Days after the government sent out a note asking senior leaders and government functionaries of the Centre and states to stay away from events planned to mark 60 years in exile of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan government-in-exile has decided to cancel its two main events in New Delhi. In its note, the government had underlined that it is a “very sensitive time” for India’s relations with China.
The two events, which were to be attended by the Dalai Lama, were scheduled to take place in New Delhi — an inter-faith prayer at the Gandhi Samadhi in Rajghat on March 31 and a ‘Thank You India’ event at the Thyagaraj Sports Complex on April 1.
Following a report in The Indian Express on March 2 — it was the first to report on Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale’s note to Cabinet Secretary P K Sinha who sent a directive to the Centre and states — the Tibetan government-in-exile decided to hold the ‘Thank You India’ event in Dharamsala, either on March 31 or April 1.
Confirming the move, Sonam Dagpo, spokesperson for the Central Tibetan Administration, told The Indian Express Monday: “The Thyagaraj stadium event has been shifted to Dharamsala now. And the inter-faith prayer at Rajghat has been cancelled for now.”
When his comments were sought on the government’s note, Dagpo said, “India is host to Tibetan refugees. We respect the Indian government’s decision. We have no further comments.” He said there had been no communication from the Indian government to the Tibetan administration on this issue.
While the Tibetan government-in-exile had put out a calendar of events for the year to observe “60 years in exile”, it was not available on the website Monday night. Dagpo, however, said participation in Yoga Day, Swachh Bharat, tree-plantation and other events will take place as planned.
The ‘Thank You India’ event at the Thyagaraj Sports Complex in New Delhi had found specific mention in the Foreign Secretary’s note.
“There were plans for speeches by the Dalai Lama and some of our Indian friends, from government, politics, academia and others, at the Thyagaraj Sports Complex. There was also a plan to gift a souvenir, a Dharmachakra, from the Tibetan administration to a representative of the Indian government, as an expression of our gratitude to the Indian government for hosting us for 60 years. But that plan is now being re-worked,” a Tibetan administration official said.
Sources said the Tibetan administration was planning to invite former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani, Minister of State (Home) Kiren Rijiju among others for the events at the Thyagaraj stadium and Rajghat.
Foreign Secretary Gokhale, in a note to Cabinet Secretary Sinha on February 22, stated: “We understand that this includes a large public event titled ‘Thank You India’ being organised at Thyagaraj Sports Complex in New Delhi on 1 April, 2018. The Dalai Lama set-up also intends to invite a number of Indian dignitaries. These are likely to be followed up by additional events in Delhi as well as other states of India.”
“The proposed period will be a very sensitive time in the context of India’s relations with China. Participation by senior leaders or government functionaries, either from the Central Government or State Governments, is not desirable, and should be discouraged,” Gokhale wrote to the Cabinet Secretary.
A former Indian ambassador to Beijing, Gokhale requested Sinha to issue a “classified circular advisory advising all Ministries/Departments of Government of India as well as State Governments not to accept any invitation or to participate in the proposed commemorative events”.
While this was perceived as an unusual departure from Delhi’s stand on the Tibetans-in-exile, Gokhale’s trip to Beijing on February 23, where he met Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou, and called on Foreign Minister Wang and State Councillor Yang Jiechi, was an attempt to mend fences with China — after a year of strained relations.
While China calls the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetans, a “splittist” and a “dangerous separatist”, the Ministry of External Affairs reiterated Friday – the day The Indian Express report was published — that the “Government’s position on His Holiness the Dalai Lama is clear and consistent. He is a revered religious leader and is deeply respected by people of India. There is no change in that position. He is accorded all freedom to carry out his religious activities in India.”
Gokhale’s note is a reflection of India’s cautious approach towards Beijing as it embarks on the task of mending fences with its northern neighbour. Many believe that the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh from April 4 to 12 last year had provoked Beijing to take diplomatic and military moves that impacted the relationship adversely through much of 2017.
Officials say Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s possible visit to Qingdao in China in June this year for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit is a key marker, and New Delhi is keen to reset its relationship with Beijing in 2018.