Expert asks India to be wary of China’s increasing influence in Ladakh
The Indian government needs to be very aware of the fact that China is quietly extending its influence in Ladakh and must take steps to counter it with a sense of urgency. According to an article published by the Washington-based think tank Gateway House, not stopping Beijing’s alleged moves in Ladakh could result in a “potentially more serious long-term problem” for New Delhi.
He further goes on to say, “China has slowly been increasing its influence, focusing not just on the border, but exploiting sectarian differences among the monasteries of Ladakh. The region is the site of (India’s) frequent border face-offs with China.. Of late, it (China) has been misusing Himalayan Buddhism, a tactic China has used extensively and for decades in Tibet.”
“This is the most insidious threat to Ladakh and to India. For 20 years, China has been quietly paying for the restoration of art and artifacts in Ladakh’s many neglected border monasteries. Its beneficence has been focused especially on approximately 260 Drukpa-sect monasteries, which own significant and valuable relics of Ladakhi Buddhist art, revered by the locals,” Patil warns.
He has come to this conclusion after undertaking a visit to Ladakh more than two months ago.
“Many Drukpa monasteries, like ones in Hemis village, are strategically located on the India-China border, where China is fortifying its infrastructure and security presence. Chinese government-endorsed monks from the Tibetan Karma Kagyu Sect (one of the wealthiest sects of Tibetan Buddhism), have been coming to Ladakh with cash and restoration skills, which have been gratefully accepted,” he adds.
Patil believes that Drukpa monasteries are being given cash in the form of high-interest loans to restore their art, and, when they are unable to repay, “they have been compelled to pledge allegiance to the Karma Kagyu Sect and hand over their monasteries.”
Patil says that, “This strategy has desecrated the precious heritage of the Ladakhis, indebted them Hambantota-style, and pitted one Himalayan Buddhist sect against the other. But it has paid dividends for China.”
According to Gyalwang Drukpa, the spiritual head of the Drukpas, this Chinese modus operandi is not limited to Ladakh. In 2014, the Karma Kagyu took over Drukpa monasteries in the Mount Kailash region of China. The Karma Kagyu allege that these monasteries were desecrated, and that they went in to restore them. And now, they claim them as their own.
In his article for Gateway House, Patil cautions New Delhi to step out of its “laggard response, neglect and confused approach” and be more mindful of the danger that can surface in the form of the Chinese.
India, Patil says, needs to take steps to end the marginalisation of Ladakhis in the national discourse and support the Drukpa monasteries and their restoration.
Ladakh is a tourist hub.All-weather road links through the Zojila tunnel and the proposed Srinagar-Kargil-Leh railway line need to be expedited, should have uninterrupted supply of electricity and reliable mobile phone networks.
India must continue to keep pace with China’s infrastructure buildup on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) by connecting remote border villages with main towns and activating high-altitude airfields like the one at Daulat Beg Oldie.
Local body elections, which have not been held for two years, need to be held so that central funds can be provided for block-level developmental activities.
India must prevent China from changing the demographic character of Ladakh, he concludes.