The government averted a potential diplomatic row with Beijing on Saturday when it advised ministers and senior functionaries not to attend a felicitation for Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, at which he lashed out against China.
Alleging “cultural genocide” and “demographic aggression” by China, the Dalai Lama said the issue of Tibet needed to be resolved before genuine India-China friendship could ensue.
The decision to send the advisory to the ministers came in the backdrop of a successful China visit by Congress President Sonia Gandhi in October and ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's proposed visit to Beijing after a few months.
China is traditionally sensitive to any official contact with the Dalai Lama and strongly opposed the recent award of the US Congress’s highest civilian honour to Tibet’s head Lama, for which he was felicitated at the function in New Delhi on Saturday.
“I do not see the logic for issuing the communiqué,” said Bashistha Narain Singh, Rajya Sabha MP and Convenor of the All-Party Indian Parliamentary Forum for Tibet, one of the organisers of the function.
But the Dalai Lama himself attached little importance to the issue. “No, I don’t think (so)...This is a private (function),” he told PTI in response to a question whether Indian government’s representatives should have been present on the occasion. He also said his relations with the Indian government were “excellent”.
Government officials said Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrasekhar's missive to ministers and other government dignitaries not to attend the function was not a blanket advisory against all functions conducted or attended by the Dalai Lama.
“He’s a respected religious leader for whom we have the highest respect. But he should not indulge in any political activity,” a senior government official said. “Since this was not a religious function, the general advisory was issued to cabinet ministers for this function,” another official said.