New Delhi: Former Indian diplomat Phunchok Stobdan said Monday Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama is a “geopolitical entity” apart from being a religious leader. He also apologised for his comments on the Dalai Lama, which irked key monasteries in Ladakh who issued a statement.
Ladakh is observing a shutdown Monday called by local associations as a mark of protest against Stobdan’s comments.
“His Holiness Dalai Lama is a supreme religious leader, but he is also a geopolitical entity. We all know the history behind his coming to India, seeking exile here and setting up a government-in-exile in Dharamshala. Hence, my comments were purely made from the geopolitical and strategic standpoint… Let’s not forget the Tibet issue is not resolved yet,” Stobdan told ThePrint Monday.
The All Ladakh Buddhist Association, Ladakh Gonpa Association and Leh Merchants Association had called out the former diplomat for his comments on the Dalai Lama made during a show in a private news channel last week while discussing the ongoing border tensions between India and China in the Ladakh region.
The associations had also demanded an “unconditional apology” from Stobdan.
The Thiksey and Diskit monasteries even issued a statement Sunday, calling Stobdan’s statements “highly objectionable”.
“If my comments have hurt religious sentiments, then I am sorry. But not everything can make everyone happy. It does not mean we stop commenting on issues that matter to us. Ladakh is not Tibetan or Chinese land, this is India’s land,” the veteran diplomat and strategic affairs expert added.
The ex-diplomat also said “unnecessary religious colour” is being given to his comments, “which I made entirely in the national interest”.
“I am after all a strategic thinker and an expert on national security affairs. I know the subject very well and understand these geopolitical issues. This is a democracy after all,” said Stobdan, the author of ‘The Great Game in the Buddhist Himalayas: India and China’s Quest for Strategic Dominance’.
‘Why is he silent?’
Questioning the Dalai Lama’s silence on the India-China border flare-up that erupted early last month, Stobdan had asked: “Why is he sitting and not making any comment even as the Chinese are entering our territory?”
“The land on which the dispute is on is a Ladakhi land, it is India’s land. And being Dalai Lama, he should say these things. Why is he keeping silent,” he had asked on the TV show last Friday.
‘Ladakh belongs to India, no compromise’
Referring to a 2017 incident in which the head of the Tibetan government-in-exile Lobsang Sangay had reportedly hoisted the Tibetan flag on the shore of Pangong Tso in Ladakh amid the Doklam crisis, a move that was criticised by China, Stobdan said the step was a “provocation”.
“In 2017 during the Doklam standoff, the leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile hoisted the flag of Tibet in Pangong lake in Ladakh. That action acted as a major provocation. They are the ones that stirred up the politics around the entire issue back then,” Stobdan said.
The Pangong lake lies between India and China, also bordering Tibet, with the Line of Actual Control (LAC) passing through it.
The alleged hoisting of the Tibetan flag was, however, denied by the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamshala, saying Sangay had gone there only to pay respects to an already unfurled flag.
Stobdan said if the Tibetan government is in exile, “then what are they doing in Ladakh?”
“Ladakh belongs to the Ladakhis and India, and there can be no compromise,” he added.