Tuesday, December 6, 2022
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Why Modi doesn’t mention the Dalai Lama anymore, while he rages against ‘enemy Pakistan’

China’s expanding presence inside India as well as on the borders has coincided with PM Modi giving way to what Beijing has wanted.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi has demonstrated two opposite sides of his personality. As he wades into his campaign for the 2019 general elections, Modi has repeatedly made charges against “enemy Pakistan”, which serves the BJP well to conflate its belief that Muslims at home as well as those on the other side of the western border cannot be trusted. (The BJP has fielded only one Muslim candidate — Mahfuza Khatun from Jangipur in West Bengal — in the coming Lok Sabha elections.)

At the same time, Modi has maintained a stunned silence on the 60th anniversary of the arrival of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, in India.

The 30 March anniversary passed with absolutely no mention from anyone in the Delhi establishment. Not from the prime minister or the external affairs minister or home or defence ministers. It’s as if the arrival of the Dalai Lama from Chinese-ruled Tibet in 1959 never happened.

This confirms a huge shift in Modi’s foreign policy thinking on China, which began in April last year when he met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan. It is now becoming increasingly clear, say highly placed sources speaking on the condition of anonymity, that at Wuhan, India and China decided they would not air their differences in public.

The case of the Dalai Lama fell into this category.

The Chinese wanted Delhi not to make any public mention of the Tibetan leadership living in India. Modi is said to have agreed.

The Dalai Lama could still be treated as an honoured guest by the Indian government, but that would be all. He could travel inside and outside the country – as the living incarnation of the Avalokiteśvara; even Modi could not prevent that.

Also read: Imran Khan’s China visit shows Narendra Modi government oversold Wuhan summit

So, when the 60th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s arrival in India’s Arunachal Pradesh (then called North-East Frontier Agency, or NEFA) came around on March 30, the sound and fury of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections had taken over.

Modi was busy castigating the Congress party for allegedly asking questions on the Balakot air strikes and trying to make them out as “anti-national”; he was obsessing over the evil designs of Pakistan itself and implicitly warning that if it were not for him, India would be over-run both by Muslims and Pakistanis.

On the one hand, Modi was ensuring that the two-nation theory was getting a new life of its own; on the other, he was agreeing with China that the Tibetan leaders in India would be roundly ignored — that they would not matter anymore.

So the Dalai Lama has, indeed, arrived in Delhi on Tuesday, April 2, to attend a conference on ethical and emotional learning, but the venue cannot be farther than South Block in the heart of the capital, where the Prime Minister’s Office is located, or in Lok Kalyan Marg, where Modi lives.

It’s as if Modi wants the Dalai Lama to get in and get out of Delhi as soon as possible. He wants to have nothing to do with him.

Even on Wuhan’s eve, Delhi had sent out word that the Tibetan community could not hold any events or festivities “thanking India” for letting the Dalai Lama and thousands of Tibetan refugees make their home in India since 1959.

Today, the invisibilisation of the Dalai Lama is almost complete in India – a home he has made for the last 60 years.

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

The tragedy of the Dalai Lama’s situation cannot be measured by emotions of hurt or grievance or sadness. Whether or not the BJP is violating its own much-vaunted “atithi devo bhava” principle, the fact is that the Modi government could have intelligently used the Tibetans as leverage over the Chinese.

The charge that Modi has caved in to the Chinese is an old one. After all, even prime ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh never met the Dalai Lama publicly – unlike Nehru, who welcomed him to India and gave him a home, or Lal Bahadur Shastri or Indira Gandhi.

But the fact remains that China’s expanding presence in all parts of South Asia, which India considers its traditional sphere of influence, has been synonymous with Modi giving what Beijing has wanted. In the hope that if it gives an inch, it will fight back a yard, the Modi government has allowed China to creep not stealthily, but openly, inside the Indian mainframe.

First, there was the Doklam incursion in 2017, a shock because no one in Delhi could conceive of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) wanting to audaciously build a road in the strategic Chumbi valley in Bhutan and coming so close to Indian territory.

Second, the widening India-China trade deficit has been accompanied by China’s insidious and expanding presence. Trade data from 2017-2018 shows that India imported $76.2 billion worth goods from China, and exported less than half: $33 billion.

On March 19, traders in Delhi’s largest wholesale market, Sadar Bazar, burned Chinese goods like toys, mobile phones, white goods, etc, arguing that these cheap imports were driving them out of business. The drastic step casts a worrying look at the slow destruction of Indian manufacturing because of its own distorted policies. At the same time, traders also argue that boycotting Chinese products is difficult because “very little is made in India”.

Also read: India’s China policy is adrift, but Tibet & Dalai Lama can change that

Third, in the wake of the Balakot air strikes, China has continued to block the move to have Masood Azhar, whose Jaish-e-Mohammed took responsibility for the Pulwama attack, designated as a global terrorist at the UN Security Council.

If Modi believed that the Wuhan spirit meant that China would also show generosity to its Asian rival, then all the evidence points the other way.

ThePrint’s own China-watcher, Col (retd) Vinayak Bhatt, points out that as the snows melt, the Chinese PLA has returned to building roads near Doklam and even a possible heliport.

If Modi wanted to, he could have shown Xi Jinping that two can play the same game — by meeting and welcoming the Dalai Lama while continuing to promise publicly that Tibet is an alienable part of China. There isn’t much that India can do on the ground, in any case. China’s control of Tibet is far too strong; it has expanded into South Asia in a way that is hardly reversible; and its imprint on Indian trade cannot be overturned in a hurry.

Perhaps, Modi the new Chanakya could have borrowed a leaf or two out of Confucius? The shadow-play is, in any case, a Chinese invention.

At the end of Modi’s tenure, the question remains: What has Modi done to prevent China from further becoming India’s Achilles heel?

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  1. We can not blame Modi .Ever since 1962 ,not a single leader of india has ever looked the Chinese Leaers in to their eyes .The Chinese beat us in 1962 and we yet to recover from the shock of its defeat .While dealing with Chinese we remain submissive and have seldom asserted ourselves .

  2. We cannot afford to engage with China with the strength that we have, he’s wise enough to think like that. But also wise enough to acquire strength soon so that we can when the time is right. So, he’s waiting for the right time, that’s it.

    • He is waiting for the right time to push us into hell fire while himself sits in his nuclear-proof bunker, twiddling his Mont Blanc pen! A brave man shows his bravery by talking wounds upon himself; a coward shows his bravery by initiating a fight that does not hurt him personally.

  3. There is a word in sciences : “anisotropic”. It means, “of unequal physical properties along different axes”. Modi ji has 56 inch chest, or so he claims, when he is facing towards west. When he’s facing towards east, the same chest becomes… I don’t know what. He has never told us what the size becomes.

  4. Dalai Lama cannot get Modi votes the way Pakistan is expected to get. Just for fun. He is of no use to BJP in this elections.

  5. There was a time when the world spoke of India and China in almost the same breath. As recently as the Bush – Rice years, there was hope that India could become a natural foil to China. Given how enormously the Chinese economy has grown in this century – although some of it in a manner that is unsustainable, will have to be painfully unwound, apart from the natural levelling off that all fast growing economies face – we must painfully accept that this asymmetry is now insurmountable. Better to reset the relationship on the basis of mutual interest and sustainability. If NYAY is all the Indian economy can deliver, leave China to the United States.

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