On July 06, 2020, India did not greet the Dalai Lama on his 85th birthday. In my analysis, India is not yet fully prepared to play the “Tibet Card.” Since its full independence in 1947, India is continuously struggling to secure its Western Border which came under attack during the First Kashmir War of 1947-48. For the last 70 years, India remains fully desirous of an opportunity to secure its Himalayan Frontier but remains cautious for the danger posed on the Western Border has not disappeared.
Rudra Narasimham Rebbapragada
After China clashes, India has a ‘how to handle Dalai Lama’ problem
Arun Sreenivasan 19-07-2020
The demarcation of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is one of the two vexed issues dogging Sino-Indian ties. The other is the status of Tibet’s revered spiritual leader Dalai Lama, whose 85th birthday on July 6 was a relatively lukewarm affair in Dharamshala, his permanent abode in Himachal Pradesh.
President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi – most unlike their open communicative styles – cautiously avoided greeting Dalai Lama publicly, even as heads of local provincial governments and important BJP leaders wished the octogenarian monk, who is regarded as a revered guest in India, but is not allowed to hold meetings or `conduct politics’ on Indian soil.
Officials maintain that given the intense and several rounds of dialogue to disengage troops in Ladakh between the two militaries – the last one on July 15 went on for a record 15 hours – any statement issued by Prime Minister Modi on Dalai Lama’s birthday, could have proved to be counter-productive.
French journalist François Gautier, who has covered South Asia for many top-notch French-language dailies, and is close to the Hindutva cause, told this writer of his experience on July 6, the birthday of Dalai Lama: “I scanned the entire net looking for mention of this extremely important event but in vain! There was mention of the birthday of actor Ranveer Singh but absolutely nothing about the Dalai Lama and Tibet.”
“Does India and the BJP government of Narendra Modi understand the extreme importance of that event? The Dalai Lama may be the last chance for India to regain a friendly border between her and the Chinese enemy and time is running out,” Gautier warned, adding that a Chinese stooge to succeed Dalai Lama would compel India to face in the coming decades “not only a hostile border with China, without the buffer of Tibet, but also the disadvantage of China swooping down from the heights of Tibet onto India’s valleys, as it did in 1962.”
For China, Tibet is a highly sensitive issue, even though they have controlled the tiny Himalayan kingdom, once regarded as India’s buffer, since 1950.
But things have now reached the stage when India must sooner or later bite the Tibet bullet. Amid concerns internationally over the deteriorating health of the 14thh Dalai Lama, Beijing has issued periodical warnings, including one last year, that the issue of finding his successor, which may happen in Dharamshala where the Tibetan government-in-exile is based, must be left to China.
In July 2019, Wang Neng Sheng, Director General of the People’s Government Information Office of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, told visiting Indian journalists that there “are established historical institutions and formalities for the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and the position of the Chinese government is clear-cut and resolute.”
Wang, an official with the rank of vice minister – sounding remarkably pious for a Communist – pointed out in true mandarin style: “[The Dalai Lama’s] reincarnation will not be decided by his personal wish or some group of people living in other countries. The current Dalai Lama was recognized by Beijing and his successor must be found through the ‘draw of lots in golden urn process’ within China,” making it clear that an incoming monk does not have a legal status without recognition by Beijing.
Another official, Zha Luo, director of the Beijing-based China Tibetology Research Centre, told journalists that if India formally recognizes any successor to the Dalai Lama who has not been accepted by China, it will become a political difference between the two countries “that would affect bilateral relations”.
Indian experts are miffed at New Delhi’s kid-glove treatment of China over Dalai Lama and Tibet, particularly in the light of Ladakh’s border standoff and China’s insensitivity towards issues close to this country. Points out Brahma Chellaney, well-known geo-strategist, author and China expert: “The Dalai Lama symbolizes Indian leverage over a core issue of China – Tibet. He is India’s strategic asset. The longest-serving Dalai Lama recently turned 85 on July 6, without Prime Minister Modi wishing him happy birthday.”
Chellaney, the winner of the Bernard Schwartz Book Award and a columnist, told this writer that in “early 2018, to propitiate China, Modi ended all official contact with the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile. This was a blunder, which needs to be reversed.”
According to him, India cannot just be bystander. “While Tibetans around the world pray for Dalai Lama’s long life, China is waiting anxiously for him to die so that it can install a fake replacement. India must help to find, appoint and protect the next Dalai Lama by following the instructions of the present Dalai Lama,” he says.
Dalai Lama himself has talked about the possibility that after his passing away, his incarnation could be found in India, where he has lived in exile for six decades. Additionally, he has also warned that any other successor named by China would not be respected.
Speculating on what might happen after him, the Dalai Lama anticipated attempts by China to foist a successor on Tibetan Buddhists. “China considers Dalai Lama’s reincarnation as something very important. They have more concern about the next Dalai Lama than me,” he told journalists last year, tongue held firmly in cheek.
“In future, in case you see two Dalai Lamas come, one from here, in a free country, one chosen by Chinese, then nobody will trust, nobody will respect the one chosen by China,” he added for good measure.
Experts like Chellaney believe that India needs to play its Tibet card. “Tibet is to India against China what Pakistan is to China against India. But in contrast to India’s qualms about playing the Tibet card, Beijing has no hesitation to play the Pakistan card against India.”
On January 1, 1950, two days after India became the second country in the world to accord recognition to Communist China, Peking (now Beijing) had announced that the liberation of Tibet was one of the basic goals of its Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA), taking New Delhi by utter surprise.
Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 following a Chinese crackdown on an uprising by the local population in Tibet. India granted him political asylum and the Tibetan government-in-exile is based on Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh since then.
India says its stand on Dalai Lama has been consistent. “The government of India’s position on His Holiness the Dalai Lama is clear and consistent. He is a revered religious leader and is deeply respected by the people of India. There is no change in that position. His Holiness is accorded all freedom to carry out his religious activities in India,” the Ministry of External Affairs has maintained over the years.
There have been 10 rounds of discussions between private representatives of the Dalai Lama and Beijing over the future of Tibet and of the spiritual leader. The last round of discussions took place in 2011 in Beijing, without any substantive results.
In 2018, the Indian government had issued a note to senior officials, asking them not to attend events organised by the Tibetan government-in-exile. India has also supported the ‘One China’ policy, which states that Taiwan and Tibet are part of China’s mainland. Beijing has made the ‘One-China’ policy a prerequisite for countries to establish diplomatic ties with it.
Experts believe, however, that these moves, along with the several summit meetings between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping of China have not paid the dividends expected.
Ranjit Bhushan is an independent journalist and former Nehru Fellow at Jamia Millia University. In a career spanning more than three decades, he has worked with Outlook, The Times of India, The Indian Express, the Press Trust of India, Associated Press, Financial Chronicle, and DNA.