New Delhi: Two events connect Delhi with the Se La in Tawang within a space of 24 hours.
In roughly two hours from the time of writing, the Dalai Lama is expected to cross Se La. He is on his way to the Galden Namgey Lhatsey monastery in Tawang. A large gathering is waiting to welcome him at Se La — which also marks the beginning of Tawang district and is around two hours away by road from the town.
Se La, often written as the Sela Pass, is a 13,700-foot-high crossing on the highway that connects Tawang to Tezpur. In 1962, when the Chinese invaded India, a lone soldier, Sepoy Jaswant Singh Rawat, waged a valiant battle at the pass. When a woman from a nearby village brought him food, she found him dead. Then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru told Indians on the radio that his heart went out to the people of Assam. New Delhi and India had all but given up on what we call the “North East”.
The second event was in New Delhi on Thursday evening. At the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Major-General Jarken Gamlin was the first military officer from Arunachal Pradesh to be conferred with the Ati Vishist Seva Medal for, according to the citation, “distinguished service of an exceptional order”. The the first general from Arunachal Pradesh, Gamlin belongs to the 2/8 Gorkhas, the battalion that carries Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw’s legacy.
China has taken umbrage at one of the two events: The visit of the Dalai Lama. It might as well find it offensive that Gamlin — Gambo to his friends — is being conferred a high medal. Gambo should be Chinese if Beijing’s claims over Arunachal Pradesh are credible. After all, China does refer to Arunachal Pradesh as ‘South Tibet’.
Some 2,500 kilometres west of Tawang, in Ladakh, where, the India-China frontier extends, there is a funny game that is played. It is played on land and in the water.
At the Pangong Tso, the lake that the two countries dispute, either side “whirlpools” the other’s patrols with speed-boats. The border is not marked on the waters. At Se La in Arunachal, around which there are believed to be a hundred lakes, the Dalai Lama on Friday afternoon will be received by monks of his own Gelug sect of Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism, as well as the townspeople of Tawang.
Despite the insistence of the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi that the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal was a religious and spiritual mission, he has indeed referred to China obliquely. The visit is at once political and strategic. At Dirang in Arunachal Pradesh on Wednesday, he told journalists, going from the general to the specific that: “The situation inside Tibet is tragic. The situation in the 21st Century will be miserable if it continues like this. The world suffers from short-sightedness which is not good. We should not bully each other”.
The fulminations of China’s state-run media, specifically the Global Times, may not be misplaced. The publication, believed to be the medium of choice for international correspondence of the Chinese Communist Party, threatened, among other things, that “(if) New Delhi ruins the Sino-India ties and the two countries turn into open rivals, can India afford the consequences?”
War is an option, unlike what peaceniks believe. It is but an option of last resort.
In Ladakh last August, this correspondent was eyewitness to the many pillboxes and bunkers dug into a brown and barren ridge along the Pangong Tso that were not there three years back. There were also new regiments of armoured vehicles. On the other side of the unmarked border, were the Chinese highways and state-ways. India believes it is only “catching-up” with China’s border infrastructure.
By late on Friday afternoon, when the Dalai Lama finally reaches Tawang, the monastery in which he took refuge while fleeing from Tibet in 1959, a monastery run by his own Gelugpa (the Tibetan Mahayana Buddhist sect), some more mortar and concrete has rolled up the Himalayas.
What mystifies is New Delhi’s new attitude to Beijing: Monk and menace, pontiff and peace.