“Spoke on phone to His Holiness the @DalaiLama to convey greetings on his 86th birthday. We wish him a long and healthy life.” Modi’s message is innocuously phrased but it carries a lot of weight given India’s unique place in Tibetan affairs and its relations with China.
Spoke on phone to His Holiness the @DalaiLama to convey greetings on his 86th birthday. We wish him a long and healthy life.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) 1625556036000
The move took China and Tibet watchers with surprise. Coming as it did from the highest levels, it could be the beginning of a more clearly articulated policy on Tibet.
The Dalai Lama said since he became a refugee and now settled in India, he has taken full advantage of India’s freedom and religious harmony. “I want to assure you that for the rest of my life, I am committed to reviving ancient Indian knowledge,” he said.
China and Tibet expert Claude Arpi told TOI, “I think it is great news. It is a strong message to China, particularly before the 12th round of military talks. It is also a message that India is behind the Dalai Lama for whatever he decides for his succession. To my knowledge it is the first time that an Indian PM has spoken to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for his birthday and makes it known openly. I hope it will herald closer relations between Delhi and the DL as well as with the CTA (Central Tibetan Administration).”
India has not yet openly taken a position on Dalai Lama’s succession, but has let it be known that it should be the sole preserve of the Tibetans and nobody should have a role in it. China, in its most recent white paper on Tibet, has emphasised that China would control the reincarnation process of the Dalai Lama.
“It’s a welcome step in the right direction and will hopefully lead to affirming that wishes of the Dalai Lama on the issue of his reincarnation will be respected by the government of India,” said Amitabh Mathur, former adviser on Tibetan affairs to the home ministry.
In 2020, the Trump administration passed the Tibetan Policy and Support Act, where the US asserted that only the Dalai Lama should have control over his reincarnation. That has been continued by the Biden administration.
Meanwhile, the president of the Tibetan government-in-exile, Penpa Tsering, told PTI in Dharamshala on Tuesday that the Chinese government should recognise that the Dalai Lama is key to resolving the Sino-Tibetan conflict and should invite him to “Tibet and China on pilgrimage without any precondition”.
The new Sikyong of CTA has been in touch with the Indian government in recent weeks, according to sources.