New Delhi has suddenly ditched the Dalai Lama – the Nobel Prize winning Tibetan spiritual leader who runs a government-in-exile from India – apparently to mend fences with an increasingly assertive China.
The Dalai Lama has been a revered guest in India for 60 long years after he crossed the Himalayan border to escape the wrath of communist China.
Since 1959, successive governments in New Delhi generously hosted him and his Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) headquartered in Dharamsala along with 95,000 Tibetan refugees, even as Beijing accused India of sheltering China’s Enemy Number 1 and threatened reprisals.
New Delhi’s brave and principled stand was lauded globally and the Dalai Lama – one of the world’s most recognized faces and a human rights icon – emotionally described himself last year as a “son” of India. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government seems to have just dropped the Dalai Lama like a hot potato inviting charges of capitulation and kowtowing to China.
The volte-face is evident from India’s new Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale’s top secret note to Cabinet Secretary P. K. Sinha to ensure that “senior leaders” and “government functionaries” boycott CTA’s events from March 31 to mark the 60th year of the Dalai Lama’s arrival in the country.
Gokhale’s confidential memo published verbatim by the Indian Express newspaper said: “The proposed period (March 31 onwards) will be a very sensitive time in the context of India’s relations with China. Participation by senior leaders or government functionaries, either from the central government or state governments, is not desirable, and should be discouraged.”
Sinha, in turn, issued strict instructions to central and state governments to steer clear of CTA functions.
“It’s as clear as daylight that India wants to appease and please China”, a top diplomatic source told Al Arabiya. “And the Dalai Lama is the sacrificial lamb at the altar of Indian interests. Modi won’t have to pay a price domestically for dumping the Dalai Lama.”
The diplomat, who declined to be named, said that “India’s climb-down is spurred by hard realities like China’s GDP which is nearly five times that of India; China’s defence spending which is three times larger than India’s, not to speak of the $52 billion trade deficit which underline China’s huge military and economic edge over India.”
The abrupt and complete reversal after the bluster and muscle-flexing in 2017, especially during the Doklam stand-off, has angered many in India.
Sushant Singh, one of India’s top defense analysts, tweeted: “The story is not what India does to Dalai Lama. It is how India is unable to deal with China effectively. As we know, China never withdrew fully from Doklam and we have had to accept the new status quo. We have been made to believe that India is standing up to China and not going to “appease” it. This is a clear departure from what people have been told so far, especially after Doklam ‘disengagement’. This is what happens when we adopt an ostrich-like attitude towards China ...then lie & obfuscate to our citizens.”
The danger from Doklam: We should not learn wrong lessons from the disengagement. My opinion piece today https://t.co/yb8RJUO6d6— Sushant Singh (@SushantSin) September 2, 2017
Another observer, Anuradha Dighe, wrote: “Modiji first chickened out of Dokalam unconditionally and without a signed treaty & lost Bhutan’s trust. Now afraid of interacting with Tibetans in his own country India. Next Modi will give Arunachal Pradesh to China in fear.”
Sources told Al Arabiya that New Delhi – which has traditionally used the Dalai Lama as a bargaining chip with China - decided to pacify Beijing by dumping the Tibetan spiritual leader to ensure that Modi gets a good reception in Qingdao during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit in June.
But low-key, warm up celebrations in Dharamsala last week had an unexpected representative from India: George Baker. The nominated BJP MP from West Bengal defied the government’s directive and spent three days in Dharamsala with his Tibetan hosts.
The former actor told Al Arabiya: “As a lawmaker, I can travel to any part of India. Moreover, Tibetans are victims of Chinese oppression and as a rabidly anti-Chinese Indian, it’s my national duty to join Tibetan celebrations.”