Centre’s U-Turn On Dalai Lama: Minister Sent To Event First Marked ‘Skip’

Union Minister Mahesh Sharma’s presence is in contrast to the Cabinet Secretary PK Sinha’s advice asking government leaders to stay away from events organised by the Tibetan government in exile since this is a “sensitive time” for India-China ties.

A little over a month after asking ministers to stay away from attending a Tibetan function to mark 60 years in exile of the Dalai Lama, the Centre today appeared to have tweaked its stance and deputed Union Minister Mahesh Sharma to represent the government at a “Thank you India” event in Dharamshala. Mr Sharma was accompanied by Ram Madhav of the ruling BJP and Satyavrat Chaturvedi of the opposition Congress.

Ram Madhav described India and Tibet as “spiritual and religious colleagues”.

“We know the life of a refugee is very tough…we hosted many people in trouble. India always welcome with open hands and open heart those in difficulties,” the BJP strategist told the gathering.

The Union Minister later tweeted that he had reiterated India’s relationship with the Tibetans as “honoured guests”.

“Tibetans are our friends and esteemed guests in India. We love to have this relation of togetherness and brotherhood,” he said.

The minister’s presence is in contrast to the stand articulated by the government in Cabinet Secretary PK Sinha’s letter to central departments and state governments, telling them to steer clear of these events since this is a “sensitive time” for India-China ties.

“Tibetans are our friends and esteemed guests in India. We love to have this relation of togetherness and brotherhood,” he said.

The minister’s presence is in contrast to the stand articulated by the government in Cabinet Secretary PK Sinha’s letter to central departments and state governments, telling them to steer clear of these events since this is a “sensitive time” for India-China ties.

The advice was widely seen as the government reversing its assertive stand towards China to calm ties strained by the Doklam stand-off last year. Strategic experts such as Brahma Chellaney at the think-tank Centre for Policy Research had described the government’s stand as “unfortunate”.

The Foreign Ministry had then, however, insisted that there had been no change in the government’s approach.

India’s position on the Dalai Lama “is clear and consistent. He is a revered religious leader and is deeply respected by the people of India. There is no change in that position”, spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.

Sources said similar circulars had emanated from the centre in the past also.

Like in 2007 when events were planned in Delhi to felicitate the Tibetan spiritual leader after he was awarded the US Congressional gold medal. But the BJP had then been a sharp critic of the Manmohan Singh government.

Rajnath Singh, then BJP president had suggested that the circular had been issued under the pressure of the left parties and their concerns towards China.

India had given shelter to the Dalai Lama in 1959 when the spiritual leader fled Tibet during an uprising there. The spiritual leader lives mostly in Dharamshala and his supporters run a small government in exile and campaign for autonomy for Tibet by peaceful means.

New Delhi has allowed the Dalai Lama to pursue his religious activities in India and to travel abroad.

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