Irked by China, India signals turnaround on Dalai Lama

As Beijing keeps riling New Delhi with J&K rants, India invites 84-year-old Tibetan leader to deliver prestigious lecture instituted in memory of its second President

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama. (Reuters photo)

The government has given its nod to an autonomous institution funded by its Ministry of Human Resource Development that is housed in the summer retreat of President of India to invite Dalai Lama to deliver a lecture on next Thursday – a move, which is likely to rile China.

The Indian Institute of Advanced Studies (IIAS) housed at Rashtrapati Nivas in Shimla has invited Dalai Lama to deliver a lecture instituted in memory of eminent educationist and philosopher Dr Sarvepally Radhakrishnan, who had served as the first Vice President and second President of India. New Delhi’s nod to the institution to invite Dalai Lama to deliver lecture signaled a subtle shift in its approach on engaging with the exiled Tibetans and it came about 20 months after the Cabinet Secretariat in February 2018 advised senior leaders and the functionaries of the government to stay away from events attended by Dalai Lama and other leaders of the global campaign to free Tibet from “repressive rule” of China.

Dalai Lama will deliver the 24th annual Radhakrishnan Memorial Lecture at the India International Centre in New Delhi on Thursday. Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, a member of Parliament of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Director General of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR), will be the Guest of Honour at the event, according to an invitation circulated by the IIAS.

The ICCR is also an autonomous institution of the Ministry of External Affairs of government of India.

New Delhi’s move came at a time when Beijing’s repeated statements echoing Pakistan and opposing the decision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government on Jammu and Kashmir struck jarring notes to the bonhomie that marked the relations between India and China since early 2018.

China will of course not be amused by India’s move to allow one of its most prestigious institutions to invite Dalai Lama to deliver the lecture instituted in memory of its second President. Dalai Lama has been living in exile in India ever since he fled from Tibet in 1959 to escape Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Nearly 1 lakh other Tibetans also live in exile in settlements across India.

Beijing has been accusing the 84-year-old monk and the Tibetan Government in Exile (officially known as Central Tibetan Administration) based at Dharamshala in India of running a secessionist campaign against China.

New Delhi was cautious in its approach to engage with Dalai Lama or the Tibetan Government in Exile (TGiE) since early 2018, apparently because it was trying to avoid irking Beijing while trying to mend India-China ties, which had hit a new low in the wake of the 72-day-long military stand-off at Doklam in western Bhutan in June-August 2017. The first “informal summit” between Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Wuhan in central China in April 2018 brought about a thaw in complex bilateral relations.

Ahead of the first Modi-Xi “informal summit”, New Delhi in February 2018 issued an advisory asking “senior leaders” and “government functionaries” in the states as well as at the Centre to stay away from events attended by Dalai Lama. The advisory fuelled speculation that India was shifting from its traditional approach on Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetans to avert any complication in its efforts to bring back on track its ties with China. Besides, although the TGiE wanted to hold a “Thank You India” in New Delhi to mark the beginning of the 60th anniversary of Dalai Lama's escape to India in 1959, the Modi government made it scale down the event and shift its venue from the national capital to Dharamshala.

New Delhi’s ties with Beijing came under stress once again after China joined Pakistan to oppose India’s August 5 decision to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its special status and reorganize the state into two Union Territories.

China is concerned over implication of the Modi government’s move on Jammu and Kashmir on its protracted boundary dispute with India. The Chinese government perceived it as New Delhi's “unilateral” move to change the status quo in the disputed territory and to strengthen its claim – not only on areas of Kashmir under occupation of Pakistan, but also on 5180 sq km of areas ceded by Pakistan to China in 1963 as well as on Aksai Chin – a disputed territory between India and China.

Though Modi hosted Xi for the second “informal summit” at a seaside resort near Chennai on October 11 and 12, China’s opposition to India’s decisions on Jammu and Kashmir cast a shadow over the meeting.

India in fact raised its pitch to re-assert claim over its territories illegally occupied by China, after the communist country on October 31 described the reorganization of Jammu and Kashmir as “unlawful”.

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