Saturday, January 21, 2017

'What exactly is a Smart City?' - No one really knows, but Delhi MUST become smarter

My article 'What exactly is a Smart City?' - No one really knows, but Delhi MUST become smarter appeared in The Daily Mail/Mail Today

Here is the link...

Several months ago, during an interaction with a group of senior (serving and retired) civil servants, the discussion turned to one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's flagship schemes, 'Smart Cities'.
After some time, one of the participants asked: 'But what is a smart city?'

Questions
One 'smart' officer answered that it is an important scheme through which the Prime Minister hopes to change India.
Someone else pointed out that this does not really explain what a 'smart city' is.
How could this change the lives of city dwellers, particularly in places like Delhi, where traffic and pollution are increasing by the day?
A better-connected person admitted that a few weeks earlier, he had phoned one of his colleagues, serving in a senior position in the urban development ministry and asked the latter the same question.
The answer was: 'We are not sure as yet, but we are working on it'. There was no doubt in anybody's mind that there is an urgency for Delhi to become smarter; otherwise, millions could soon suffocate with the increase in pollution, the dysfunctional transportation system and the degradation of the quality of life in general.
Since that discussion, the government and particularly the 'Smart Cities Mission' have done some homework.
The website of the ministry confesses that there is no universally accepted definition for a smart city; it could mean different things to different people.
Ultimately, a smart city 'contains a wish list of infrastructure and services that describes his or her level of aspiration'.
The idea is to provide for the aspirations and needs of the citizens: 'Urban planners ideally aim at developing the entire urban ecosystem, which is represented by the four pillars of comprehensive development - institutional, physical, social and economic infrastructure.'
The objectives of the present scheme are to provide a decent quality of life to the citizens - a clean and sustainable environment by using 'smart solutions': 'The focus is on sustainable and inclusive development.'
Ultimately, a smart city 'contains a wish list of infrastructure and services that describes his or her level of aspiration'
Another objective is to 'create a replicable model which will act like a lighthouse to other aspiring cities.'
After a recent visit to Bhutan, I realised that an important factor has been left out - happiness. Should not citizens be happy in their smart city?
It seems quite obvious, except for the 'planners'! The concept of 'happiness', perhaps, places the bar too high. But should not the well-being of the body and the mind be at least included in the objectives of 'smart cities'?
Even if technology can go a long way to help achieve these objectives, the human aspect should remain the main focus.

Experiment
It is important to recall the experiment of Chandigarh in the 1950s. Inaugurating a new university, Jawaharlal Nehru put it in perspective: 'I do not like every building in Chandigarh, I like some of them very much, I like the general conception of the township very much but what I like, above all, is this creative approach, not being tied down to what has been done by our forefathers and the like, but thinking of it in new terms and trying to think in terms of light and air and ground and water and human beings.'
Human beings should be at the centre of preoccupation of the planners when they dream of achieving smartness.
As Nehru put it: 'The main thing is the approach to it, the design, the conception, the wide conception embracing every aspect of the human life.'
Unfortunately, the 'expert' builders took over the new city and the human approach of the model city remained only words. 'Smart City' is today a fashionable slogan, particularly for foreign investors, but how many town planners are ready to follow in the steps of Le Corbusier?
It is true that there is no easy solution. One way out could be the delocalisation of some of the Indian ministries, all located in Delhi.
Why can't the urban development ministry give the example and shift to a 'smart' new place and become an example for others to follow.

Delocalisation
Let us not forget that new technologies, IT in particular, are to be the engine of the 'smart revolution'. With the advent of video-conferencing, emails and other means of communications, the shifting of a few ministries should not impact the efficiency of the babus and their political masters.
Take Shastri Bhavan, which hosts a score of different ministries.
One often reads in the press about fire in Shastri Bhavan. It is one of the most 'un-smart' buildings in Lyutens' Delhi. Why can't some of these ministries be relocated in other parts of India?
Why not in the Northeast or in the south, for example? It will certainly release the pressure on the national Capital and bring new energies to the 'provinces'.
Delocalisation would be a smart move. It would help make India not uniquely a Delhi-centric country, but also help having smarter, more sustainable governance.
Not only ministries, several government undertakings could also be shifted outside Delhi (I am thinking particularly about think tanks and many educational institutions).
Gurugram could have been a great experiment, had it not been uniquely based on economic short-term profits on immovable properties. It has become an example not to be followed.
Another modern tragedy is the migration of populations from the frontiers, particularly the borders with China in Ladakh, Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh.
Delhi works at snail's speed to create a semblance of infrastructure in these areas, resulting in migration towards the 'big cities'. This too is not at all smart.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

How the next Dalai Lama may be selected!

Tomb of the 10th Panchen Lama at Tashi Lhunpo monastery
Two years ago, I mentioned about the 'arranged' recognition (and enthronement) of the Tenth Panchen Lama.
Today, a Chinese website published a series of photos of the so-called Golden Urn ceremony organized by the Communist Party of China (CPC).
Though at the end of the recent Kalachakra the Dalai Lama stated that he will live till 100, the Communist Government in Beijing is meticulously planning his reincarnation.
It explains the publication of the 1995 'rehearsal' for the selection of the Eleventh Panchen Lama. 
The photos of the farcical ceremony are posted below.

If he could hear the uttering of one of his Tibetan followers, poor Karl Marx would turn in his tomb!
Padma Choling, (alias Pema Thinley), Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Regional (TAR) People's Congress created a flutter when he declared: “it's not up to the Dalai Lama to decide [about his own reincarnation].”
The third session of China's 12th National People's Congress (NPC) had opened as usual with fanfare at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 5, 2015. Three days later, the Tibetan official objected to the Dalai Lama’s earlier announcement saying that ‘[his] traditional religious role should cease with his death’.
Padma Choling affirmed that it was against “the Tibetan Buddhism tradition as the soul of a senior lama is reincarnated in the body of a child on his death. …[as] the move is expected to upset the reincarnation system that has been honored for hundreds of years in Tibet and destabilize the Buddhist region.”
The Central Committee member added that the process: “should follow strict historical conventions and required religious rituals of the Tibetan Buddhism …and be approved by the central government.”
According to Beijing, it is for the Communist Party of China to ‘decide’ who will be the next Dalai Lama.
The atheist Party believes that the Dalai Lama’s claims to stop his lineage (more correctly, the institution of the Dalai Lamas) “is blasphemy against ibetan Buddhism.”
The question remains: how will the Communist Party choose the next Dalai Lama? It is very easy to guess, if you read a book ‘Surviving the Dragon: A Tibetan Lama's Account of 40 Years under Chinese Rule’ written by a Tibetan Lama, now in exile in the US, who was part of the great tamasha to ‘select’ a new Panchen Lama in 1995.
The Lama, Arjia Rinpoche was the Abbot of the Kumbum monastery in today’s Qinghai Province before escaping from China; he was also a member of the ‘selection committee’ for the Panchen Lama.
Arjia recalls: “On May 14, 1995, I was stunned by the news that, in India, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama had announced the name of the reincarnated Eleventh Panchen Lama. My immediate fear was that the Chinese government would not accept his decision and would put itself at odds with Tibetan tradition. And I was right.”
Beijing was furious that the Dalai Lama, based in Himachal Pradesh, had ‘unilaterally’ decided on the new incarnation.
Soon after the Tenth Panchen Lama passed away, under mysterious circumstances while on a visit to Tibet, the Chinese government formed a ‘search team’ under Gyayak Rinpoche, the Panchen Lama’s dharma teacher. Chadrel Rinpoche, abbot of the Panchen Lama’s Tashi Lhunpo Monastery and Arjia Rinpoche were to assist the old Lama.
Arjia remembers: “The Chinese government trusted Chadrel Rinpoche to do their bidding … asking only that he report frequently to the central government on his progress.”
Chadrel Rinpoche considered that it was Tashi Lhunpo monastery’s responsibility to discover the newly born Lama.
The problem started after Gyayak’s demise, when Beijing discovered that Chadrel Rinpoche had secretly been in contact with the Dalai Lama to find a ‘consensus’ candidate. Dharamsala was unaware that Chadrel Rinpoche had written a ‘letter of promise’ agreeing to obey the Chinese government; this explains Dharamsala’s unilateral announcement.
At the same time, says Arjia: “the Tibetans clearly wanted the Fourteenth Dalai Lama to be the final arbiter of the identity of the true reincarnation of the Panchen Lama.”
Events started to hot up in early November 1995, when an emergency meeting was called in Beijing to ‘clarify’ the Communist Party’s position.
According to the former Abbot of Kumbum: “This was when I learned that Chadrel Rinpoche had been arrested. …[then], we were bombarded with statements like ‘We must not allow the Dalai's separatist clique to interfere in the Golden Urn Ceremony’. Though not spelled out, the message was clear: His Holiness would not be involved in the selection process, and the Golden Urn Ceremony would be the method of choice.”
The next day, the main meeting took place to which Jamyang Shepa, abbot of Labrang-Tashi Kyil monastery, Bumi Rinpoche, a high Lama from the TAR and Arjia participated.
Ying Kesheng, the Party Secretary of Qinghai Province was present.
Three points were on the agenda.
  1. Eliminating from contention the boy selected by the Dalai Lama (Gedun Choekyi Nyima, who since then has been under house arrest);
  2. Denouncing and removing Chadrel Rinpoche from his official position on the search team; and
  3. Mandating a Golden Urn Ceremony.
The rinpoches present had no other choice but to accept Beijing’s decision: “The meeting was swift and efficient. That same afternoon, central TV aired footage of the meeting throughout China and the rest of the world,” says Arjia Rinpoche.
Soon after, another meeting was called “for determining the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama using the Golden Urn Ceremony.”
It was to be held in the Jokhang Cathedral in Lhasa: “We landed at Gonggar airport in Lhasa, which was tightly guarded by People's Liberation Army soldiers and armed policemen. Our column of buses, led by police patrol cars, took two hours to drive the 60 miles to the hotel. Soldiers were lined up along the entire route ‘for our protection’. When we arrived at the Lhasa Hotel, things were even more oppressive; I saw squads of PLA soldiers with machine guns, as well as regular police, surrounding the hotel so that no one could slip in or out.”
This could probably be called the selection of a Living Buddha with Chinese characteristics.
The Communist officials told the rinpoches:"The Golden Urn Ceremony will take place tonight, so please be prepared. …If a separatist clique [followers of the Dalai Lama] attempts any disruption of the ceremony, everyone will be protected.”
A stern warning followed: “if any among you support or participate in any such attempt, we will punish you without mercy."
The ceremony was held on November 29, 1995, at 2 am: “we were called together and ushered into vehicles bound for Jokhang Temple. Although the night was dark, again we could see soldiers in their heavy bulletproof vests every few steps along the deserted streets. …As we walked toward the statue of the Buddha [the famous Jowo], we saw undercover policemen standing in every corner and shadow.”
Arjia Rinpoche continues the narration of the dramatic event: “In front of the statue of Sakyamuni Buddha was a large table covered with a yellow silk cloth. Alone on the table stood a golden urn about 15 inches high, surrounded by seated high officials.”
Luo Gan, a State Counselor (and later, a member of the Politburo’s Standing Committee) and Gyaltsen Norbu (the TAR governor) were present.
Then the Ceremony began: “Inside the gold urn was a small case, which contained three ivory lots, an inch wide and seven or eight inches long, with cloud scrolls etched at one end. The names of the three candidates were written on three separate pieces of paper and pasted to the ivory sticks, each of which was then slipped into a tightly fitted pouch of yellow silk. …The three ivory lots were placed into the Golden Urn.”
Bumi Rinpoche, who had been appointed Ganden Tripa (throne holder of the Yellow School) by Beijing, drew the lot.
Arjia remembers: “I expected him to lift the vessel and shake one of the lots out of the urn, but instead he passed his hand quickly over the lots and pulled one out. He handed the yellow pouch to Luo Gan for verification. Luo Gan handed it to Gyaltsen Norbu.”
The name of the ‘selected’ candidate was Gyaltsen Norbu, like the Governor: “Gyaltsen Norbu chose Gyaltsen Norbu. The government chose itself as Panchen Lama,” a joke later circulated.
But the tamasha was not finished. Read on and you will understand how the next Dalai Lama will be selected.
After Gyaltsen Norbu’s enthronement in Tashi Lhunpo, Arjia Rinpoche returned to Beijing by plane. He and Jamyang Shepa were called in a private cabin by Li Tieying, a Central minister and Ye Xiaowen, the director of the Bureau of Religious Affairs under the Chinese Cabinet.
Arjia says: “Both of them looked especially pleased with themselves. Li Tieying placed the event in the context of great moments in China's history.”
After Li Tieying, retired (with an oxygen mask) in the unpressurized cabin, Ye Xiaowen spoke more freely: “He unwittingly revealed a shocking secret,” recalls Arjia. Ye said: “When the Dalai Lama announced the name of his chosen candidate, the government immediately sent out charter jets, usually reserved for members of the Politburo, to the birthplaces of the three final candidates in the Naqu [Nagchu] district of Tibet. They put the boys and their families on the three jets and whisked them away into hiding."
Arjia continues quoting Yu: “When we made our selection we left nothing to chance. In the silk pouches of the ivory pieces we put a bit of cotton at the bottom of one of them, so it would be a little higher than the others and the right candidate would be chosen.”
That was it.
Nothing could be done: “We were dumbfounded! Jamyang Shepa Rinpoche and I kept silent, our heads lowered, pretending we had heard nothing unusual.”
There is no doubt that the selection of the next Dalai Lama will be done in the same manner, if Beijing is allow to have its way.
Twenty years later, Gedun Choekyi Nyima, selected by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama is still under house arrest, somewhere in China.
A tragic farce indeed.

Ye Xiaowen, State Council's Secretary for Religious Affairs selecting the name
Bomi Rinpoche, a Chinese appointed 'Ganden Tripa' and the Golden Urn
Governor Gysltsen Norbu recognizing Gyaltsen Norbu

Gyaltsen Norbu, the Chinese Panchen Lama
State Councilor Li Tieying and Gyaltsen Norbu
State Councilor Li Tieying and Gyaltsen Norbu
On behalf of the State Council, Minister Li Tieying recognizes Gyalsten Norbu

In front of the Buddha in Jokhang Cathedral

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The integration of military and civilian development


I recently mentioned the new roads being built in Western Tibet (Ngari) towards the Indian border (G564 and G565).
But that is not all.
According to Kangba TV, the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) has created a basic integrated transport network, with a total road mileage of 82,500 km, five airports, 71 domestic and international airlines, as well as the Qinghai-Tibet and Lhasa-Shigatse railway lines.
During a press conference, Sonam Chophel, director of the TAR transport department asserted: “Transport is the key role in economic development. Therefore, in order to break the bottleneck of economic development, we need to have good transport.”
Sonam Chopel also said, “In 2016, TAR has attracted a total investment and bank loan of 54.6 billion yuan [for infrastructure]. 44 key road projects are under construction.”
The TAR has spent 8.5 billion yuan in railway projects in 2016, and 7.5 billion yuan were used on the Tibet section Sichuan-Tibet Railway.
With the arrival of Che Dralha at the helm of the TAR government, this trend will probably accelerate, as one of his objectives is to develop tourism on a large scale.
China Tibet Online further announced that “the highest ring road is being built”.
With six lanes, the road will circle around Lhasa city. It will have a total length of 100km; it will include seven tunnels and 27 overpasses.
Once the road is opened in June, the drive around the capital city will only take two hours.

Loyalty to the core

On January 11, Wu Yingjie, Secretary of the TAR Party Committee, met a delegation of senior officers of the People’s Armed Police on the side of the Regional People’s Congress.
Lt Gen Xu Yong, the Commander of the Tibet Military Region was in attendance.
It is said that the atmosphere is very warm.
Wu asked the officers to pledge “absolute loyalty to the party under the strong leadership of the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core, with the unselfish support of the people of the whole country.”
He urged the attendees to “consolidate the good situation of sustained harmony and stability, to maintain sound and rapid economic and social development and to achieve the objectives of the 13th Five-Year Plan.”
The Armed Forces have made outstanding contributions for the maintenance of the local stability, the economic development, the improvement the people's livelihood and the implementation poverty alleviation and national unity, he said.
He added that Tibet is located “in the southwest border of the motherland, in the first line of anti-separatist struggle; it is the main battlefield.”
This refers to the Tibetans living in India.
Wu insisted that he hoped that the PLA stationed troops will resolutely implement "the instructions of the Party Central Committee, the Central Military Commission and the President of the CPC while strengthening the army's objective under the new situation.”
He probably meant the in-depth reforms of the PLA.
Wu also repeated: “One must be absolutely loyal to the core. The central position of General Secretary Xi Jinping was established …to comprehensively promote reform, development, stability, internal affairs, foreign affairs, national defense and the rule of the Party.”


The integration of military and civilian development 
Perhaps more importantly for India’s borders, Wu asked the troops and officers to “promote the integration of military and civilian development.”
It has serious implications for the infrastructure on the plateau, particularly for the new roads leading to the Indian border.
Wu remarked: “Party committees and governments at all levels should inherit and carry forward the glorious tradition of unity between the military and the army and the people, and further consolidate the military-military-civilian relations between the army and the people.”
Note that the building of the above-mentioned ‘integrated infrastructure’ relates to both the military and the civilian.
For the Party boss of Tibet, it is necessary to “conscientiously implement the economic construction and national defense construction.”
He further mentioned “the implementation and the integration of these views on development”, while urging the officers “to adhere to military and civilian joint construction” and take the initiative "to integrate national defense and military construction into local economic and social development planning.”
India could perhaps learn for Tibet and China.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

New Governor for Tibet: no big incidents, no medium incidents, no small incidents, but tourists

Che Dralha (left) takes over from Lobsang Gyaltsen
The People's Daily and several Chinese official websites announced the appointment of a new Governor of Tibet (head of the local Government).
Che Drahla (or Qi Zhala in Chinese), who has served in Tibet areas for the past 35 years, was till recently the Party Secretary of Tibet’s capital Lhasa; since December, he is of the four deputy secretaries of the Tibet Autonomous Region.
Che is 58 years old.
According to the same short announcement,the outgoing Governor Lobsang Gyaltsen was named Chairman of the regional National People's Congress.
What has happened to Pema Thinley (alias Padma Choeling) who officiated at this post is not clear.
Reuters commented on Che's new job: “Managing the remote Himalayan region of Tibet remains a difficult issue for China, which has struggled with decades of often violent unrest in protest at Chinese rule, which started when Chinese troops marched into Tibet in 1950.”
But Che has some experience.

Lobsang Gyaltsen swearing on the Constitution
Che Dralha behind (right)

Promoting Tourism
Che come from the Tibetan-inhabited part of Yunnan province.
He was posted in this province before his transfer to Tibet in 2010 when he took over the Lhasa Municipality.
In one of the Wikileaks cables, in September 2007, John Hill, the Acting Consul General, Chengdu, Sichuan wrote: “Ethnic Tibetan areas of Sichuan and Yunnan are under increased security pressure from government authorities in the wake of demonstrations in the town of Litang in western Sichuan's Ganzi [Kartze] Prefecture that were set off by the arrest of a man calling for the return of the Dalai Lama at a major public gathering in early August. ...Despite the growth of the tourist economy in some towns, contacts stressed to us during our recent swing through the region their continued concerns over economic marginalization of Tibetans and environmental degradation."
But Che Dralha found the trick (he later applied it to Lhasa): bring millions of tourists to increase the local revenue and 'pacify' the the Tibetans.
Hill mentioned the visit of a US delegation in Tibetan areas of Sichuan and Yunnan from August 22-28, 2007. He was accompanied by a Bangkok-based USAID official and the representatives of U.S.-based NGOs Winrock International (Winrock) and The Mountain Institute (TMI).
The delegation went to Zhongdian (in northwest Yunnan's Dechen Prefecture)
The US Consul General reported: “The small city of Zhongdian (or Shangri-la) sits at an altitude of 3,340 meters (approx. 11,000 feet) in an alpine valley in northwestern Yunnan. The seat of the Diqing [Dechen] Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, it (and the county in which was located) was renamed Shangri-la in 2000, from the famous James Hilton novel of the 1930's, in an effort to market itself as a 'lost paradise' for tourists. According to local officials, the area attracted over two million tourists in 2006, about 90 percent of whom were Chinese domestic tourists on package tours.”
The report continue: “Both local officials and tourist industry contacts attribute Shangri-la's successful marketing to the Prefecture's Party Secretary and Governor, an ethnic Tibetan named Qi Zhala [Che Dralha]. Qi has been in the post of Party Secretary for only a few months, but has served as Governor or in other leadership positions in Zhongdian for a number of years. (Note: According to our information it is rare for an ethnic Tibetan to serve simultaneously as both the local party secretary and government head. End note.) By all accounts, early in his official career Qi focused on the development of Zhongdian as a natural tourist destination, and in testament to his efforts the streets of the town are filled with attractive souvenir shops and restaurants and bars catering to both Chinese and western travelers. Construction in and around the town is booming - in addition to numerous small wooden shops and houses in the old section of town, the city also boasts a brand-new five-story cultural center, a new prefecture administrative building, and a large horseracing arena.”
Che would only have to replicate this policy in Lhasa to boost his political career.

Che Dralha visiting the site of the new airport in Lhasa
Che rewarded
But tourism is only one part of the recipe.
The other is discreet repression.
In March 2012, Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) based in Dharamsala quoted ChinaTibetNews.com who announced that those wanting to enter Tibet were required to carry their government-issued identity cards.
Che Dralha, then Party Secretary of Lhasa, declared that the move was aimed at "establishing and improving coordination among the four provinces [Qinghai, Gansu, Yunnan and Sichuan]".
While on an inspection tour around Lhasa on January 29, 2012, Che told the police officers that they should strive to realize the goal of “no big incidents, no medium incidents and no small incidents to occur” and to “strike hard at all the separatists.”
Che also mentioned  the importance of stepping up security and increasing the number of police officials along national roads and 'key monasteries'.
TCHRD said that even the Beijing branch of Public Security Bureau had issued a notice asking all hotels and steam-bath houses in the capital to be more attentive about the presence of Tibetan clients. Hotel employees in Beijing are required to check the identities of Tibetans staying in the capital and to immediately inform the police station.
In November 2015, when a group of journalists visited Lhasa, local officials (including Che) credited the peace in the city to the infamous grid management.
The Financial Times (FT) reported: “The mass troop deployment that followed a 2008 riot was no longer visible, although local residents said the heavy security presence was reinstated during Tibetan holidays or sensitive anniversaries. As well as small police booths that stud residential blocks in Lhasa, there are police booths at the entrance to villages around the city, as well as much larger checkpoints set up like tollbooths on the roads leading into larger towns.
The FT quoted Che Dralha “The masses manage themselves and serve themselves, this is a Chinese characteristic.”
He has now been rewarded.

Brief CV
Che Dralha is born in August 1958 in Shangri-La, Yunnan Province.
In May 1982, he joined the Communist Party of China
In December 1979, Che graduated from the Central Party School.
He has served in different positions in the Tibetan-areas of Yunnan: Deputy Secretary of the Communist Youth League of Zhongdian County (Shangri-La); in Dechen Prefecture’s Standing Committee; Party Secretary of Zhongdian County; in the Yunnan’s Provincial Party Committee; Dechen Party Secretary.
Later he was shifted to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) where he served as major of Lhasa and in the Standing Committee of the regional Party Committee. He also worked with the United Front Work Department.
He is presently Deputy Secretary of the TAR’s Party Committee.

As Governor, he is the most powerful Tibetan in the TAR and the second-most powerful official, after Wu Yingjie, the TAR Party boss.
Wu, a Han Chinese, has spent 40 years of his career in Tibet.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Why China is angry with the Puja in Bodh Gaya

My article  Why China is angry with the Puja in Bodh Gaya appeared in Rediff.com


China's ruling Communist Party has cracked down on Tibetans who planned to attend the Kalachakra Puja in Bodh Gaya.
But the Tibetan people have dared the Communists by listening to the Dalai Lama's sermons on the Internet and sharing videos on social media, says Claude Arpi.


Here is the link...

Some say 100,000, others speak of 200,000 devotees, from nearly 90 countries around the world, assembled in Bodh Gaya, Bihar — the place where Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment — to get the blessings of the Dalai Lama, who offered the Kalachakra empowerment.
Soon after the New Year, the Dalai Lama gave the devout crowd preliminary teachings on Buddhist texts such as Shantideva's A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life.
Though the preparatory teachings took place since January 2, the main puja lasted from January 11 to 13.
It did not amuse China, which became angrier with the Tibetan religious leader. These days, the Communist leadership systematically sees red when the Dalai Lama’s name is mentioned.
It could simply be because all religious activities in the Middle Kingdom are subordinated to the Communist Party’s diktats?

The Chinese Kalachakra
Xi Jinping and his colleagues say that they have nothing against religion; in fact they supported their own Kalachakra in Tibet in July 2016.
Gyalsten Norbu, the boy selected by the Party in doubtful circumstances as the Eleventh Panchen Lama, officiated in Shigatse, the second largest town in Tibet, while for the past 20 years. the boy recognized by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama still languishes under house arrest ‘somewhere’ in China.
At that time, The Global Times, the mouthpiece of the Party reported: “Following strict religious traditions, the ritual lasted from July 21 through July 24. During this time, the Panchen Lama restored statues each morning, and from two o’clock in the afternoon began reading scriptures for the ritual for monks and believers. The Panchen Lama initiated the Kalachakra for more than 426,000 monks and believers during this time.”
The atheist Communist Party, recently greatly knowledgeable in religious affairs, explained: “The Kalachakra ritual is the highest level of rituals in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and only high monks and lamas with profound attainments in Buddhist philosophy can hold the ritual. Data shows that the Panchen Lama has received more than 1,000 tantric rituals including the Kalachakra ritual to date, and his tantric Buddhist philosophy knowledge becomes increasingly sophisticated.” The fact that Gyaltsen Norbu is highly inexperienced does not bother Beijing.
In Tibet, there was of course no mention of the Dalai Lama.
The farce was held outside the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, the traditional seat of the Panchen Lamas; the Chinese authorities built for the occasion a new palace, the Dechen Kelsang Phodrang on a 112,000 square meters areas.
The Chinese media reported that more than 100,000 Buddhist followers, some 100 ‘high’ lamas and 5,000 monks and nuns attended the function. Monks and lay people had come from the Tibetan Autonomous Region as well as from the adjoining provinces of Sichuan, Gansu, Qinghai, and Yunnan. It is at least what the Chinese propaganda says.
The truth is that many ‘devotees’ were coerced to attend the rituals.

The Bodh Gaya Kalachakra
Do not be mistaken, Beijing has not become enamoured of religious practices. The Communist authorities were quick to denounce the Bodh Gaya event as ‘illegal’, the Tibetans (from Tibet) intending to attend it were threatened with dire punishment.
Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported: “Thousands of pilgrims from Tibetan-populated areas of western China who had hoped to attend have been forced to return home though, while others have been blocked from leaving China.”
While in Tibet, ‘devotees’ were forced to attend the Shigatse Kalachakra, in India, they are forbidden to participate.
RFA got hold of an official notification which was circulated in Dechen prefecture of Yunnan province: those who would not obey the orders could spend between 10 days to five years in jail, it says.
It was addressed to ‘all relevant departments at all levels, township, county, and prefecture’; it warned Tibetans not to share information — including audio or video clips — related to the Kalachakra either on the Internet or on social media: “Other related activities, such as organizing celebrations in support of the Kalachakra, are also forbidden.”
The notice added: “Anyone engaging in these acts will be in violation of Article 55 [pertaining to national security] of the Public Security Law and will face severe consequences,” the notice adds.
The notice was distributed in December asking each Tibetan household to immediately provide information about any county’s residents already in India. The families were further warned “that anyone found to have participated in the Kalachakra teachings will lose their passport and ration card after they return. If they are monks or nuns, their right to study Tibetan Buddhism will also be revoked.”
The message was clear: only the Kalachakra organized by the Party is legal.
The Chinese press had explained that Kalachakra means ‘Wheel of Time’; the ritual prepares devotees to be reborn in Shambhala, a celestial kingdom which will vanquish the forces of evil in a future cosmic battle.
An interesting program!

New Border Regulations
Probably related to the ‘Indian’ Kalachakra, reinforced border regulations were recently announced. According to The Global Times: “The designated border areas under the new regulation now include land ports, trade zones and scenic spots, expanding the scope of the old regulation that has been in effect since 2000.”
Badro, deputy head of the Tibet border police explained: “As Tibet further opens up with fast economic development, the border areas have witnessed more disputes and diverse criminal activities, including those involving separatism, illegal migration and terrorism.”
But the real purpose was the Bodh Gaya Kalachakra. .
The new regulation include a compulsory ‘Border Resident New Identity Card’ (BRNIC), issued for border residents.
A notification said: “Border residents can apply BRNIC for one time. ...Border Public Security Department is issuing BRNIC without any payment. …[Soon] the Border Public Security Department will make BRNIC procedure online to avoid difficulties. …Border residents can go through border check post with BRNIC without any difficulties.” BRNIC holders may be allowed to go through border check posts, but not to Bodh Gaya.
As a result of the new rules, some 7,000 Tibetans hoping to attend the empowerment had to cancel their plans.
RFA asserted: “Thousands of pilgrims from Tibetan-populated areas of western China who had hoped to attend have been forced to return home, though, while others have been blocked from leaving China.”
RFA quotes one of the organizers, Karma Gelek: “It is extremely unfortunate and sad that so many Tibetans who wanted to attend could not come, and that many others who were able to come have had to return to Tibet under strict deadlines,” Gelek added, “This raises serious questions concerning China’s claim that it allows religious freedom.”

The Dalai Lama’s influence
The Dalai Lama has still a tremendous influence on Tibetan crowds; a telling example: religious observances and prayers are held in Tibet while the function goes on Bihar. A source living in Tibet told RFA that this was done in open defiance to authorities’ warnings: “Residents of at least one Tibetan-populated county in Sichuan have been gathering in small groups to pray and to listen to the Dalai Lama’s teachings on the Internet.”
The source added: “They have also shared videos of the Dalai Lama’s teachings over social media, translating them from the [Dalai Lama’s] Central Tibetan dialect to the local dialect so that people can understand. …Several hundred elders have also gathered to recite mantras and say other prayers.”
More than one thousand Tibetans, who were ordered to return home, had a special audience of the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, before their departure.
Mostly from Eastern Tibet, they received religious advice from the Dalai Lama. Though they had dreamt to be in Bodh Gaya for the Kalachakra teachings, the Dalai Lama told that they could get the same benefit wherever they are and that he would keep them in his mind.

Double Standards
But all this shows China’s double standards in the field of religion today.
In Tibet, people are forced to attend the ‘empowerment’; when it comes to India and the Dalai Lama, they are threatened if they dare to participate.
But the Tibetan people are no fools; they know which function carries the most Sacred Blessings.

Friday, January 13, 2017

New highway near Mt. Kailash

The Chinese Law on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) requires the State to consult the population about any new project; it is how some information on the new highway projects in Western Tibet (Ngari Prefecture) came in the public domain.
Last week I had mentioned the construction of a 558 km-long highway connecting Xinjiang and Tibet, via Minfeng.
The deeply-worrying aspect of this project is that it crosses the highly eco-sensitive Changthang National Nature Reserve. It runs for 110 km in the main reserve, about 270 km in the buffer zone and some 100 km in the ‘experimental area’.
The new road will ultimately connect G216 to G219 highways and end up in Tibet, north of Rutok near Panggong Tso in Ladakh.

Two new highways and an one upgraded
Two new roads have also been announced through a EIA notification.
Further, the G219, the main artery connecting Tibet to Xinjiang should soon be upgraded. All this will be done during China's 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2010).
A new highway, known as G564 will connect the G219 to Purang/Taklakot located near the tri-junction Nepal-India-Tibet.
The G564 will branch off from the G219, near Mount Kailash (Tharchen) and head south, passing between Manasarovar and Rakshas lakes before continuing towards Purang/Takalkhot.
The length of the road will be 107 km, it will have a width of 12 m; it is designed for a speed of 80 km/h. The construction should take 36 months; it would have started in September 2016 and it is supposed to be completed by August 2019.
The second highway, the G365, will connect the G219 (in Kunsha/Gunsa Township) to Tholing (Zanda in Chinese). It will probably continue to the famous religious complex of Tsaparang; the ruins of the Guge Kingdom are presently being restored to bring a large number of Chinese tourists.
The length of the road is about 117 km. It will be slightly narrower than the G564, with a width of 10m. It is designed for a speed of 60km/h. Construction schedule is the same as for the G564.
Highway G564 passes between the lakes


Upgrading the G219
Some 207 km of the G219 will be upgraded between the Mt. Kailash area and Kunsha, where the new highways respectively branches to the G564 and the G565 (see map above).
The G219 will have a width of 12 m and it is designed for a speed of 80 km/h.
According to a Chinese website, the objectives of the two new highways are: “to improve the Tibet Autonomous Region road network infrastructure and improve the highway traffic conditions.”
But the main objective is clearly to develop tourism.


G219 Kailash-Kunsha 207 km
G264 Kailash-Purang 107 km
G265 Kunsha-Tholing 117 km


431 km

The ruins of the ancient Kingdom of Guge are the main attraction around Tholing (which is incidentally very close of the Indian border – Chamoli district of Uttarakhand).
The Chinese are also planning a railway line along the G564 to Purang, hoping to develop trade with Nepal on a large scale.
Before undertaking the rail line, the section towards Kyirong (from Shigaste) will have to be extended towards Ngari. It will probably happen after 2020.
A Chinese website says the three highways (G219, G564, G565) will pass through the Mabian Yongmu (?) Wetland Nature Reserve, the Kailash National Forest Park, the Manasarovar scenic area, the Tholing Forest Nature Reserve,  the Tholing County Geological parks and the Guge scenic area (Tsaparang).
The project has been entrusted the Chongqing Design and Research Institute Co., Ltd. of the China Coal Industry Group.
The coal companies are everywhere in China.

On the Indian side of the border
In July 2016, Union Road and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari announced that the Modi government was “hopeful of completing by next April [2017] the construction of highways through Uttarakhand for Kailash-Mansarovar to make it easy for people to visit the abode of Lord Shiva. “
The Minister told PTI: “Kailash-Mansarovar is the identity of our rich ancient culture and heritage. …We are cutting rocks through Himalayas to make a new alignment of highways through Uttarakhand for going to Mansarovar.”
Mr Gadkari claimed: "We can reach Mansarovar directly through Uttarakhand,” it is not certain that Beijing, in its present mood, will agree to receive hordes of Indian pilgrims.
In any case, let us see if the minister keeps his promise. It is doubtful.
But for sure, a highway to Mt. Kailash will be opened on the other Tibetan side by 2019.


The Construction of Sichuan - Tibet railway accelerates
In the meantime, a publication affiliated with Xinhua reported yesterday that "the epic Sichuan-Tibet railway is accelerating construction at both ends -- the section between Chengdu to Ya’an, Sichuan province, and the section between Lhasa to Nyingchi, Tibet Autonomous Region."
As mentioned earlier, the 1,900-km line starts from Chengdu and ends in Lhasa; it passes through Ya'an, Kartze, Chamdo and Nyingchi.
The same publication said: "The Jin Jiguan No.2 tunnel in Ya’an is the first tunnel from the hilly region of Sichuan to Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and is expected to be completed in March this year."
The Chengdu-Ya’an section should be the first section opened to traffic in June 2018.
Once completed, the travel time from Chengdu to Lhasa will be reduced to 13 hours, with a speed limit of 200 km/h.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Confronting a phase of political anitya

My article Confronting a phase of political anitya appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer


Here is the link...

This year, the international scene will witness, if not global ‘impermanence’, at least a sea of changes. World leaders, be it Chinese, Russian, French or American, will have to learn to live with anitya (impermanence)

More than 2,500 years ago, Lord Buddha spoke of ‘impermanence’ or anitya in Sanskrit. For the sage, conditioned existence is without exception “transient, evanescent, inconstant”; all temporal things, whether material or mental, are objects in a continuous change of condition, subject to decline and destruction, taught the Buddha.
This is true for politics too, though in this sphere, things seem to move faster than in other realms. Take for example, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. For several years, he was the devil personified; he was a ‘criminal’; no name was bad enough to define the Gujarat Chief Minister; it went so far that foreign embassies in India forbade their diplomats to undertake projects in Gujarat or even visit the State.
Calculated in political eons, this was long ago. Today, foreign heads of state or Government are rushing to Indian to do business with Vibrant Gujarat. According to the Ministry of External Affairs, the Global Summit saw the participation of President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Rwanda Paul Kagame, Prime Minister of Portugal António Costa, Prime Minister of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic, Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Rogozin, Deputy Prime Minister of Poland Piotr Glinski, France Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, Japan’s Economy Minister Hiroshige Seko and delegations from other nations.
Not so long ago, I remember speaking to the Ambassador of one of the countries mentioned above (not France), who swore that his country would never set foot in Modi’s state. But past is past.
It must, however, have been pleasing, not to say a sweet revenge, for the Indian Prime Minister to ‘receive’ so many dignitaries. Take the example of France; Ayrault, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development came with a 147-member French delegation to attend the summit.
A French communiqué said,  “Reflecting its prominent position among leading foreign investors in India, France, a partner country of the summit, is committed to partnering with the Indian Government and the Government of Gujarat.”
Even a Nobel Laureate, Serge Haroche, expert in atomic physics, quantum optics, and laser spectroscopy, participated in the Nobel Laureates Conclave. How this will make Gujarat vibrate is not clear, but it is more symbolic of the new world’s state of mind vis-à-vis India and Modi in particular.
The central focus of the summit being ‘Sustainable Economic and Social Development’, the French delegation was said to have expertise in energy, power, urban development, water and waste management, aviation and logistics, agrifood industry, multimodal transport, IT, you name them.
I, however, wonder: Do the delegates really understand Modi’s ‘Make in India’ vision? It is a billion rupee question. And the foreign delegates should remember that Gujaratis are among the best businesspersons in the world, can they be a match? Do the delegates to the summit realise that ‘Make in India’ means a new type of partnership and that will have to ‘share’ the best technologies they have?
Launched in 2003, the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit aims at attracting investment in the State, but foreign delegates should not forget that Modi’s India is not the same country as in the 1980s or 1990s.
The Indian Space Research Organisation will soon launch PSLV C 37, (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) which should lift three big and 100 small satellites in a single mission off from Sriharikota. A world record. Could you have imagined this 20 years ago?
The summit was not ‘business’ only, it was also the occasion for high politics. With the world scene in global flux, particularly after the arrival of a new US President, Modi made sure to use the forum to discuss politics, especially when he met Rogozin, the Russian Deputy Prime Minister (himself accompanied by a large business delegation).
Talks between the two were crucial as it was the first high-level encounter between India and Russia after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India last October. It was also an occasion for Delhi to get clarifications from Moscow whose position on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (cutting across the Indian territory in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) has been ambiguous, with Beijing and Islamabad trying to lure the Russians into the mega scheme.
In a first stage, Russia said that it was interested in participating in activities of the port of Gwadar, but later the information was denied. Indrani Bagchi wrote in The Times of India, “If Russia enhances its relations with Pakistan, particularly in the defence sector, India would take a very different set of measures, which could even include reducing its buy of Russian weaponry. Indian officials say they understand Russia is looking for new markets for its weapons but selling to Pakistan must not be among them...”
The other issue is the uncertainty about Donald Trump’s stand on US-Russia relations. The President-elect is bound to have more ‘normal’ relations with Putin than his predecessor who was obsessed about real or imaginary interference from Moscow on American soil, forgetting that in the past, the Chinese have harmed the US interests many times more than the Russians (in hacking for example). What will Trump tweet next on Russia?
It would certainly be a good thing for India (and for America) to balance Moscow’s dependence on Beijing, in the Middle East crisis and elsewhere. Though French Foreign Minister met Modi during the Global Summit, the attention-grabbing news concerning the French diplomacy in the changed times, came from another side of the globe. Three French MPs, one of them associated with François Fillon, who in a few months has good chances to be the next French President, met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Though Fillon’s campaign manager denied sending Thierry Mariani, one of the MPs, it is clear that this heralds radical changes in the months to come. Mariani said that al-Assad told him that he was willing to negotiate with rebel groups fighting against his Government, with the exception of thejihadi organisations.
According to Mariani, al-Assad was “optimistic and ready for reconciliation with them on the condition that they lay down their arms”. Furter, he was ready to negotiate ‘on everything’ during the forthcoming talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, brokered by Russia and Turkey.
Apart from the MPs, a group of French journalists from France Info, La Chaîne parlementaire and RTL television interviewed the Syrian President: “We don’t consider it [re-taking Aleppo from the rebels] as a victory. The victory will be when you get rid of all the terrorists,” said al-Assad.
Asked about heavy bombing raids that ravaged the city and claimed large numbers of civilian lives, Assad told the French journalists: “But you have to liberate, and this is the price sometimes.”
In 2017, the international scene will indeed witness, if not global ‘impermanence’, at least a sea of changes, and not just in the field of business. World leaders, whether they are Chinese, Russian, French or American will have to learn to live with anitya.