India -- Forty-five years ago Wednesday, Tibetans rebelled against
Chinese rule in a bloody uprising that led to the exile of the Dalai
Lama, who now enjoys a worldwide following but can only hope he will
again see his homeland.
Since taking up residence in India in
1959, the Dalai Lama has toured 44 countries, been received by three
US presidents and won the Nobel Peace Prize, but his travels are
ritually denounced by China, which boasts it freed Tibet from a
Most residents of today's Tibet have not
lived under the Dalai Lama, whose predecessors ruled as omnipotent
incarnations of the Buddha, and even among the 120,000 Tibetans in
exile there are grumblings that the 68-year-old monk's peaceful
approach has borne little progress.
The Dalai Lama spent nearly a week in a
Bombay hospital in 2001 being treated for a bowel infection and
although he has resumed his rigorous schedule, the illness forced
Tibetans to contemplate a scenario without their affable public face.
"As long as he is alive, he will be the
foremost motivating factor," said Karma Choephel, a member of the
Tibetan parliament-in-exile set up by the Dalai Lama in the north
Indian hill station Dharamsala.
"After his passing away for the next 50
years Tibetans will not be able to bring any sort of momentum for
their struggle and the Tibetan issue will be lost," Choephel said.
Contradicting the Dalai Lama's stand
that Tibet should be autonomous within China, Choephel called for the
parliament in exile to seek independence.
"If this is done, all other things will
follow and our struggle to go back (to Tibet) will gain momentum,"
The Dalai Lama in 1974 appealed for
Tibetan guerrillas to lay down their arms after the United States
dropped support for them. Today he argues that a confrontational
approach -- such as declaring independence -- would be suicidal
against the military might of the world's most populous country.
But some analysts believe his strategy
of seeking global pressure on China could be just as
counterproductive, arguing that it was Beijing's sensitivity about
potential foreign intervention in Tibet that prompted it to send in
troops in 1950.
The Chinese forces initially gave a
nominal role to the young Dalai Lama, who was born Tenzin Gyatso and
identified by diguised wise men as the spiritual leader's incarnation
when he was barely two years old.
But as the US-backed Khampa guerrillas
battled intermittedly with the People's Liberation Army in eastern
Tibet, tensions grew in the capital Lhasa.
On March 10, 1959, thousands of Tibetans
surrounded the Norbulingka summer palace in Lhasa after rumours spread
that the Chinese were plotting to abduct the Dalai Lama by inviting
him unprotected to a show at a military camp.
While historians question whether the
Chinese were planning to kidnap the Tibetan leader, then 23, the Dalai
Lama would later write that he had no choice but to flee as "there was
nothing more I could do for my people if I stayed, and the Chinese
would certainly capture me in the end."
Trading his robes for the uniform and
fur cap of a common soldier, the Dalai Lama and his aides sneaked out
of Lhasa on March 17 just as the revolt turned violent.
On March 23, troops hoisted communist
China's flag over the Potala Palace, the 1,300-year-old residence of
the Dalai Lamas that towers over Lhasa.Seven days later, after
crossing the Himalayas and the 500-meter (-yard) wide Brahmaputra
river, the Dalai Lama entered India and exile.
"China expected that the Tibetan issue
will become extinct after their occupation. I think this is a big
surprise for the Chinese government that the Tibetan struggle is
thriving," said Acharya Yeshi Phuntsok, president of the liberal
National Democratic Party of Tibet.
"It may be hard to predict when changes
will come, but changes will come," he said.
The Chinese government argues that since
the "Democratic Reform" of 1959, it has pushed a backward land towards
prosperity through modernised industry, communications and transport,
nearly doubling life expectancy to 67 years.
But the government-in-exile and Tibetan
activists hold that the Buddhist-based culture has been devastated by
a flood of Han Chinese settlement and persecution and that thousands
have died -- particularly in the aftermath of the abortive 1959 revolt
and during China's Cultural Revolution.
Beijing demands the Dalai Lama firmly
state Tibet and Taiwan are inalienable parts of China if he wants to
step foot again in the land of his birth.
At the same time, Beijing has reopened
dialogue with the Dalai Lama, receiving two delegations from him since
Thupten Samphel, spokesman for the
government-in-exile, declined comment on whether a third delegation
would visit China.
"Hope is the best friend the Tibetan
people have," Samphel said.
"Based on realistic hope we are
struggling," he said. "But we need to be patient."