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Is the Karmapa Lama a Chinese spy? India still can’t decide after 18 years

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India has still not decided whether it should give the Karmapa Lama a visa to attend a conference called by the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala.

The death of Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, a confidante of the Dalai Lama, from liver cancer last week in a San Francisco hospital, is deeply distressing for three reasons.

First, Lodi was the gentlest and toughest of people, capable of overturning dearly held credos, like the independence of Tibet, in favour of the ‘Middle Path’ espoused by the Tibetan spiritual leader. Second, he knew China better than almost all other Tibetans in exile, having held six rounds of talks with the International Department of the Chinese Communist Party between 2002-2008, before the Chinese called them off.

And third, he also probably understood India better than most Tibetans in exile, leaving his beloved Dalai Lama for a second exile in Bangkok a few years ago, just like his much younger fellow Tibetan, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the Karmapa Lama.

Also read: 2 Karmapas are uniting and it’s time for India to deal with it in a mature way

For the last one year, the Karmapa has been living in the US, meeting followers, offering his teachings and being treated medically for hypertension. Then, in May, he acquired a passport from the Commonwealth of Dominica Republic, a tiny island in the West Indies with a geographical area of 750 sq km.

It is a crying shame that India, literally, drove the Karmapa out. The security establishment led by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval continues to believe that the Karmapa, who fled from Tibet as a 14-year-old in 2000 – that daring escape itself is a move of gigantic Bollywood proportions – is a Chinese spy, “because he couldn’t have escaped the impenetrable Chinese security in the depth of winter”.

Even when the Dalai Lama recognised him as the authentic Karmapa Lama, as the head of the influential Karma Kagyu sect (one of four sects in Tibetan Buddhism, different from the Gelugpa sect to which the Dalai Lama belongs), India’s security establishment continued to treat him shabbily.

It is a measure of the security agencies’ enormous power and influence that not one politician with oversight – neither home minister Rajnath Singh nor external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj – has had the courage to take a different view on the tangled Karmapa issue, because of Doval’s perceived proximity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Also read: India once thought this monk was a Chinese spy. Now, Modi govt will welcome him back  

As a citizen of Dominica, the Karmapa now wants to give up his Indian identity card. A month ago he applied to do so at the Indian consulate in New York, but was told by officers that they “were awaiting instructions from Delhi and would not be able to accept it”.

Question is, if India believes that the Karmapa is a Chinese spy, then why would they not take back his identity card? Since the Karmapa has done them a favour by leaving, why are they so desperate now to get him back?

The answer lies in Delhi’s muddled self-perceptions. Narendra Modi believes he is the only leader capable of challenging China— but the irony is that by giving up the Karmapa, he is falling in line with what the Chinese want, which is, separate the Tibetan community-in-exile from India and weaken the historical connections between the two.

Second, Modi’s claims of India being a regional leader are watered down by his inability to keep safely the leader of one of the most respected schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

The flight of several Tibetan leaders as well as ordinary people from India to the US in recent years – even Lodi Gyari, who lived in India most of his life after he escaped with his parents and the Dalai Lama in 1959, didn’t come home to say goodbye before he went to the US for medical treatment – is a bitter manifestation of the fact that India is becoming a second choice for the Tibetan community.

The unfortunate truth is that it is the US, not India, which is increasingly being seen as a refuge by Tibetans escaping China. From more than 150,000 refugees, as per 2011 records, the Tibetan community has dwindled to 85,000 people inside India.

Back to the Karmapa. He now wants to come to India for a conference of all the Tibetan monk lineages called by the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala on 28-29 November. He needs a visa to do so, now that he has a foreign passport. But Delhi will neither give him a visa, nor take back his identity papers. At the same time, it believes the Karmapa is a Chinese spy.

The confused nature of Delhi’s strategic thinking has never been so apparent.

Also read: As Dalai Lama turns 83, Indian wariness post-Wuhan overshadows Tibet’s future

Ironically, the Modi government believes India is the only Asian country which can vie with China for influence. Delhi doesn’t like Beijing’s determination to expand into South Asia as well as the Indian Ocean.

But if Doval the security tsar believes he is a latter-day Chanakya, accumulating all the security wings under his charge, then he might want to follow, at least in part, the essence of Chanakyaniti. According to a popular myth, Chanakya once chanced upon a man feeding honey to a colony of ants and asked him what he was doing.

“I am killing them with love,” the man said.

Saam. Daam. Danda. Bhed. Give advice. Buy out your enemy. Punish him. Sow discord. These are the four elements of Chanakya’s strategic thinking which the Modi government believes it believes in.

This Diwali, it might be worthwhile to think, anew, how to really defeat India’s enemies.

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  1. Perhaps reading Albert Camus – not just dossiers all the time – would help : In the depth of winter, I realised there lay within me an invincible summer.

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