Dalai Lama’s proposed visit to Arunachal Pradesh next year has expectedly raised concerns from China. To the uninitiated, the Chinese government has always considered the tallest Buddhist leader to be a sworn enemy, ever since he sought refuge in India in 1959.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has reportedly cleared a fortnight-long visit with no exact time frame, and the places of visit include Itanagar and Tawang, among others. The Buddhist leader had planned a similar visit in 2009, but it had to be dropped in the face of stiff opposition from China.
As usual, China has objected to the visit as it considers Arunachal Pradesh as a disputed territory. While the then UPA government under Dr Manmohan Singh buckled to the Chinese pressure in 2009 denying permission to the Buddhist spiritual leader, the Narendra Modi government views it differently. For the NDA government, Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh is part of the diplomatic offensive.
Recently, India hosted US Ambassador Richard Varma, in Arunachal Pradesh disregarding Chinese opposition. Ministry of Home Affairs, sources say, would like to encourage similar visits by other foreign mission chiefs. The reason is obvious: India under Modi no longer wants to be browbeaten by China. It is, however, willing to extend its hands of friendship on a purely reciprocal basis. The Chinese have continued to block India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) despite most advanced nations, including the US, agreeing to India joining the 45 nation grouping for nuclear commerce. Similarly, China has refused to endorse particular anti-India terrorist entities of Pakistan for a ban under a UN mandate.
Lately, India has been loosely talking about banning cheap Chinese products in the country ostensibly because of opposition from Indian manufacturers. A similar demand had been made from domestic manufacturers in the past, but it was ignored. Now the Modi regime seems to be interested in sending clear signals to China that good neighbourly relations can be maintained only by mutually beneficial moves from both sides.
Soon after assuming office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended India’s hands of friendship to both hostile neighbors—Pakistan and China---to demonstrate his intentions. Modi more than gambled by his unexpected, unannounced visit to Pakistan while he openly eulogised China for its success in achieving economic growth for its people. So much so, he proclaimed his intentions to make India a manufacturing nation (in lines of China). But Modi is sulking now on China after the latter’s non-cooperation.
Why, then, should he not care for Dalai Lama and his sensibilities when India under Nehru gave him shelter amid much applause from across the world. Half a century after the 1962 war with China, India earnestly wanted to forget the past. But it takes both the hands to clap. Border issue continues to drag. There have been unwanted pinpricks in the form of border incursions in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.
For Dalai Lama and his million strong people of Tibetan origin now in India, the struggle continues. Dalai Lama’s government in exile in Dharamshala (Himachal Pradesh) is a living example of the faith and reverence that the spiritual leader commands from Tibetans across the world. Most countries and governments in the world, including the US, Europe, UK, among others, have ignored the Chinese opposition and received and hosted Dalai Lama. India gave him shelter all these years.
Dalai Lama, an apostle of non-violence, will be engaged in spiritual activities in monasteries in Tawang, Itanagar, and elsewhere in Arunachal Pradesh. China seeks to paint him as the villain. Tibetans in India staged mostly silent protests in 2009 when the Government did not permit their leader to visit Tawang on a spiritual mission. The protest was, indeed, against China outside the Chinese mission in Delhi. Modi will be only correcting the wrongs of the past by helping Dalai Lama visit Tawang Monastery, a historical place of worship for Buddhists around the word.
India needs to be wary of Chinese moves around its geographical territory. Apart from its moves in the Indian Ocean region, China has been involved in infrastructure development in disputed PoK area in cohorts with Pakistan. Besides fundamental strategic interests, its all-weather friendship with Pakistan also seeks to hurt India’s interests.
Regime change in India after Modi’s taking over as Prime Minister was considered by observers to be an opportunity for China to signal a change. But, apparently, that did not happen.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)