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The Dalai Lama and International Politics: How is He a Part of India’s Soft Power

Maitripa College

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday spoke to the Dalai Lama, the spiritual head of Tibetans, to greet him on his 87th birthday. Himachal Pradesh CM Jairam Ramesh was also quick to extend his greetings to the spiritual leader.

As we celebrate his birthday, let us explore his story and how he became a part of India’s foreign relations:

His Holiness (Dalai Lama) was born on 6 July 1935. At the age of 2, he was chosen as the successor of the Tibetan spiritual tradition. At age of 23, he was awarded the Geshe Lharampa degree, equivalent to a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy.

However, due to China’s invasion of Tibet, in 1959, he was forced to flee his motherland to India. He and fellow Tibetans were given refuge by PM Nehru’s government. The Dalai Lama has been living in exile since then in India after fleeing China.

He has been accorded several honors including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, as well as the Congressional Gold Medal by the US Congress.

October 5 1989 Dalai Lama wins Nobel Peace Prize | Craig Hill

The Dalai Lama Receiving Nobel Peace Prize

Credits: CraigHill

Dalai Lama and India-China Relations:

Independent India and China have always shared a strange relationship since 1947. Although both nations share a strong trade relationship, New Delhi and Beijing have had differences over the territory in the Aksai Chin area, and Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims as a part of southern Tibet.

Though the Dalai Lama had given up his call for and support to the demand for Tibetan independence way back in 1974, China still regards him as a separatist.

China also strongly objects to Dalai Lama’s birthday celebrations by India and his visit to the Tawang region of Arunachal Pradesh. However, last year also PM Modi personally extended his greetings, which came as a breakthrough for many years.

New Delhi has followed a mixed policy towards the Dalai Lama, keeping in view Chinese assertiveness towards the issue. For instance, PM Modi invited the Sikyong of Government in Exile PM Lobsang Sangay to his swearing-in ceremony in 2014, but the BJP-led government didn’t repeat its stance in 2019.

Modi invite to PM-in-exile thrills Tibetans - Oneindia News

PM Modi(Left) and Lobsang Sangay(Right)

Credits: OneIndia

In 2018, several events to mark the 60th year of the flight of the Dalai Lama to India were planned- but a government circular reminded officials not to participate, and events including the Dalai Lama’s visit to Rajghat had to be canceled.

Way Forward for India:

While India follows a mixed policy, China has made consistent efforts to Sinicize the population along with rapid infrastructure development in Tibet.

As India-China relations evolve to an all-time low after the Galwan valley deaths, China has begun to raise Tibetan Militia groups, while the Indian Army trains the Tibetan Special Frontier Force, which could lead to the frightening scene of Tibetans on both sides fighting each other sometime in the future.

Furthermore, those Tibetans born after 1987 are deprived of Indian citizenship, leaving the Tibetan youth in limbo. They have settled in segregated communes in different parts of India, but are not being given rights as Indians, with little recourse or connection to what is happening back home in Tibet.

Karmapa acquires a Dominica passport, loses New Delhi's trust- The New  Indian Express

Karampa Lama

Credits: New Indian Express

The US is also playing an increasingly active role in giving citizenship to Tibetan refugees. Karmapa Lama, head of a Tibetan buddhist sect also resides permanently in the US now. As US-China relations nosedive, the former is likely to expand its interest in the Tibetan issue.

The larger question is about Dalai Lama’s succession. While he has maintained that he would appoint the next Dalai Lama from somewhere in exile, or there would be no one succeeding him; China has reiterated that it will appoint its own Dalai Lama.

To conclude, India must avoid a situation where it has a young and restive Tibetan population that resides here but looks outside of India for its leadership and command structure after the 14th Dalai Lama has passed.

References: The Hindu, The Indian Express, Times Now, Outlook

Featured Image Source: Maitripa College

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