The explosion of protests in Tibet in the run-up to the Olympics shows how tenuous the region's integration into China is despite Beijing's frequent assertions to the contrary.
It is significant that protests have erupted worldwide notwithstanding the Dalai Lama's appeal in support of a peaceful conduct of the games.
Albeit symbolically, hundreds of exiled Tibetans have attempted to walk to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa from Dharamsala in India but were prevented by the Indian police. At least 100 of them were arrested in what is being seen as toughening up of India's stand against Tibetan refugees mounting any concerted protests against China, a new powerful ally that New Delhi has been pursuing for the past few years.
While India has maintained its independence on all bilateral issues with China, it has simultaneously tried to increase its economic and political engagement. In the context of keeping up the momentum of this engagement New Delhi would not like to see any large-scale protests against the Beijing Olympic Games.
It has been long anticipated that as the Olympics draws closer and the world's attention is focused on China, Tibetans, both inside and outside, would step up their protests. The violence in Lhasa underscores that beneath the thin veneer of order brews chaos that Beijing has to contend with as it goes about bringing Tibet into the national mainstream.
The Beijing games presented China with a unique opportunity to reach out to the Dalai Lama and invite him to help resolve the nearly six-decade-old standoff. The spirit of friendliness that Beijing hopes the games would engender could have been extended to its most important interlocutor in the Dalai Lama. The Chinese government would have known about the potential for trouble in Lhasa and elsewhere as it prepares to host the games. It would have particularly understood that the 49th anniversary of the March 10, 1959, uprising would be fraught with the danger of protests. And yet it chose to pursue its outdated tough approach.
Buddhist monks, who overwhelmingly follow the Dalai Lama, have always been the pivot around which political dissent has revolved in Tibet. Hundreds of monks have been involved in the latest protests, which are considered the fiercest in the last 20 years. Beijing is expected to stamp out the movement quickly if ruthlessly since it does not want any serious distraction barely five months before the August Olympics.
Even though the Dalai Lama has appealed to his followers not to protest or attempt to disrupt the games, he has been candid in expressing his concern over the events in and outside Lhasa.
"I am deeply concerned over the situation that has been developing in Tibet following peaceful protests in many parts of Tibet, including Lhasa, in recent days. These protests are a manifestation of the deep-rooted resentment of the Tibetan people under the present governance," he said in an official statement.
"As I have always said, unity and stability under brute force is at best a temporary solution. It is unrealistic to expect unity and stability under such a rule and would therefore not be conducive to finding a peaceful and lasting solution," he said.
"I therefore appeal to the Chinese leadership to stop using force and address the long-simmering resentment of the Tibetan people through dialogue with the Tibetan people. I also urge my fellow Tibetans not to resort to violence," he said.
The protests have brought Tibet back into the international headlines, a development Beijing wanted to avoid at any cost. At a time when it wants to put its best foot forward and showcase its overall economic boom and ability to stage the top sporting event, the protests and subsequent deaths can be seriously damaging to its reputation.
The question of Tibet has been so long outstanding that despite the Dalai Lama's assiduous and relentless advocacy, it has progressively lost traction in the decisive global political forums. The eruptions of the past few days would at least serve to remind the international community that all is not well on the "Roof of the World".
(Mayank Chhaya is the author of the Dalai Lama's authorized biography 'Dalai Lama: Man, Monk, Mystic'. He can contacted at email@example.com)