When it comes to the ‘Roof of the World’, India’s policies are timeless. Or so New Delhi would have us believe, the way it continues to waffle over its policy — or rather the lack of one — on Tibet. It is unfortunate that the government should have asked Union ministers to stay away from a function in the capital last Saturday to felicitate Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Even Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who reportedly confirmed her participation earlier, stood the Dalai Lama up, saying that she had to rush to Mumbai. This was not totally unexpected, given India’s wont to scrupulously avoid such ceremonies, so as not to be seen getting tangled in a war of diplomacy against China.
Beijing is so touchy about Tibet that New Delhi always kept a discreet distance from the Dalai Lama, whom China accuses of pursing a political campaign for an independent Tibet. Never mind if the spiritual leader — who has been in exile in India ever since Chinese forces seized Tibet in 1959 — of late has said that he merely wants greater autonomy for the region. The Tibetan Prime Minister-in-exile, Samdhong Rinpoche, echoed this recently when he asked Tibetans and Tibet support groups around the world to restrain from protesting against visiting Chinese dignitaries. It is an open secret that China’s ruthless suppression of protests has led to the deaths of an estimated 1.4 million Tibetans. Beijing is forever trying to attract immigrants from the Chinese Han majority ethnic group to Tibet, to make Tibetans a minority in Lhasa.
Indo-China relations of the last 50 years show how India remains caught in the web of Chinese realist policies. It is evidently no longer wise for Indian policy-makers to downplay the Tibetan factor fearing an increase in tensions with Beijing. For Chinese policies suggest that Tibet is central in their strategies vis-a-vis India. Making Tibet an integral part of China, for instance, gives Beijing a lot more room to claim Indian territories and to try to settle the thorny border dispute with the help of Tibetan documents. The question is, as an old world slips away in Tibet, can India find the political will to revise its policy?