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Story of Loss and Hope

Tshering Chonzom Bhutia

By Lezlee Brown Halper  and Stefan Halper 
Hachette, India, 2014, pp. 367, Rs. 1872.00


As clearly expressed in the introduction, Tibet: An Unfinished Story attempts to present the ‘story of two Tibets: one the Tibet of discovery and aspiration; and the other, a Tibet buffeted by powerful Cold War currents and treachery denied the independence gained by others’ (p. 3). Undoubtedly, the authors, Lezlee Brown Halper and Stefan Halper have done an excellent job as far as the presentation of the two stories are concerned.  The book’s strength lies in documenting and unravelling in great detail the second story of Tibet that begins midway into the World War II when the US enters the Tibet scene in order to persuade the latter to allow transit of arms and other goods to reach the Nationalists in China. The book’s primary concern is with US involvement in the Tibet issue. No wonder that the book has a US centric end—this time a withdrawal of sorts from the Tibet scene effectuated by the Sino-US rapprochement in 1972. In this context, more than the story of Tibet, the book has multiple stories or sub-stories—about the unfolding dynamics of relations between the US, China, India and UK since the early 1940s—all of it beautifully interwoven into the main story of Tibet’s attempts to secure its independence in the given period. For instance, the book is also a story about shifting US priorities—from the Nationalists to the Communists—and in both the cases, Tibet stood no chance. Similarly, the book also discusses the story of shifting Indian priorities—from a newly independent state desirable of ‘balancing the claims and objectives of two nations (Tibet and China) with competing interests’ (p. 63) given its understanding in 1949 that China ‘had a vague kind of suzerainty over Tibet’ (p. 71), to later recognizing China’s sovereignty over Tibet with the signing of the 1954 ‘Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between the Tibet region of China and India’.  Having said that, the book also shows in great detail, how these shifts in priorities were not always clear or linear. Being in constant tension, they were continuously tempered by many factors. Amongst many, they highlight the role played by individuals in the whole conundrum. They single out Henry Luce, publisher of influential magazines in the US and Senator Joe McCarthy, for propagating the ‘irrational’ ‘red scare’ which ended up ‘limiting the scope of US, foreign policy options and approaches to complex problems’; Nehru ...

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