Fanning The Flames


Fanning the flames

JOHN CHERIAN


In India and most of the world, public opinion has not been swayed by the West’s machinations to politicise the Olympic Games.

VIJAY KUMAR JOSHI/PTI


At Rajpath in New Delhi, table tennis player Chetan P. Baboor holding the Olympic torch aloft during its relay on April 17.

AS the Olympic torch making its historic journey to Beijing passed through New Delhi on April 17, the authorities foiled attempts by hundreds of Tibetans and their supporters to disrupt its relay. India hosts more than 100,000 Tibetans, most of them owing allegiance to the Dalai Lama. But to ensure foolproof security, the Indian authorities had to virtually shut down central Delhi for half a day and shorten the relay to two kilometres. There was a 32-km run during the last Olympics held in Athens. The Tibetan separatist groups were allowed to protest freely outside the security perimeter. In Mumbai, to coincide with the torch relay, some Tibetans made an abortive attempt to storm the Chinese Consulate.

Eminent sports and film personalities participated in the Olympic torch relay. Very few sportsmen heeded the call for a boycott of the Olympic flame. The Bharatiya Janata Party and a few other political parties in India came out in support of the “Free Tibet” activists and criticised the security measures the government had introduced to prevent any untoward or embarrassing incident. In Paris, protesters briefly seized the Olympic flame from a wheelchair-bound Chinese athlete.

In early April, when the Olympic torch made its way through Europe and the United States, there were orchestrated protests aimed at disrupting the Beijing Olympic Games scheduled to open on August 8. The “journey of harmony” of the symbolic Olympic torch through London, Paris and San Francisco was marred by violent protests organised by anti-Chinese groups. Among the protesters in the U.S. and Europe were pro-Tibetan activists and supporters of the Falun Gong sect, which is banned in China. Lending a hand to the demonstrators protesting against the holding of the Olympics in Beijing were groups opposed to China’s policies in Darfur and Myanmar. The Western media have been giving saturation coverage to the demonstrations, which, though vociferous, had managed to attract only limited public participation.

The anti-China demonstrations got more coverage than even the 2003 demonstrations against the war in Iraq when more than a million people marched on the streets of major cities. The efforts to associate human rights issues with the Beijing Olympics got a major fillip when major show business personalities such as Steven Spielberg in the U.S. linked the holding of the Games in Beijing to the Chinese government’s official position on Darfur, Sudan and belatedly to Tibet. Sections of the American media started describing the forthcoming games as the “Genocide Olympics”. Interestingly, there is a lot of commonality in the Indian and Chinese approach to Sudan and Myanmar. Both governments have excellent relations with the two countries that have been blacklisted by the West. China, in fact, had used its leverage with Khartoum to facilitate the despatch of United Nations peacekeepers to the region.

After the Olympic torch reached the Argentine capital Buenos Aires in the second week of April, there were no further untoward incidents. The governments in Latin America and Africa are determined to ensure that the Olympic spirit is not tarnished. In London and Paris, protesters actually tried to snuff out the Olympic flame. In Asia, the support for the Tibetan separatist cause is confined mainly to India and Japan. Staunch allies of the West in Asia, such as Singapore, have condemned the violence in Tibet and have extended full support to Beijing in its handling of the issue.

Tibetan exile groups have the active support of major political parties and sections of the establishment in both India and Japan. In Delhi, they are considerably emboldened by the exposure they have got in the Indian and Western media. Instigated by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), a few prominent B.J.P leaders are calling for a change in India’s “Tibet” policy. Former External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha of the BJP has announced that he will lead a march to Lhasa to express solidarity with the Dalai Lama and the separatist cause.

As Cuban leader Fidel Castro wrote recently, “The campaign against China is a bugle call aimed at unleashing an attack on the country’s well-earned success and against its people.” The campaign to undermine the Beijing Olympics, using the Tibet issue as a pretext, has gained momentum with many Western leaders now openly announcing that they would not be present at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. It has been a time-honoured tradition for world leaders to congregate at the venue of the Games. Among those who have announced their non-participation are German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minster Gordon Brown.

The European Parliament has asked all European Union (E.U.) members to boycott the opening ceremony if China does not immediately begin talks with the Dalai Lama. It had passed a resolution calling on governments to explore “the possibility of non-attendance in the event if there is no resumption of dialogue”. The leading presidential candidates of the U.S., Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain, have demanded that President George W. Bush also keep himself away from the inaugural ceremonies. Surprisingly, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also said that he will not be attending the big event. His office has cited scheduling problems. Beijing had a big role to play in his elevation to the top U.N. job.

The views of the conspiracy theorists in China would have been further strengthened by the discordant note struck by International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, who claimed that Olympic games were “plunged into a crisis”, following the demonstrations against the holding of the Beijing Olympics. He went to the extent of advising the Chinese government to improve its human rights record before the Games formally opened in August this year. Beijing politely requested the IOC president to keep politics out of the Olympics and adhere to the Olympic Charter.

In a bid to reassure Beijing, Gunilla Lindberg, vice-president of the Olympic Committee, recently compared some of the anti-China protesters to terrorists. “We will never give in to violence,” the official stressed. Some Western diplomats this correspondent spoke to expressed dismay at the position their governments had taken on the issue. They feel the targeting of China would create a bad precedent. Almost all the governments in the world have to deal with serious domestic issues that impinge on human rights and civil liberties. The diplomats point out that the U.S. is least qualified to censure any country on issues relating to human rights and democracy. The campaign against China comes at a time when the world is observing the fifth anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq.

MANVENDER VASHIST/PTI


A TIBETAN PROTESTER demonstrating against the Olympic torch relay in New Delhi.

In the second week of April, Chinese authorities announced that they had uncovered a plot to kidnap foreign journalists, tourists and athletes during the Games. The spokesman for China’s Public Security Ministry said the plot was hatched by the Uighur separatist movement in Xinjiang province. The Chinese authorities say that they have discovered a large cache of weapons and explosives from the hideouts of the Uighur separatists. The West these days is not too enamoured of the Uighur separatists because of their alleged links with Islamist groups worldwide.

The Uighurs are a Muslim minority in China. They have been responsible for headline-grabbing terrorist strikes in China in the late 1990s and early 2000. Before the events of September 2002, they had the tacit support of many Western intelligence agencies and governments. But these days the West supports only those separatist movements that are ideologically close to it. The Palestinians, the Sahrawis, the Serbs in Bosnia and Kosovo, and the Kurds in Turkey have no right for statehood in the eyes of the West. Israel, Kosovo and Tibet get precedence in its scheme of things.

The Dalai Lama formally continues to support the staging of the Games in Beijing. He reiterated that China had the right to host the Olympics. He said that China deserved that privilege because “it is the most populous, ancient nation”. But at the same time, the Tibetan spiritual leader is not showing any signs of keeping down his heated rhetoric.

His attempts to distance himself from the violence perpetuated by his followers in Tibet and surrounding areas by making unsubstantiated statements have further angered Beijing.

The Dalai Lama had claimed that Chinese soldiers dressed as Tibetan monks were responsible for the violence that erupted in Lhasa. The Tibetan “government-in-exile” had released what it claimed were satellite pictures of Chinese soldiers shedding their uniforms and putting on the robes of monks. These pictures were actually close-ups of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers who were drafted for a film shoot in 2003. The soldiers had stepped in for Tibetan monks who refused to cooperate when the movie was being made.

Fidel Castro wrote in his latest article: “I respect the Dalai Lama’s right to believe but I am not obliged to believe in the Dalai Lama.” In India and most of the world, public opinion has not been swayed by the latest machinations emanating from the West to politicise the Olympics.•


Hindu On Net

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