The following is the collection of historical documents related to the flight of the Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama. Of particular interest, the reports of the Political Officer, Har Mander Singh about his first encounter with the Dalai Lama and his Cabinet ministers. Some words are unfortunately missing in the file which seems to be attacked by white ants. The file is from the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, writes Claude Arpi
Incidentally, an account based on Chinese Military Intelligence was recently published: The 1959 Tibetan Uprising Documents: The Chinese Army Documents (China Secrets Book 16) Kindle Edition
It gave another view on the escape of the Dalai Lama to India. Supposing that the assertion in this book is right, it is also very much possible that the Dalai Lama and his entourage did not know that Mao had ordered “Let him go, if he wants to go.”
The fact that the Dalai Lama ‘crossed the Himalaya under permanent danger of being caught or even killed by the Chinese can’t be doubted.
The author of the 1959 Tibetan Uprising Documents himself admits that Mao would have changed his mind on March 17, 1959 and asked the PLA to stop the Tibetan leader.
Here are an extract of the 1959 Documents.
Misjudgement on the escape of the Dalai Lama
Another legend related to the 1959 Tibetan uprising is the ‘escape’ of the Dalai Lama to India. Supposedly he managed to barely get away from advancing Chinese army units and crossed the Himalaya under permanent danger of being caught or even killed by the Chinese. This rather romantic legend is disproved for many years. At least by the 1990s when new Chinese archive material became available it became clear that it was Mao himself who instructed the Tibet Military District “To let him go (over the border with India) if he wants to go.” Mao issued this order on March 12. He seems to have changed his mind somewhat on March 17 and asked the army in Lhasa to stop him, but then it was too late. After receiving this surprising message, the high commanders of the Tibet Military District just decided to do nothing about it.
Looking at all the original papers available to this author, there is no indication for a search or hunt after the Dalai Lama by any Chinese unit. Units like those stationed in Tsetang and located between Lhasa and the Indian border never received orders to go out and search for the Dalai Lama.
Another option would have been to send those Chinese soldiers stationed in Shigatse and Yadong [Yatung] in the direction of Southern Tibet to cut-off his escape route. Those garrisons just stayed in the same locations during March. The ultimate option would have been the use of paratroopers to block the main mountain passes. In the end, nothing was done, and Mao was not pushing for action.
More interesting is the first report of the Dalai Lama’s arrival in India Report on the entry of His Holiness the Dalai Lama into India. Phase I- Chuthangmu to Lumla
5 April, 1959
On 27 March 1959, Shri TS Murty, Assistant Political Officer (APO) Tawang, received instructions about the possibility of the Dalai Lama seeking entry into India. He reached Chuthangmu to receive the party at 9h hours on 31 March, 1959.
The advance party of the Dalai Lama under a comparatively junior officer had already reached Chuthangmu on 29 March. They stated that the main party consisting of the Dalai Lama, his family, ministers and tutors were expected to enter our territory at 14h hours on 31 March, that there was no sign of the Chinese pursuit and that the party was bringing a small number of porters and would be needing many more from our area.
At 1400 hours on 31 March, the Dalai Lama and his party reached Kenze Mane [Khenzimane] which demarcates the frontier in Chuthangmu area. His holiness was riding a yak and was received by the Assistant Political Officer, Tawang. They proceeded to the checkpost without halting at the frontier.
Dronyer Chhempu [Chenpo or Lord Chamberlain], Personal Assistant to the Dalai Lama met the Assistant Political Officer in the evening and it was agreed that all porters brought by the party from Tibet would be sent back and that porterage arrangements thereafter would be made by us. It was also agreed that all pistols and revolvers, except those in possession of the Dalai Lama, his family and ministers (excluding their servants), and all rifles would be handed over to us for safe custody and that these could be collected at the frontier by those members of the body guard who were to return to Tibet after escorting the Dalai Lama to the plains or that alternatively, we would keep that in our custody and obtain disposal orders from the Government. It was further decided that a list of all Tibetan officers and of entering our territory would be prepared and handed over to the Assistant Political Officer.
The same evening, Shri Kumar, ACTO of the SIB [Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau] in Chuthangmu brought to the Assistant Political Officer [TS Murty], the copy of letter dated the 26th March from the Dalai Lama addressed to Prime Minister [of India] and requested that it should be delivered to the addressee. He stated that two messengers from the Dalai Lama carrying the original letter had already passed through Chuthangmu on the 29th and that he had transmitted the English translation over the wireless to Shillong. He had asked the messengers to hand over the letter to him for dispatched but they had insisted on carrying it themselves and had proceeded to the plains via Bhutan. On the morning of 1 April, 16 rifles and 9 pistols/revolvers were handed over to us for safe custody.
The Dzongpon [District Commissioner] of Tsona [in Tibet] who arrived in the meantime was refused entry after discussion with senior Tibetan officers.
At 09:00 hours the Assistant Political Officer was summoned by the Dalai Lama. Following points were made by His Holiness during conversation with him:
The policy of the Chinese was becoming increasingly anti-religious; the masses of Tibet were restive and he was no longer able to make them put up with the Chinese rule; the Chinese had attempted to endanger his person; Tibet should be free; his people would fight to win their freedom; he was confident that India’s sympathies are with the Tibetans; the seat of his Government had shifted from Lhasa to Ulgelthinse in Lhuntse Dzong and the Government of India should be informed of this very early.
At about 1800 hours, Lobsang [one word missing, probably, Lobsang Samten, brother of…] of the Dalai Lama, reached Chuthangmu and was [one word missing].
The party moved to Gorsam Chorten.
At 15h, the Dalai Lama called the Assistant Political Officer and wanted to know if he had received any news of international developments in regard to his escape, especially the line adopted by India, the UK and the USA in this regard.
The Assistant Political Officer said that he had no information. On the following day the party moved to Shakti and on 3.4.59 it reached Lumla.
Sd/-Har Mander Singh Political Officer
5 April 1959
Here is another document related to the first encounter between the PO and the Tibetan leader
SUMMARY OF DISCUSSION WITH SENIOR TIBETAN OFFICERS AT LUMLA
3 APRIL, 1959
Lyou Hsia [Liushar] Thubten, Foreign Minister, Kungo Shase [Shashur Shape], Minister and Chichyap Khempu [Kempo], Secretary to the Dalai Lama came to see me soon after their arrival in Lumla. It was meant to be a social gathering but the Chapes [Shapes] spoke about some important matters while they were with me. Shri [TS] Murty, Assistant Political Officer, Tawang, was also present.
- After the usual formalities the Foreign Minister briefly recounted the circumstances under which the Dalai Lama was forced to leave Tibet. He said that the relations between China and accepted as a spiritual leader by the Chinese Emperors. There was exchange of visits between the leaders of the two countries which brought them together. The Government of Tibet was, however, in possession of documents refuting Chinese claim of suzerainty over them and in support of theirs being an independent country. In recent past they had endeavoured to regulate their relationship scrupulously on the basis of the 17 point Treaty with China. The attitude of the Chinese after their “peaceful liberation of Tibet” had become increasingly anti-religious. For example, in order to popularize communism they had circulated a story in a periodical issued from Thachido, [Dartsedo or Kanding in Chinese] a town on Sino-Tibetan border, that Prince Sidhartha was forced to leave his kingdom because of the popular feeling against kingship and that he had attained ‘Nirvana’ because he had ultimately realized that peoples’ will was more important than that of the kings.
- The Dalai Lama himself felt that they should work in and harmony with the Chinese. Indeed during his visit to India was advised by the Indian Prime Minister himself to cooperate with the Chinese in the interest of his country. In spite of [word missing] effort to accommodate the Chinese viewpoint, the Chinese interfere in the religious affairs of the Tibetans had [word missing]. They had desecrated several monasteries in Kham Province and had also killed several incarnate Lamas.
- On 10 March, the Dalai Lama was invited to attend cultural show in the Chinese area. The people came to know of this invitation and feared that it may be an attempt to remove the Dalai Lama from the scene or exert undue pressure on him. The news spread in Lhasa City and soon a large crowd gathered around the palace and prevented him from attending the Chinese function.
- On the 11th, a procession of women went to the office of the Consul General, India and asked him to intervene on their behalf with the Chinese. They made a similar request to the Nepalese Consul General also. Their main demand was that the news about the Chinese interference in the religious affairs of the Tibetans and of their attempt to remove the Dalai Lama from Lhasa should be given publicity in the world press.
- This kind of unrest continued for seven days. At 4 p.m. Lhasa time, on the 17th, the Chinese fired two mortar shells which fell only eighty yards short of the [word missing]. This convinced the Kashag that the Dalai Lama’s life [was endangered] and, therefore, they persuaded him to escape from [the Norbulinka] at 10 p.m. the same night with the Dalai Lama dress [word missing] clothes.
- They had been listening [word missing] news ever since and had also been getting information through their sources. According to their information, the Chinese came to know of the Dalai Lama’s escape on the 19th March and shelled the Potala, the summer palace and the Gompa at Chakpori on the 20th March.
- The Dalai Lama’s party escaped via the Southern route. There was a Chinese garrison of about 600 at Tsethang. They were surrounded by the rebel troops and Tibetan Government forces and could not, therefore, interfere with the movement of the party. On reaching Ulgelthinse in Lhuntse Dzong, they established the seat of the exile Government there temporarily on the 26th March. For the present, the Government would be run by the lay and monk commissioners of Southern Tibet known as Lhojes. They had sent instructions to Lhasa that all Government officers and records should be moved to this place.
- Except for Tsedang there were no Chinese in Southern Tibet.
- After leaving Ulgelthinse they spotted an aircraft flying over them near Tsona and feared that their party might be bombed but fortunately they were able to reach the Indian frontier without incident.
- They reached the frontier at 2 p.m. on 31 March and were received by Shri [TS] Murty, Assistant Political Officer, who brought them to Chuthangmu. They had felt very relieved after entering Indian Territory.
- They had heard the Chinese announcement that the Dalai Lama was forced to escape on the advice of 18 officers who were accompanying him and that these officers had been declared traitors. It was quite obvious, therefore, that they had no place in Communist Tibet.
- They were quite prepared to negotiate with the Chinese for their return to Tibet and would welcome India’s good offices in this direction. They intended, however, to insist on complete [word missing] for Tibet and would continue their fight till their country was liberated.
- I said that while we wanted friendship with all countries including China, we had much closer cultural and religious ties with Tibet and were, therefore, happy to receive them in our territory. I also said that our country’s good offices could be effective only if opposing parties had faith in our impartiality. It was, therefore, essential that no attempt should be made by bands of Khampas or Tibetan Government troops to violate the frontier. I said that I shall be grateful if they could suitably pass this on to the correct quarters. Our Government was, however, always prepared to grant asylum on humanitarian considerations and a case was already on record where we had brought the family of a favour Khmpa rebel to Tawang for medical treatment on these very considerations.
- We briefly discussed the future programme of the party. The Foreign Minister indicated that they might like to stay upto ten days in Tawang. I explained briefly the disadvantages of their prolonged stay in Tawang and said that we could perhaps make them more comfortable in Bomdi La. I made it clear, however that we were prepared to accede to the Dalai Lama’s wishes in the [word missing]. The Foreign Minister said that it would be possible to cut down [word missing] Tawang to about three days.
- I also said that we shall provide the facilities for travel beyond Tawang to all persons [word missing] the Dalai Lama but there was danger that stray persons escaping from Tibet may take this opportunity and come in along with the main party. It was, therefore, important that the list of persons authenticated by the party should be as comprehensive and accurate as it was possible to make it. The Foreign Minister agreed to this suggestion.
Sd/- Har Mander Singh Political Officer
3 April, 1959.