I have an article up on Asia Times, China Profits From India's Tibet Bungle.
Compared to China, India gets a free ride from world opinion concerning its handling of its borders and ethnic fissures.
But India's record is largely one of arrogance and ineptitude in its dealings with Sri Lanka (supported Tamil separatists and helped ignite civil war); Nepal (engineered the deposition of the king, inadvertently put the Maoists in charge, a mistake it is working mightily to undue); Sikkim (subverted and annexed ); Kashmir (a dismal record of occupation and massacre). Of course, Pakistan still holds a grudge over India's only major geopolitical success: its active assistance to pro-independence forces that split off East Pakistan and created Bangladesh. It remains to be seen if India's efforts to surround Pakistan by deepening ties with Afghanistan brings a rare victory or, as is more likely, yields more catastrophic blowback.
Add relations with Tibetan emigres and the Tibetan communities of the Himalayan belt to the list of New Delhi's cockups.
The precipitating factor: India's decision to go after Ugyen Trinley Dorje, the Karmapa of the Kagyu (Black Hat) sect. The current seat of the sect is at Rumtek, in Sikkim. It reputedly holds a hoard of earthly and heavenly treasure, including the sect's eponymous black hat, a crown woven of goddess hair. When the Karmapa wears it (which he hasn't, since possession of Rumtek is tied up in a thirty-year old dispute), he has to keep one hand on top to keep it flying off to heaven. If he is wearing it, you can't see it. It's invisible to the unworthy. On public ceremonial occasions, he wears a replica prepared for him by the Ming emperor. But he doesn't wear it now, because it's also locked up at Rumtek.
India doesn't like Ugyen Trinley Dorje. To be more accurate, India doesn't like his patron, Tai Situ Rinpoche. The Indian government considers Tai Situ to be excessively close to the Chinese. It restricts the movements of Tai Situ and Ugyen Trinley Dorje, refusing to allow them to go to Sikkim and enter Rumtek. The theory is apparently that control of Rumtek would entrench a pro-Chinese force in Sikkim.
Ugyen Trinley Dorje-related anxieties are mightily exacerbated by the fact that Ugyen Trinley Dorje has been adopted by the Dalai Lama as his heir apparent, not as the leader of Tibetan Buddhists (they come from different sects) but as the face of Buddhist religion and culture in the emigre Tibetan community in dealing with the West, and with the secular younger generation of Tibetan activists inside the diaspora.
The Indian authorities refused Ugyen Trinley Dorje permission to travel either to Europe or the United States in 2010, apparently fearing the contacts, prestige, influence, and access to funding he might garner in the West
At the end of January, police raided Ugyen Trinley Dorje's residence near Dharmsala and found a roomful of cash, about $100,000 of which was in Chinese RMB, which appeared to place him in violation of Indian currency laws.
It's unclear if the local, xenophobic BJP administration of Himachal Pradesh conducted the operation on its own kick.
However, it's clear that the central government decided to jump on the situation, dispatching representatives of RAW, the Intelligence Bureau, and the Enforcement Directorate to put Ugyen Trinley Dorje through the wringer.
At the same time, there was a barrage of reportage in the Indian media accusing Ugyen Trinley Dorje of being a Chinese agent of influence.
Local Indian media management is apparently less sophisticated and more straightforward than its equivalent in the West.
Instead of going on background, the local Director General of the Police went Glenn Beck on the issue, treating the Indian papers to an on-the-record session of innuendo, accusation, and conspiracy theorizing concerning Ugyen Trinley Dorje, Tai Situ Rinpoche, and a host of other characters going back decades.
The result has been a public relations debacle for the Indian government within the Tibetan communities of India.
Support for Ugyen Trinley Dorje on this issue has been well-nigh universal, from the Dalai Lama and the parliament of the government in exile to the secular, anti-Chinese NGOs, to the monasteries.
Beyond the issues of Indian arrogance and insensitivity, there is the nagging reminder that India treats Tibetan emigres as second-class citizens, closely restricting their right to own property (Ugyen Trinley Dorje was accused of hoarding cash so he could buy land illegally through proxies).
Actually, Tibetan emigres aren't even treated like second class citizens. The local government reacted to its difficulties with protesting Tibetans by pointedly asking the central government, "Are the Tibetans exiles or guests?". If guests, the idea is apparently that the central government should bear more of the cost of maintaining them. If exiles, the implications seems to be, they are mainly a political, security, and budgetary headache. The Hamachal Pradesh government also announced it was setting up an intelligence unit to monitor the activities of the emigres more closely.
All in all, a PR trainwreck.
One of the key mudslinging elements in the affair has been the washing of dirty linen concerning the Karmapa controversy.
This is a long-running dispute as to whether Ugyen Trinley Dorje is the real Karmapa, or an impostor foisted on the Kagyu Sect by Tai Situ Rinpoche.
Attacks on the legitimacy of Ugyen Trinley Dorje have been spearheaded by a senior Rinpoche in the Kagyu sect, Sharma Rinpoche, who has been openly at loggerheads with Tai Situ Rinpoche since the 1990s.
Sharma Rinpoche identified his own candidate for Karmapa, Trinley Thaye Dorje.
I don't have a dog in the Karmapa fight. Both candidates seem to be equally fine young men, supported by equally indefatigable and calculating patrons.
However, Sharma Rinpoche does have one advantage.
He identified his Karmapa through a prophetic dream.
Tai Situ Rinpoche, on the other hand, rests his claim on a secret note discovered long after the previous Karmapa's death. He has refused to submit it to forensic inspection, fueling allegations that it is not in the previous Karmapa's handwriting and, indeed, is littered with spelling and grammatical errors.
When Sharma Rinpoche unveiled his revelation, maybe Tai Situ Rinpoche said to himself: "A dream?! An undocumented, unverifiable, dream?! Why didn't I think of that?"
In any event, this case looks like a nightmare, another self-inflicted wound for the Indian government.