Monday, January 3, 2011

When Gandhi became an "Independence-wala"

I've been reading "Gandhi Wields the Weapon of Moral Power," an old book published in 1960, authored by Gene Sharp. I came across this interesting facet of the Indian freedom movement that many of us in the Tibetan struggle may not be aware of:

"The young men led by Subhas Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru wanted a declaration of independence to be followed by a war of independence. Gandhi suggested a two years' warning to the British before undertaking a campaign and issuing a declaration of independence. This would also be a period of preparation, involving constructive programme work, enlarging the nation-wide Congress organization and making it more effective and disciplined. Under pressure Gandhi settled for one year. Unless India had achieved her freedom under Dominion Status by December 31, 1929, Gandhi declared, "I must declare myself an Independence-wala (man). I have burnt my boats." The year 1929 was to be decisive."

This excerpt reveals the frustration the Indian leaders were going through at the time because the British rulers had not given India real Dominion Status, a form of internal autonomy for India within the British empire, an arrangement not unlike what the Tibetan government is asking for today within the framework of the Chinese empire.

But India's battle for freedom under Dominion Status was suddenly bolstered when the leaders gave the British an ultimatum, a deadline by which their demands for internal autonomy must be met. If the British did not honor India with real autonomy by December 31, 1929, the Indian leaders including Gandhi would declare independence as the goal of their struggle. No wonder 1929 proved to be a critical year in the Indian struggle for freedom.

In order to strengthen the position of the Tibetan government vis a vis China, it seems critical that Dharamsala's demands for genuine autonomy must be attached to a deadline. Without a deadline, Beijing will play the waiting game forever.

What if Dharamsala comes up with a deadline, such as, say, February 13, 2013? (the day that marks 100 years since the 13th Dalai Lama restored Tibetan sovereignty in 1913). What if Dharamsala warns that if China does not meet Tibetan leaders' demands for autonomy by this date, it will then declare independence as its goal? This would seriously shake many assumptions in Beijing, while bolstering the Tibet movement beyond imagination. In short, wouldn't that put China on the defensive?

Can 2013 become for Tibet what 1929 was for India?

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