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Mon, 25 Jun 2018

Northeast Today

Discord Over Dalai Lama’s Visit

Discord Over Dalai Lama’s Visit
June 12
14:33 2017

Cover Story of May Edition, NET Bureau, Partha Prawal

Amid rising tensions and constant warnings from China, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama went ahead with his Arunachal Pradesh visit from April 4 to April 10, where he took part in a series of spiritual and religious activities. India too reacted sharply to the Chinese warnings and stood firm on its ground. Northeast Today finds out more about the visit and also tries to throw light on some of the previously unexplored events

China’s protest against the visit of a premier leader from the Indian cabinet to Arunachal Pradesh is not new and over the years it has always raised its tone whenever any leader of national or international importance has set foot on Arunachal’s soil. When the then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had visited the state in 2008, China’s protest was beyond the code of ‘etiquette’ and ‘decency’. However, the issue was later resolved when the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao met Dr Singh at a regional meet in Thailand.

In fact, the Dragon breathed fire even when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the hill state on 2015 and participated in the Statehood Day celebrations of Arunachal Pradesh. Displaying their ‘dissatisfaction’ and anger over Modi’s visit, the Chinese government in a statement then said that the act of the Indian side is not conducive for properly resolving and controlling disputes between the two sides, nor in conformity with the general situation of growth of bilateral relations. The country also lodged a strong representation with India to express ‘diametrical opposition’ to Modi’s visit to a ‘disputed zone’ along the China-India borders.

“Modi visited a disputed zone in the eastern part of China-India borders to attend activities marking the founding of the so-called ‘Arunachal Pradesh’, a state that Indian authorities illegally and unilaterally declared in 1987. The Chinese government has never recognized the so-called Arunachal Pradesh,” reported the Chinese media after Modi’s visit.

India, however, has always strongly condemned the Chinese protests and in a straight forward manner the Indian government has always said that Arunachal Pradesh is very much an Indian territory and that its leaders did not require the approval of the Chinese government or authori-ties if they ever decided to visit the state.

In fact, the Indian government has always made it clear that anyone from within the country or any foreign national (irrespective of he/she being a commoner or a top leader) with proper passport and visa is free to visit not just Arunachal Pradesh, but also any other Indian state.

Jawan Lama

The Chinese assertion every time His Holiness the Dalai Lama had visited Arunachal Pradesh has been strong and when the revered Tibetan spiritual Guru visited the state in the April, the protests and objections made by Beijing were far more stringent than earlier. Hardening official statements from the Chinese Foreign Ministry was cannoned in plenty.

“Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh would seriously damage bilateral relations,” repeatedly reported the Chinese media quoting different official statements. In fact, the Indian Ambassador to China Vijay Keshav Gokhale was called for and a sharply worded demarche read out to him.

Further, the Chinese government warned that it would take ‘necessary measures’ to preserve its ‘territorial sovereignty’ and legal interests, and added that the visit could severely damage peace and stability in the region. “The Sino-Indian relations stand damaged and tensions fuelled,” Beijing further added.

Visit in brief

Back in 2009, the Dalai Lama had visited the Northeast and breaking this hiatus of 9 years, His Holiness set foot on Northeastern soil on April 1 last when he attended the Platinum Jubilee celebrations of The Assam Tribune in Guwahati.

His speeches are always full of extreme positivity and he always carries forward a message of peace and harmony and the April 1 speech was no different either. Addressing the gathering of over few hundreds of people, the revered Tibetan spiritual leader hoped that the 21st century would be a century of peace.

“Unlike the 20th century, which was one of violence in which over 200 million people were killed, let the 21st century be one of peace, in which every manmade problem should be settled through dialogue. I particularly make this appeal to the younger generation to whom this century belongs, and whose responsibility it is to make this century one of peace,” the Tibetan spiritual leader said.

Recalling his escape from Tibet in 1959, the Tibetan spiritual leader gave vivid descriptions about his escape and how he was received by the Indian officials and made his possible his safe passage to the country.

“I first came to India in 1956 to attend a religious function and then in 1959 as a refugee. Since then I have been in India, as the longest guest of the Indian government,” he said.

It was one of the rare occasions as the Dalai Lama, for the first time in 58 years, met Naren Chandra Das- a retired Indian Army jawan- who escorted His Holiness to India when he escaped Tibet via Tawang.

“I am extremely happy to meet this old man who had escorted me in March 1959. This was about 58 years back. You must have been retired now. Looking at your face, I am now feeling that I have also grown very old,” the Dalai Lama said after sharing an emotional moment with the retired jawan.

On April 4 the spiritual leader, escorted by the Arunachal Chief Minister Pema Khandu himself, took an arduous trip of 8 hours from Guwahati to Bomdila. During his stay in Arunachal Pradesh, His Holiness gave teachings on Kamalashila’s The Middling States of Meditation (gomrim barpa) & Gyalsey Thokme Sangpo’s Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva (laklen sodunma) at Yiga Choezin.

Pema Khandu on Beijing’s protest over Dalai Lama

Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu was greatly instrumental in arranging the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh as it was he who had met His Holiness in New Delhi in 2016 and invited him to Arunachal Pradesh, which His Holiness readily agreed to.

Reacting to China’s protest, the Chief Minister strongly said that Beijing had no right to threaten Delhi on the 14th Dalai Lama’s movement within the country as India shares boundary with Tibet and not China.

“Let me get this straight. China has no business telling us what to do and what not to do because it is not our next-door neighbor,” Khandu said in an interview.

He further explained that the McMahon Line, in reality, demarcates the boundary between India and Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh shares a 1,080km stretch of this line.

Pema Khandu Lama

“His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been India’s most respected guest since 1959. He has both a nostalgic and a religious connect with Arunachal Pardesh and thus the state deserves his visit more than anywhere else,” the Chief Minister further adds on.

On China’s claim over Arunachal Pradesh, the 38-yearold Khandu, who hails from Tawang, straightforwardly said that Arunachal Pradesh was, is, and will always be an integral part of India.

Vociferous about China’s claim over Arunachal, Khandu said that Tibet, traditionally, was never a Chinese territory and it was forcefully made a Chinese territory. So the question of Arunachal Pradesh being a part of China did not arise at all.

“China should respect our territorial integrity. We recognize Tibet’s assimilation with China,” further added the CM.

Reacting to China’s claim that the visit of the Dalai Lama was more political, rather than being religious, Pema Khandu said that the Dalai Lama is a Buddhist spiritual leader and he is the leader of the Buddhists all over the world.

“Being a Buddhist spiritual leader, he has every right to visit every Buddhist country. He has every right to visit any place in India,” Khandu said.

As said earlier, Pema Khandu was instrumental in Bringing the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh on his seventh visit, first visit after 2009 when the Pema Khandu’s late father Dorjee Khandu was the Chief Minister of the state.

Dalai Lama Story

The China-India tiff over Arunachal Pradesh- a territory which China calls as Southern Tibet and says to be an area that India has forcefully taken control is over six decades old. If we take a plunge back in time, we will come to know that Tibet, Dalai Lama and the subsequent issues associated with it began much before than the concept of ‘nation’ came into existence. The regions and the areas that we know now were quite different ages ago and the ethnic identities then were much different than what we see today.

Even though China claims Tibet to be its part, but history says that Tibet was never a part of China. The Tang Empire ruled over China from 618-907 and even during this period Tibet was a separate kingdom altogether. It were the Mongols that conquered Tibet, who later also conquered China and founded the Yuan Empire (1270-1354). The Mongols’ ties with the Tibetans were different and they administered Tibet in a different way than the way they administered China.

Prior to 1947 India was a part of the British Empire and likewise before 1912, China was also a part of the Qing Empire, which was China’s last imperial dynasty, ruling from 1644 to 1912. It was preceded by the Ming dynasty and succeeded by the Republic of China. The Qing multi-cultural empire lasted almost three centuries and formed the territorial base for the modern Chinese state.

The Ming Dynasty that ruled over China between 1368 and 1644 also (almost) left Tibet alone, like the Mongols they too welcomed the Tibetan spiritual leaders to their court. The country came under the authority of several Mongol kings and the Tibetan spiritual leaders were considered as the teachers or instructors of the kings and one such relationship steered the emergence of the Dalai Lama. And the fourth Dalai Lama was from the family of Altan Khan, a powerful Mongol chief. In 1642, the fifth Dalai Lama became the spiritual and temporal ruler of Tibet, steering the Dalais to their highest point.

Due to the continual fight among various kingdoms over gaining control over China saw the Manchus overthrow the Ming dynasty in 1644 and this led to the establishment of the Qing Empire. The Manchus too accepted the Dalai Lama as their spiritual leader.

The Sixth Dalai Lama, who was born near Tawang in 1683 and enthroned in 1697, died a premature death in the middle of a turmoil arising out from factional quarrels between Tibet’s temporal authorities. And in 1720, headed by the Seventh Dalai Lama, the Kanxi emperor sent an army for reestablishing his authority. This can be said to be the first entry of Chinese army in Tibet and since then the tussle has continued in different proportions. Later, almost after two centuries later, the Manchu army in 1910 invaded Tibet and ousted the 13th Dalai Lama. The Manchu’s rule, however, did not last for long as in 1912 the Manchus were themselves overthrown.

After toppling the Manchu’s from Tibet, the 13th Dalai Lama issued a declaration of independence and expelled its representatives. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th and the present Dalai Lama, escaped Tibet in 1959 via Tawang and since then he has been in exile in India.

Understanding the Dispute

Much is not known about the ancient history of Arunachal Pradesh. Since it has an immense influence of Buddhist, Burmese, and Tibetan cultures and the 16th century constructed Tawang Monastery is located here, it is widely believed by the Chinese that Tawang once upon a time was a part of Tibet and since it controls Tibet, so Arunachal Pradesh too is their territory. The assumption that in the early 16th century, the area was mostly populated by Tibetans, has further cemented the Chinese belief of Arunachal being a part of Tibet once.

Further, until 1912 the India-Tibet borders were not delineated. This was mostly due to the sparse population of the region and the area was neither controlled by the British nor the Mughals. On the other hand, the Tibetans too seemed uninterested in the region. Even though an Indian map released in 1909 shows Arunachal in Tibet, but an 1892 map of China and Tibet however puts Arunachal partly in India and partly in the present day Myanmar.

The British India had showed zero interest in Arunachal Pradesh until the discovery of the Tawang Monastery and for the first time it had the urge to draw the boundaries which was earlier never thought of either by the Tibetan rulers or by the then Indian rulers as they lived in peace and harmony. But soon after the discovery of the Tawang Monastery, representatives from Tibet, China and India (British) sat in a meeting in 1914 to draw the borders.

It was the Simla Convention, in which the said meeting was held and the British persuaded Tibet to accept that Tawang and the area south of it belonged to India. Tibet then was a free country, even though China thought it otherwise. Even though Tibet agreed to the British terms, the Chinese representative in the meeting however, withdrew from that and since then China has refused to accept the accord, which resulted out of the meeting.

Even though Tibet claimed its independence in 1912, China however has never recognized this independence and it has even repeatedly stated that it does not recognize the Simla Convention as well. After taking control over Tibet in 1950, China has been stating since Tawang was annexed ‘wrongfully’ in 1914, hence the area belongs to her and not to India. The two nations have even warred over the region in 1962 and since then a war-like situation has always hovered overhead both the nations.

China Objects Dalai’s Visit

The discussion between the Chinese government and the Tibetan government-in-exile has gone into the freezer and it was clearly said by China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping to Dalai Lama’s representatives that anything except independence could be discussed. The Dalai Lama too moved from independence demand to genuine autonomy under Chinese sovereignty. However, successors of Deng backed out from this assurance.

With the Dalai Lama aging, most of the Tibetans and also the Chinese government want that the Tibet issue is resolved while HHDL is still alive, since only he could control the anti-China Tibetans.

Now coming to the core issue, China wants to control the 15th Dalai Lama and it accordingly has changed the religious process to find the incarnate. However, till date the Chinese process of finding the successor has not succeeded as the 11th Panchen Lama, controlled by China, was not accepted by the people of Tibet. China thinks that the 15th Dalai Lama may be discovered in Tawang, a place where the 6th Dalai Lama was born. Having escaped Tibet, the 14th Dalai Lama has ‘revolted’ against China and hence he has no authority or right to visit a place, which according to China is theirs.

“Since the 6th Dalai Lama was born in Tawang, a place which was once said to be a part of Tibet and since there is a very likelihood that the 15th Dalai Lama will also be from Tawang, China feels that the 14th Dalai Lama visiting the place will worsen China’s bid of having the 15th Dalai Lama from the country. China believes that the current Dalai Lama is visiting Tawang with a political agenda, which is to fan anti-China movement there and this, they believe, is against Chinese interests. There interests’ lies in Tawang for it has the monastery, might have the Dalai Lama and if they can annex Tawang, then regaining undisputed control over Tibet would further become easier. Tibetans will not go against the teachings and sayings of the Dalai Lama,” says Daniel Watlong, a devout Buddhist from Namsai.

‘Dalai Lama is manifestation of the Lord’

Not just the common people or the politicians, but even the Buddhist monks and the revered spiritual leaders had eagerly awaited since 2009 for the visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh. Dalai Lama’s visit was not just inspirational and motivational, but it was also a spiritual reverie. Guru Tulku Rinpoche, former Abbot of the Tawang Monastery, in conversation with Northeast Today speaks more about the Dalai Lama’s visit and spirituality

Guru Tuklu Rinpoche

NET: How do you feel about Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang after nearly a decade?

Guru: We feel very fortunate to have His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in the Mon Region. The people here have always been his ardent followers. But, it becomes impossible for everyone to go and see him. So, this long awaited visit of His Holiness has been a great blessing for all of us. We are, indeed, very lucky to have been able to experience his presence here itself.

NET: Buddhism and spirituality goes hand-in-hand to a great extent. How important do you think Dalai Lama’s seventh visit to the state was in comparison to his previous six if we have to speak about spiritualism and spirituality?

Guru: The spirituality, among the old population, is as same as before. But, the young generation tends to believe in reasoning. They give thought to the teachings they listen to. They choose to investigate and educate themselves about Buddhism.

NET: Can you elucidate upon the historical connects of the Dalai Lama with Arunachal Pradesh?

Guru: His Holiness the Dalai Lama is believed to be a manifestation of Lord Avalokiteshvara, in whom the Buddhists of the Himalayan region have special faith. It was during the 5th Dalai Lama when, one of his disciples, Merag Lama Lodoe Gyatso, constructed the Tawang Monastery. Furthermore, the 6th Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, was born in Tawang. In 1959, His Holiness came to India through Tawang and preached his first sermons here. Thus, Arunachal Pradesh does have deep historical connections with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

NET: It is speculated among many that the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama would be from Tawang. Your thoughts on this

Guru: The Dalai Lama has already declared through an official statement that when he turns 90, a decision will be taken by him and other high Lamas about the reincarnation. So, no comment can be made by anyone till then and even beyond. But, obviously, it would be bliss for all of us if the next Dalai Lama reincarnates in Tawang, which has already been a birthplace of 6th Dalai Lama.

NET: We know Dalai Lama as one of the iconic figures of the world. On a lighter note, how does his Holiness interacts with you all in person?

Guru: His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s cheerful personality and contagious positivity captivates everyone around him. He is an epitome of kindness and compassion, which is evident when he meets people and interacts with them. Thereby, his departure becomes unbearable for them that they end up crying for him.

NET: How significant do you think Dalai Lama’s current visit to Arunachal Pradesh was amid the growing claims made by China on Arunachal?

Guru: The claims made by China are baseless and hold no significance for us. We are very happy that he visited Arunachal Pradesh and blessed us all.

NET: How important do you think spiritual reasoning is in today’s world?

Guru: Spiritual reasoning is definitely very important in today’s world of the modern rationalists. Lord Buddha was himself a propagator of spiritual reasoning. He told his disciples not to accept any teaching out of blind faith. He said it is okay to doubt and one should exercise his/her own reasoning and then, judge for themselves whether a thing is right or not.

NET: Can the tension between India and China over Arunachal Pradesh be resolved through the medium of spirituality? If yes, then how?

Guru: There have been ongoing tensions between the two countries. But, I believe anything can be and, rather should be solved through a proper dialogue process.

Reactions and Counter-Reactions

Reacting sharply to the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, the Chinese media was flooded with reactions and to every reaction; the Indian media too had plenty of counter-reactions. Apart from threatening India with ‘severe consequences’, Beijing went a step ahead renamed six places of Arunachal Pradesh with their names in their official map.

Lobsang Sangay, the Prime Minister of the Tibetan government- in-exile said that China renaming six places in Arunachal Pradesh doesn’t make any sense.

Quoting the government, Chinese media further stated that ‘China will not allow New Delhi a free ride on its economic growth while it endangered Beijing’s core interests’.

Through a video post, a teenager from Arunachal lashed out at China for renaming six places in Arunachal Pradesh.

“Arunachal is an integral part of India and you have no right to name our places. If you rename our places, we will also rename your places. Is that acceptable? If not then you naming our places is also not acceptable,” he said.

Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju, who hails from West Kameng district, said, “China should not interfere just as we do not interfere in their internal matters.”

Speaking to Northeast Today about the importance of Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal after 8 years, Tapir Gao, Arunachal Pradesh BJP president, said that the revered spiritual leader has all right to visit Tawang.

“From religious point of view also he has every right to visit Arunachal as the 6th Dalai Lama was born in Tawang. This is a question of faith and belief and hence his visit to Tawang is an important one. It is a kind of holy affair for the people of Arunachal, especially Tawang,” he added.

Speaking about China’s objection on the Dalai Lama’s visit to the state, he said, “This is not for the first time that the Dalai Lama has visited Arunachal Pradesh. He will visit Arunachal in the future as well. The Chinese authorities have no right to question Dalai Lama’s visit.”

Sharing his thoughts about the Chinese claim over Arunachal Pradesh, the BJP leader said, “Chinese claim over Arunachal is wrong, because we don’t have any historical record of sharing the borders with China. The issue of Arunachal being a Chinese territory has come up only after 1959. The claims are baseless.”

It is interesting to note down here that the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang was not welcomed by a few people from Arunachal and a few voices were raised as well.

Dr Nani Bath, a professor at the Rajiv Gandhi University and a prominent political commentator expressed his apprehensions over the Dalai Lama’s visit to the state and said that his visits are counter- productive to relations between India and China and that such his visits should be halted.

“We must be aware of collateral damages arising out of his visits,” he had quoted to the media on March 27, almost a week before the Dalai Lama had begun his visit.

Media Coverage of the Visit

The high voltage visit of the Dalai Lama received widespread media coverage. Besides the Chinese media, which mostly lashed out at India for inviting the Tibetan spiritual leader to Arunachal, the visit was also widely covered by the Indian and the international media. Intellectual Forum North East (IFNE), Guwahati and Institute of Conflict Research & Resolution (ICRR), apart from compiling news items in three sections- Indian Media, World Media and Chinese media, they also analyzed the collective behavior of Indian media about China and Dalai Lama’s Tawang visit.

As per IFNE and ICRR report (The Dalai Lama Visit to Arunachal Pradesh: Media Analysis), Indian Media was split in two vertical groups- one was directly towing Chinese line on the issue and publishing raw feed from Chinese media as it is, without processing it and the another section was broadcasting and publishing it in jingoistic manner.

The report suggested that several leading news channels, newspapers, magazines, and online portals had put the blame on India for ‘souring’ the bilateral relations between India and China, which Beijing has been repeatedly saying after Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal was confirmed.

The report further highlighted several issues that the India media took up while reporting. In one of its analysis, the report stated that a leading national channel while reporting called Arunachal Pradesh as a ‘disputed area’, which according to the report was an acceptance of the Chinese claim over Arunachal as China sees and calls Arunachal as disputed!

While some articles and news simply quoted the Chinese statements, a few on the other hand went ahead with alternate reporting and gave entirely a different angle about the Dalai Lama’s visit to the state.

An article narrated how Dalai Lama is contributing his spiritual influence in conserving the eroding environmental conditions by exerting his spiritual influence on people on the region and encouraging them to cultivate more and more trees on Himalayan mountains, badly affected by rampant deforestation.

“The World Media played balancing act by juxtaposing Indian and Chinese position,” the report stated.

“The Chinese Media’s behavior was as per Chinese the ruling party and we can’t expect any independent and out of the box opinion from them,” concluded the report.

A Visit to Balance Things (?)

Barely a week after the 14th Dalai Lama wrapped up his ‘controversial’ visit to Assam and Arunachal, the Chinese Ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui came on a two-day visit to Assam. He was received by the Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal at Guwahati.

The political pundits- both from the Northeast and rest of India- considered this visit as a‘healing the wound’ visit, as Dalai Lama’s visit had a lot of strong reactions from China- most of which pointed towards a soured China-India relationship.

“Even though Dalai Lama’s visit has been considered as a spiritual one, but there was a political undertone as well. If the China-India relationship sours, a lot many things may just go wrong,” comments Saurav Bhattacharjee, a keen observer of China- India relationship.

“Even ULFA (I) C-in-C Paresh Baruah urged the Dalai Lama not to visit Arunachal and it is rumored that the elusive leader is hiding in China. If the relationship between the two countries sours, then won’t it stand as an obstacle for India to get Baruah deported from China? Moreover, there is again the issue of dams on the river Brahmaputra in China. This invitation to the Chinese Ambassador, I feel, was more to pacify the dragon nation,” Bhattacharjee further added.


The India-China relationship has always been filled with controversies and Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal or of any top Indian leader simply adds to the list. The tiff between the two nations is a long standing one and there seems to be no immediate solution to it. No matter how strongly India react to China’s opposition, deep inside she knows that the dragon nation indeed has an important role when it comes to certain international matters featuring India.

India is seeking for a permanent seat in an expanded UN Security Council (UNSC), but it has been opposed by the China, US, and Russia. China has also opposed India’s Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) bid. In both scenarios, it is important that India maintains a warm relationship with China. No matter how tough she acts against China, but she also needs to act smart to win China’s vote for a seat at the UNSC and NSG. The diplomatic tug-of-war between the two nations has reached a different level and there is much more to come in the near future.


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