A telephone call, a birthday wish, and India’s Tibet policy
By wishing Dalai Lama on his 86th birthday on the phone, and publicly tweeting about it, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done well in opening up a discussion on India’s Tibet policy. The Dalai Lama, a revered guest not just of the Indian State but of Indian citizens, is a rare example of the fusion of political and temporal, where he has brought the finest traditions of Buddhism, non-violence and compassion, in the battle against China’s occupation of Tibet. While India is careful to distance itself from any of his political activities, the PM’s call is a good step in showing India’s continued respect for the institution and person so integral to Tibetan life.
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But this must be the first step of a larger exercise. There is now a recognition across capitals that post-Dalai Lama politics of Tibet will emerge as a key geopolitical fault line. Beijing has made it clear that it will appoint its own pick as the next Dalai Lama. Washington has made it clear that it will respect Tibetan wishes on the question, and impose sanctions against Chinese officials who interfere with the process.
India may think it has a substantial leverage given that it has been home to the largest Tibetan community in exile as well as the Tibetan government in exile. But Delhi has been too diffident on the question, for fear of alienating Beijing, when China has shown no such reciprocal respect for India’s sensitivities. Due to an entirely avoidable inter-intelligence agency battle, Delhi has also alienated the Karmapa, another key Tibetan spiritual leader. PM Modi’s call is a good beginning. India should follow it up with a categorical policy position that it would respect the wishes of the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan spiritual leaders, outside China, on the matter of succession, mend fences with all sects, and mobilise international opinion on the issue.