following the assault of China’s Red Army on Tibet in 1959, Dalai Lama and his numerous followers took refuge in India. Dalai Lama continues to live in Dharamshala in Himachal where Indian government has provided amenities for Tibetan Refugees. China has never taken this act of providing asylum to the Dalai Lama kindly and continues to needle New Delhi about it.
Although China had occupied Tawang and rest of Arunachal in 1962 but they retreated behind the McMohan Line in contrast to Aksai Chin where China continues to have military presence.
China’s fears over Tawang are originated in its interest over Tibet. After the escape of Dalai Lama in 1959, China has labelled the renowned spiritual leader as a “dangerous separatist leader”. However this description of His Holiness was ridiculed when he received the Noble prize for peace in 1989, bringing Tibet’s struggle for independence in International lime light, which was the last thing China ever wanted to happen. The Dalai Lama who is now 81 year old and has been stressing over the use of non-violent means for the struggle for independence despite the response from some of his followers is the face of this struggle. Due to his old age the monastery of Tawang is the only place in the world where the next Dalai Lama can incarnate, and so China aims to stop this from happening at any cost.
The only reason for dominion over the regions claimed by China including, Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, Aksai Chin and even Tibet is that at one single point of time in history the people of these regions paid taxes to the Chinese Emperor. China has no other link, be it social or cultural to these region. Historically China’s policy has always s been one that of dominance over its neighbours. It has forced Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, which are comparatively small countries in terms of area to give up pieces of land in the name of “resolving” boundary conflicts. With growing military and economic might China is imposing its will over its smaller neighbors, this strategy while being immoral is also sure to bring instability in the South-Asian region. In this situation India is playing the role of David against Goliath, despite repeated threats from Beijing, New Delhi has a clear stance on the boundary conflicts and is not ready to put up populated areas of Arunachal Pradesh for discussions.
Dalai Lama has planned a visit to Tawang in April this year, there he will address a gathering of Tibetan Buddhists as well as other followers in the region and from all around the globe. While both the countries are fighting over the boundary for their national interests, a bigger concern is the preservation of the unique linguistic, cultural and religious traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. After The invasion of Tibet in 1959 by the Red Army, Dharmshala, Tawang and small pockets of areas where Tibetan refugees live spread across India called “little Tibets” are the only haven for the people of Tibet. Amidst this muddle Tawang will be in this Tug of war for quite some time and it may very well be the place where the next Dalai Lama will reincarnate to liberate Tibet and offer its people long awaited freedom.