NEW DELHI - As New Delhi seeks to revive its frayed ties with China, the Tibetan government-in-exile in India launched year-long celebrations Saturday to mark the 60th year of the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama’s arrival in India, in the hill town of Dharamsala — instead of the Indian capital, as originally planned.
Accusing the Chinese of destroying Tibetan civilization, culture and identity, the prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, Lobsang Sangay, urged Tibetans to strengthen efforts to make the return of the Dalai Lama to his native land a reality.
"Thousands and thousands of Tibetans have been killed and have died for the cause of Tibet. Many have burned themselves alive," he said.
Saying that he had fled Tibet under difficult circumstances, the Dalai Lama said it has been a time of mixed feelings of both sadness and happiness. “At the time, we had no idea what would happen in next 40 to 50 years. But today, we are commemorating 60 years in exile, so now we could see to a certain extent what would happen in the near future,” he said without elaborating.
The “Thank You India” event was moved out of the Indian capital to Dharamsala following a note by India’s top bureaucrat last month advising senior ministers and officials to stay away from the function, saying it coincided with a “very sensitive time” for relations with Beijing.
New Delhi’s caution toward a series of events planned by the Tibetans is seen as part of efforts to tone down its assertive stand toward China following a year when tensions between the Asian neighbors spiraled downward.
‘Readjustment of China policy’
It marks a departure from India’s stance last year, when, ignoring strong protests from Beijing, New Delhi allowed the Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal Pradesh state, a territory disputed between the Asian giants.
“These signals looked very hard line and hawkish,” says Manoj Joshi at the Observer Research Foundation. “I think there is a learning curve for the Modi government that one needs to be a bit careful in dealing with the Chinese on some of these issues. So there is a kind of readjustment of China policy.”
Besides moving the “Thank You India” function from New Delhi to Dharamsala, two other events have been scrapped — an interfaith prayer to be led by the Dalai Lama in New Delhi and a World Parliamentarians convention on Tibet.
Paying heed to Chinese sensitivities on the Dalai Lama, termed by Beijing a “dangerous separatist,” is a message from New Delhi to calm ties ahead of a series of meetings between Indian and Chinese officials, according to analysts.
India’s foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, visits Beijing in April and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to meet with President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a regional summit in June.
Relations between India and China hit their lowest point when troops from both countries were locked in a 70-day standoff on their Himalayan borders. But of late, the tone has been more positive as they try to reset ties.
New Delhi, however, did not completely ignore the “Thank You India” event meant to show gratitude to the Indian government and its people for their support of Tibetan refugees.
Junior Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma and a senior leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Ram Madhav, attended the function as the exile community sang songs thanking India for providing a home to the more than 125,000 Tibetans that live in the country.
Madhav hoped that the Dalai Lama would be able to find a solution to the Tibetan issue "through peaceful and democratic means that will facilitate your honorable return to your homeland.”
The Dalai Lama crossed into India from Lhasa on March 31, 1959, and has made India his home ever since.