Shocking gesture in a bid to appease China

Beijing regularly expresses annoyance when the Dalai Lama is received by any world leader.

India’s most recent gesture in respect of relations with China is, to say the least, pusillanimous. An instruction from the Cabinet Secretary reported last week — after a note by the foreign secretary — has directed all officials and senior figures to avoid any event with which the Dalai Lama is associated.

The foreign secretary’s note — leaked to the media — had spelt out the reason, namely, that bilateral relations with China are in a “sensitive” state. Just days before the instruction became public, the government had noted in reply to a parliamentary question that fresh Chinese military manoeuvres in the Doklam area could not be ruled out after the dust settled last August on the Sino-Indian standoff in the Doklam plateau.

Beijing will be justified in reading the Indian move in relation to the iconic Nobel Peace Prize winner as a triumph of its browbeating diplomacy, and possibly even as an example of Indian kowtowing. China regards the Tibetan spiritual leader as a “splittist”, or separatist, though the latter strenuously denies this. Beijing regularly expresses annoyance when the Dalai Lama is received by any world leader.

Since 1959, when the Dalai Lama, as a boy, escaped to India following the failed Tibetan uprising against the Chinese occupation that was crushed, and was given refuge by Jawaharlal Nehru’s government, the famous Tibetan monk has not engaged in any political activity in the country, and has confined himself to the religious domain. In fact, not taking part in politics was a condition of being given hospitality.

It is noteworthy that in the nearly 60 years the spiritual leader has lived in this country, political leaders or senior officials are not known to have associated with him at public forums — even at religious platforms. This makes the latest directive, which obviously has clearance from the highest level, intriguing. It also risks being seen as a placatory gesture — agreeing to doing something of which Indians have not been guilty in the first place. Last month, when the Indian foreign secretary travelled to Beijing for the first time in his present capacity (he was earlier our ambassador to China), foreign minister Wang Yi had reportedly told him that India should be “prudent”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in China in June. A series of high-level official meetings between the two nations have been planned to prepare for the PM’s visit, in the course of which Mr Modi is more than likely to interact with President Xi Jinping on bilateral matters and issues of common concern.

It is in the interest of neither country to have anything but the friendliest of ties, and to take constructive steps to deal with points of difference. But appeasement and currying favour cannot lead to satisfactory relations.

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