One funny thing that has always intrigued me regarding Tibet is the laid back attitude of the Lord Chamberlain in Lhasa in 1950 when the radio message from Lhalu Tsewang Dorje, the Governor General of Eastern Tibet arrived him in the form of a telegram. It was a desperate SOS from the Governor to the ruling caretaker Regent’s Council. He was asking for advice and fresh Army back up from Lhasa government as he feared that Tibet was going to be attacked by the Chinese Army any moment. The Lord Chamberlain read it and put it aside with the instructions to keep it on hold until the Regent and his large contingent of courtiers had finished their traditional annual picnic. This was Tibet where an annual picnic had a better place in the priority list of a nation’s leadership as compared to the national security.
What followed was no less funny either. The Governor General Lhalu was replaced by Ngabo Ngawang Jigme, an energetic minister from Lhasa who was known for not being so ‘fussy’ and ‘desperate’ like Lhalu – more so in matters related to China. Instead of taking commands from the Lhasa government the new Governor decided on his own to ‘negotiate’ with the Chinese generals. Ngabo not only deliberately deprived the radio facility to the frontier posts to stop any ‘bad’ news from reaching Lhasa, he quietly let the PLA massacre the entire force of Tibetan Army men at the frontier posts. At home in Chamdo he disbanded the local armed volunteer groups, blasted the Tibetan Army’s ammunition depot and ran back to Lhasa without giving any fight to the PLA who just walked in to overwhelm Chamdo.
In early 1951 at Lhasa when 16-year old Dalai Lama was taken away to a safe place near Indian border in South, Ngabo practically appointed himself as the head of Tibetan delegation to Beijing for negotiations with the Chinese government. Though his delegation was not given any authority to sign any papers on behalf of the Lhasa government, Ngabo put his signatures on a ‘treaty’ between China and Tibet to ‘formally merge’ Tibet into China. Thus, in one stroke of signature of this obliging ‘charming young man’, Tibet lost its centuries old freedom and became a permanent colony of China on May 23, 1951.
It is not surprising that Ngapo was profusely rewarded by the ‘Central’ government of China for his ‘patriotic’ services to the great Chinese ‘motherland’. In March 1959 when Dalai Lama escaped to India to become a refugee following a failed uprising of Tibetan masses against occupying Chinese forces, Ngapo used choicest rebukes against his escaping former ruler to demonstrate his loyalty to his Chinese masters. This process of winning brownie points from his colonial communist masters continued till December 23rd this year when he died as the most beloved Tibetan stooge of China at the age of 99 in a comfortable hospital in Beijing.
It is understandable that the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) should have paid its tributes to the dead Ngabo Ngawang Jigme as “a great patriot, renowned social activist, good son of Tibetan people, outstanding leader of China’s ethnic work and a CLOSE FRIEND of CPC.” China’s state controlled news agency Xinhua conveyed the Beijing rulers’ tributes to this collaborator by praising him for “ushering in major milestones in Tibet, such as the democratic reforms and the founding of the Autonomous Region of Tibet (TAR).” This praise from his colonial masters on account of his role in founding of TAR becomes more meaningful and revealing today when we find Beijing, perpetually facing international pressure on Tibet, trying desperately to present TAR as the ‘real Tibet’. TAR has been always handy in Beijing’s attempts to deflect world community’s attention from rest of two thirds of original Tibet which China has already gobbled up and digested in adjoining Chinese provinces of Yunnan, Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai. This profuse expression of love and admiration from a colonial master to an obliging native collaborator is understandable.
However, what is not understandable is the official tribute from the exiled Tibetan government in Dharamsala who eulogized dead Ngabo as “Honest and Patriotic who always spoke truth even under the most trying and difficult circumstances”. In its enthusiasm to express its suddenly found admiration for a man like Ngabo the Kashag, (Tibetan Cabinet) the highest executive forum of the ‘government in exile’, has gone on record to say that it “remembers his life-long contributions and mourns his demise.” One wishes that the Kashag should have specifically mentioned those ‘contributions’ of Ngabo which the new generation of Tibetans should emulate in order to be finally decorated as “Honest and Patriotic” by its leaders?
The Kashag statement refers to some meetings between Ngabo and visiting Tibetan representatives of Dharamsala in which he is supposed to have claimed that he had expressed his frank opinions to Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai and other leaders on issues like real size of Tibet, the 17-point agreement and the recognition of the 14th (present) Dalai Lama. It sounds like rehabilitating a ‘traitor’ as a new ‘hero’ of the Tibetan nation.
In its extra ordinary obituary statement, the Kashag has surprisingly gone to the extent of equating Ngabo with late 10th Panchen Lama who, unlike Ngabo, had the courage to confront Beijing leaders publicly head on. Despite having been brought up under Beijing’s care since his childhood, Panchen Lama demonstrated the courage of condemning Chinese ruthlessness in occupied Tibet through a brave 70 thousand character long letter that he had addressed to Chairman Mao. (As a consequence he was deprived of his post as a Vice Chairman of CPCC and condemned to a 20 year long labour camp punishment. Following his release, he is believed to have been murdered by Beijing agents when he spoke publicly against Beijing rule on Tibet in early 1980s.)
It is surprising to note that the Kashag has found it praiseworthy that Ngabo took 40 years to call upon the Central Government to implement 17-point agreement….” which he himself had signed. Interestingly, he never repeated this demand till he died 18 years later.
Tibetan government can surely draw some solace from the Tibetan ‘tradition’ of not saying unpleasant things about a dead person – but its attempt to heap praise on one of the worst known ‘traitors’ in Tibetan history has left most exiled Tibetans confused and dumb stuck. They fail to understand why a man, who collaborated all his life with occupying Chinese masters in strengthening their colonial grip on his country Tibet, should be ‘remembered for his life-long contributions…’? This praise of a ‘Mir Jafar’ (the legendry traitor Indian Mughal king who collaborated with the East India Company to pave way for its colonial rule in India) is an insult to those innumerable brave Tibetans living inside occupied Tibet who laid their lives or who underwent horrible experiences to fight and undo the sins of men like Ngabo.
And finally, this gesture of the Tibetan leadership has left thousands of friends of Tibet like me bewildered. We are at loss to decide whether a community, who lacks even the elementary wisdom of distinguishing between its traitors and patriots, really deserve our support.
Observers like me have known Prof. Samdhong Rimpoche, the present leader of the Kashag, as one of the most outstanding leaders of present day Tibet. With my personal deep faith in his wisdom, patriotism and capability of taking difficult decisions, I am sure he will probe the possibilities of a second thought on this statement to withdraw it or reissue it after due amendments. This wisdom of correcting a historic mistake in its bud will not only save the Tibetan nation from the fall outs of an avoidable blunder, it will also underline the magnanimity of this monk statesman. And, above all, such a brave step will pave way for many more healthy practices in a democratic system which is still in its nascent stage and has to go a long way towards a deep rooted and matured democracy.
The writer is a veteran Indian journalist and a photographer who has had association with the Tibetan community for more than three decades. He has documented the exile Tibetan community's journey through his lens. He lives in Delhi.
The views expressed in this piece are that of the author and the publication of the piece on this website does not necessarily reflect their endorsement by the website.