India Foundation organised a National Scholars Confluence from 16 to 18 May 2018 in Leh to
celebrate the birth centenary of the 19th Kushok Bakula. The theme of the conference was ‘The Geo-Politics of the Himalayan Region.’ The inaugural and valedictory sessions of the conference were co-hosted by Jammu Kashmir Study Centre (JKSC).
16 May 2018
The inaugural session was presided over by Prof. Arvind P. Jamkhedkar, Chairman, Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR). Shri Ashutosh Bhatnagar, Director, Jammu Kashmir Study Centre; Shri Chhering Dorjey, Minister for Ladakh Affairs, Government of Jammu and Kashmir; Prof. Sunaina Singh, Vice-Chancellor, Nalanda International University; Shri Geshe Konchok Wangdu, Director, Central Institute of Buddhist Studies (CIBS); Shri Dorjey Muttup, Chief Executive Councillor (CEC), Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) and Prof. Rajneesh Shukla, Member Secretary, Indian Council of Philosophical Research (ICPR) shared the dais and spoke about the personality of Kushok Bakula Rinpoche.
Dr Kuldeep Agnihotri, General Secretary of the Kushok Bakula Birth Centenary Celebrations Committee, in his introductory remarks said that the people of Jammu Kashmir and the rest of India need to know about the life and achievements of the 19th Kushok Bakula Rinpoche.
Prof. Sunaina Singh spoke on the Rinpoche’s soft power and how he bridged ties between India and Mongolia and also spread and revived Buddhism in the region. She said that largely due to his efforts, India and Mongolia continue to share very close ties.
17 May 2018
Session 1 – Kushok Bakula
Rinpoche: Exemplar of India’s Soft Power Diplomacy
Prof. Sunaina Singh, the chair of the session, highlighted how India had always been a powerhouse of soft power, but that there was no term to describe the concept until Joseph Nye coined “Soft Power”. Anil Trigunayat, Former Ambassador & Distinguished Fellow, Vivekananda International Foundation spoke on how the 19th Kushok Bakula Rinpoche was a perfect example of soft power in action, by helping shape culture and as such affecting people’s behaviour in a way that aligns their goals with India’s. Ambassador Trigunayat recalled how the 19th Kushok Bakula was the main driving force in reviving Buddhism in Mongolia, and highlighted how he single-handedly drove closer ties between India and Mongolia through soft power. His legacy can be seen through the number of Mongolians studying in India, the tremendous goodwill that India has in Mongolia and also on how Mongolia and India find themselves supportive of similar international causes.
Session 2 – Geostrategic Importance of the Himalayan Region
Prof. Sukh Deo Muni, Professor Emeritus, Jawaharlal Nehru University highlighted three important aspects of the Himalayan region — the mountain ranges’ strategic location, its resources and turbulence. Ambassador P. Stobdan, Senior Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) pointed out that the Himalayas are not a separate entity to India, but are an integral part of it, by highlighting its Sanskrit epistemology. He noted how the Himalayas have acted as a protective shield for India against foreign invasions. He deliberated on how the region used to be an area of competition between the British and Russians, referring to ‘The Great Game’ and pointed that some parts of the region are now contested between India, China and Pakistan. He noted that Himalayan geopolitics has become very complex and new fault lines can emerge if present concerns are not appropriately addressed. He stressed on the need to disengage and re-cultivate the importance of Himalayan Buddhism.
Session 3 – The Tibetan Conundrum
Ambassador Stobdan, the chair of the session, said that the Tibetan government was the first government to make a claim on Indian land. Dr. Abanti Bhattacharya, Associate Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi spoke on the ‘Tibetan Conundrum’ by presenting three different perspectives — the Indian, the Chinese and the Tibetan perspective. She said that India has never used the Tibet card; it messed up the card and lost it. She noted that there is insecurity in the Chinese foreign policy thinking, and that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was planned to keep the US and Japan out. Since the Quad keeps China out, she said it accepted India’s call for a reset in bilateral relations. She said that China views Tibet is an internal issue, a security issue and not an identity issue, and therefore is not open for discussion.
Dr Bhattacharya spoke about the Tibetan perspective and said that they have diluted their own cause. She highlighted this by giving the example of the year 1919 when Tibet did not understand the need to represent itself as an independent country in the League of Nations. Dr. Bhattacharya concluded that India does have a Tibet Card, but one that has failed to be played throughout Indian-Chinese history, and that unless India uses this card soon, it will be lost.
Session 4 –
Xinjiang: Under the Shadow of Islamic Radicalism and Uyghur Nationalism
Ms. Prabha Rao, Senior Fellow, IDSA, chaired the session and highlighted the problem of nationalism in Xinjiang, and how this has morphed into Islamic extremism with time. Ms. Rao also mentioned how Islamic propaganda from Xinjiang has made its way into Jammu and Kashmir. Professor Mahesh Ranjan Debata, Assistant Professor, Centre for Inner Asian Studies, SIS, JNU said that with the rising number of Han people in Xinjiang, there has been rising ethno-nationalism in the region, and that Islam has become more important. Mr. Debata stated that Islam has turned Xinjiang into a powerful and united nation, and there were calls for jihad against China in the past. Citing an example, he said Zahideen Yusuf, the main leader of the uprising, gave a call saying “we don’t believe in socialism”. Moreover, in 2015 there were instances of Uyghurs joining the ISIS in Syria and being involved in Islamic terrorism. China in turn, he said, has responded with force and development to counteract this threat. The terrorists within Xinjiang lack domestic support for their agenda, and internationally there has been little sympathy for their movement even with alleged Chinese human rights abuses against them.
18th May 2018
Session 5 – Nepal & Bhutan: Changing Dynamics
Ambassador Ranjit Rae, chair of the session and former ambassador to Nepal, noted that political change in Nepal has come through a series of events such as the struggle for an inclusive society and the Madhesi movement. He highlighted the different forms of government in Nepal and Bhutan, their relationship with China and their close links with India. Ambassador Rae pointed out that India is the biggest partner to both countries, but how we respond to the role that China wants to play, will become increasingly important. Dr Nihar Nayak, Research Fellow, IDSA focused his talk on Nepal and its foreign policy under the current government. He said that as Nepal is a small landlocked state with limited resources, a small economy and a small army, it is dependent, to an extent, on its neighbours. China he said, views Nepal as a natural buffer while India, emphasises its economic, energy and cultural ties. He pointed out that Nepal is an important partner for India and India in the 1950s recognised that its northern defence starts from Nepal. Mr Nayak said that Nepal’s foreign policy revolves around security and stability and that it directly addresses its relationship with India. Dr Medha Bisht, Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, South Asia University, spoke of the cooperation between Indian and Bhutan, and how existing hydroelectric power projects between the two countries represent a significant amount of Bhutan’s GDP. Ms. Bisht noted how Bhutanese media is concerned with India becoming too dominant in the country, and while the countries are allies, India should pay consideration to Bhutanese concerns to avoid generating hostility.
Session 6 –
Gilgit-Baltistan &Aksai Chin: Himalayan Region under Foreign Occupation
Captain Alok Bansal, Director, India Foundation noted that Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) is not the best term to describe territories of India that are under Pakistani control. Captain Bansal compared the differences between Mirpur-Muzaffarabad and Gilgit-Baltistan, noting that the latter has a greater desire to re-join with India and is far more distinct from Pakistan. He argued that Gilgit-Baltistan has been governed like a colony by Pakistan, with denial of local governance, political rights and self-rule, which combined with economic exploitation, has created greater demands for independence from Pakistan in the region. Captain Bansal also noted that China has been occupying Aksai Chin since 1962, although the region is largely uninhabited and that China’s old postage maps considered the territory Indian.
Session 7 – India’s Himalayan Frontier through the Ages
Prof. K Warikoo, from Centre for Inner Asian Studies, SIS, JNU said that Indian mythology points to the Himalayas as the centre of the world. He spoke of some of the features of the Himalayan region. He spoke of the importance of locating all available historical documents that show our true borders especially in the Himalayas as it is a contested and geographically strategic region. The imposing geographical features of India did not stop it from being a contested zone. Moreover, its close proximity to Central Asia and borders with Afghanistan, Pakistan and China make it vulnerable to external influences. The second feature is that Buddhism is a connect in the region. A number of Buddhist inscriptions and figures, for example, are found in the region. The last feature he pointed to was the economic connect in the region. He noted that Tibet for example, was closely linked to Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir both economically and culturally, and the most important article of trade was wool. Professor Warikoo said that the Himalayas are a fine example of boundary and barrier, and reiterated that there is a need to gather all historical documents on the Himalayan region in one place.
In the Valedictory Session, Shri Dattatreya Hosbale, Joint General Secretary, RSS spoke on “Transcending Borders: Culture, Commerce and Connectivity.” He paid glowing tributes to the 19th Kushok Bakula Lobzang Thupten Chognor Rinpoche. He said, “Kushok Bakula Rinpoche was a multi-dimensional personality who should be seen as a role model, whose life and achievements can guide us even today. He was a Buddhist monk, a spiritual leader, a statesman and an outstanding diplomat who worked with an all-encompassing vision of human welfare.”
12-year-old Nashtan Kushok Bakula, ordained as the 20th Kushok Bakula, also participated in the birth centenary celebrations.
The session was presided over by Prof S.R Bhatt, Chairman, ICPR and Shri Kavinder Gupta, Deputy Chief Minister, Jammu and Kashmir was the chief guest. Others who shared the dais were Mr. G. Ganbold, Mongolia’s Ambassador to India; Shri Chhering Dorje, Minister for Ladakh Affairs; Shri Shakti Sinha, Director, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML); Prof. Rajaneesh Shukla, Member Secretary, ICPR; Shri Anil Goel, Trustee, JKSC and Capt. Alok Bansal, Director, India Foundation.
(This report is carried in the print edition of July-August 2018 issue of India Foundation Journal.)