Sunday, February 06, 2011

Karmapa: Public Opinion Pendulum Begins to Swing

Calcutta's Telegraph has just published a useful perspective on the Karmapa story that demonstrates the wisdom of Lincoln's adage: you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. The commentary, by Sunanda K. Datta-Ray, gives a useful insight worth sharing here. His take on the subject? "It’s high time the prime minister intervened for the sake of India’s reputation and to ensure that national security is not trivialized." We reprint the piece in its entirety, herewith:

"Soon after starting work in Singapore I asked a leading tax consultant there how to handle my modest Indian earnings from columns such as this. Since I was physically in Singapore, he said, the income would be deemed to have generated there and should be remitted and declared in my Singapore tax returns. However, the amount was so small after deducting India’s 40 per cent withholding tax, paying bank charges and conversion to Singapore dollars that the Singapore authorities wouldn’t bother if I didn’t. But he warned they would know all about it. “The information will be used if they want to get you for some other reason!”

As the action against His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, shows, all governments operate in the same way. India’s mix of rigorous rules and lax enforcement creates a huge armoury of coercive reserve weapons. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s famous comment about every parliamentarian starting his legislative career with the lie of a false election return was matched by Gayatri Devi of Jaipur’s arrest not for opposing the Emergency but for infringing the Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act. Be you ever so law-abiding, it’s impossible not to break the law. You do so whenever you buy or sell a flat, consult a lawyer or even see a doctor, since rare is the professional who accepts payment by cheque against a receipt. The system offers authority a million opportunities to nab anyone it wants to.

But why does it want to nab a 26-year-old monk who fled Tibet 10 years ago to avoid having to attack the Dalai Lama and cozy up to Beijing’s anointed Panchen Lama? India’s security brooks no compromise and the law must take its course if he is, indeed, China’s “strategic asset” in “constant touch with the Chinese authorities”. That is the crux of the matter, and our anonymous officials are belittling the national interest by making it incidental to supposedly murky financial transactions. No doubt they will say they are only upholding the law on foreign exchange, black money and benami property transactions, but their unattributed media briefings clearly suggest that the raids, arrests, questionings and seizures are intended to demonize the Karmapa. Comments like “He is not a Karmapa” and “We will not allow him to be the Karmapa” give the game away for they have no bearing on the financial improprieties that are supposedly being investigated.

Nar Bahadur Bhandari, Sikkim’s former chief minister and present head of the Pradesh Congress Committee, is neither Tibetan nor Buddhist, has enough experience of smear tactics, strong-arm methods and judicial persecution to “sniff a conspiracy”. No one mentions the Karmapa’s Saraswati Charitable Trust into which all unsolicited cash donations would have been paid if permission to do so had not been withdrawn after the first $100,000. He then registered the Karma Garchen Trust but the application to receive foreign donations under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act has been pending since 2002. Forced to retain donations as they come, the monastery ensures that every penny, cent or yuan (under 10 per cent of the total despite the hullabaloo over Chinese currency) is “diligently recorded”. Even one-yuan notes from humble Tibetans without access to any other currency are recorded. As for allegations of improper land use, every single government department cleared the purchase of a plot for a monastery and residence. The sellers’ legally permissible demand for cash payment had to be met.

Bhandari’s conspiracy theory explains official ambivalence about the Karmapa’s status. Delhi’s non-recognition of something that is for only Karma Kagyu Buddhists to decide makes no difference in religious terms and can even be commended as an admission of the limits of secular jurisdiction. But petty pinpricks like taking away minor privileges he previously enjoyed indicate malice. Leave alone the motorcades that even junior state ministers flaunt, the Karmapa has to check in at airports and go through security like anyone else. He accepts it with dignity though Delhi throws a tantrum when even a Bollywood star is subjected to the same routine at American airports. While the ban on entering Rumtek monastery, which his predecessor established as the seat of the lineage, is attributed to the court case filed by a rival, there is no justification for rejecting the pleas of Sikkim’s government and people to let him visit the state where three other Karma Kagyu monasteries are clamouring to welcome him. 

Rumtek and the oral teachings of gurus who received them there from the 16th Karmapa were additional reasons for coming to India. The Karmapa also sought the Dalai Lama’s blessings and wanted to spread the Karma Kagyu message abroad like his predecessor. He could not do that from Tibet. “India, in contrast to communist China, is a free country, a democratic country that is based on the rule of law,” he told his followers on Wednesday, advising patience because “the truth will become clear in time … There is no need to worry.” 

One explanation for the persecution is that a genuine fit of China-neurosis grips a government seeking to atone for ignoring floods of Saudi funds invested in mosques and madrasas. The government’s Research and Analysis Wing peremptorily calls leading research institutions to demand details of whatever their academic guests from China said or did. It’s like the policeman who turned up in my editorial office to ask that I should report everything the diplomat who was scheduled to call the next day said. When I threw him out, a civil servant friend warned that since the policeman had to submit a report, he would invent one about my talks with the diplomat! Like the supposedly seized Chinese SIM cards and the enforcement directorate’s claim of records of conversations between His Holiness and Chinese officials which the Karmapa’s office dismisses as “fiction masquerading as journalism”.

Secondly, official agencies may be trying to whip up controversies to distract attention from the government’s own stink of corruption. A mix of godliness, wealth and espionage involving a 900-year-old youthful monk whose adventurous journey across the Himalayas captured the world’s imagination is more exciting than 2G spectrum. A third reason could be the letter an American devotee sent Sonia Gandhi, without consulting the Karmapa, condemning the “violation of his human rights” and the “blatant abuse of his freedom for religious expression”. The recipient cannot have been amused, but one hesitates to think of the persecution as retaliation, especially since the Karmapa’s office issued a conciliatory clarification.

The most bizarre explanation is that Indian intelligence always knew that China had created an eight-year-old Karmapa to be smuggled into India seven years later so that he could amass a fortune here and set up a string of Himalayan “China study centres” after another decade. Though the intelligence folk always knew he was “a security threat”, they played along expecting reciprocal concessions. Instead, China’s hardened stand on bilateral disputes provoked the intelligence outburst, “We have kept quiet for too long!” This theory prompted a veteran academic’s comment that more centres are welcome because we should study our northern neighbour far more seriously. 

The trump card is Delhi’s reported wish to crown a rival claimant whose sponsor is believed to have civil servants and intelligence personnel eating out of his hand. “They can’t shove a pretender down our throats!” exclaims an outraged Buddhist who marched for hours in Wednesday’s show of solidarity with His Holiness. Such motivated arbitrariness would betray the pride with which P.V. Narasimha Rao once told me that no other country had shown similar hospitality to Tibet’s people and prelates. It would also reduce India to the level of medieval European regimes that created popes to do their bidding and of China whose attempt to foist a make-believe Panchen Lama on Tibet made a farce of Buddhism’s second highest incarnation. It’s high time the prime minister intervened for the sake of India’s reputation and to ensure that national security is not trivialized."

Please share this around. The story needs to get out.

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5 reader comments:

Anonymous said...

Panchen Lama is not second highest lama of Tibet. But he is second highest lama in Geluk School.Panchen Lama is only spiritual leader not temper or political leader in traditional Tibetan history. He is even not that important in Nyingma Sakya or Kagyul School.He is important lineage in Geluk pa School.

Malcolm Smith said...

According to Khyentse Wangpo, the second highest Lama in Tibet (calculated on the basis of height of the throne to which they are entitled) would be any current holder of the throne of Sakya.

Anonymous said...

His Holiness is both the temporal and the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. He frequently states that his life is guided by three major commitments: the promotion of basic human values or secular ethics in the interest of human happiness, the fostering of inter-religious harmony and the welfare of the Tibetan people, focusing on the survival of their identity, culture and religion.

Anonymous said...

The highest lama in Tibet sat on a rock.

Tenzin Gesar said...

Yes, the second highest Lama would be the reigning Sakya Trizin of the day, based on Tulku ranking established by the Great Fifth Dalai lama to counteract Chinese strategy of "divide and rule" by giving honorary titles and hats to Lamas of their choice.

So who gives a shit about a hat anyways when the kingdom of heaven is truly inside! I suggest that Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley's side relinquish any claim to the "black hat" (supposedly woven from hairs of dakinis), and rumtek and ignite true karma kagyue lineage through humble beginnings. In these dark times returning to simplicity can be the only guaranteer of spiritual revitalization!