By P. Kharel
When China last month made a strong criticism of the Dalai Lama’s second trip to Arunachal Pradesh in eight years, India tried making the issue light saying that the “spiritual visitor has devotees in the region”. The politics involved in the visit is inherent in Beijing’s claim of sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh, which is administered by India.
The Dalai, who fled to India from Tibet in 1959 after an uprising against Chinese rule failed, says he is only for autonomy, and not independence, for Tibet. In a show of utter displeasure over the Dalai’s visit, Beijing last month issued formal names in Chinese, Tibetan and English for six areas in the disputed region.
On learning of Beijing’s deep displeasure over the Dalai 2016 visit to Mongolia, Ulan Bator quickly issued profuse apology. Regular requests for the Dalai to be allowed to visit Kathmandu Valley have been lying with the Nepal government since several decades. In February 1991, the Dalai was close to having his dream come true, but for the intervention by King Birendra.
It is reliably learnt that fresh efforts for a Dalai visit to Kathmandu not long ago got aborted. It would by highly ironic if a hornets’ nest were to be stirred by a visit of someone whose prime mission in life is supposed to be preaching peace among mankind. A peep into the past and a quick review of the country’s own interests, together with the sensitivity of the issue itself as far as the Chinese government is concerned should place things in right perspective.
For 15 years, armed Tibetan Khampas, clamouring for independence, created a reign of terror in northern Nepal extending from Darchula to Taplejung until the mid-1970s. Gyen Wangdi and his marauding band of Khampas were aided and abetted by foreign agencies, including the American intelligence agency, CIA, and a number of social service and technical assistance outfits, aided the band to harass and embarrass Communist China.
MISIMPRESSION: It would be wrong to assume that the Dalai has considerable followers in Nepal. Of the various Buddhist sects in Nepal, the Yellow Hats that the Dalai represents constitute barely 2 per cent. The Dalai has visited Nepal twice. The first trip was in 1956 when he and the Panchen Lama were in a Chinese delegation. The second visit was confined to Lumbini for only three hours in the 1980s, escorted by Nepali security from the closest point along the border with India and back to the same place.
The government of Nepal granted the permission to visit Lumbini on humanitarian consideration through a loophole in the immigration regulation whereby no visa was issued as the visit, originally scheduled for a total of two hours but subsequently stretched by another one hour, was treated as a “transit stay”. The Dalai visited Lumbini went strictly by the itinerary offered by Nepal government. Nepali security officials never left the visitor out of sight.
It was a sensitive issue, as the ever watchful Chinese could be sore over the inherent political overtones. The Chinese government appreciated the way Nepal handled the low profile visit. Even then, however, a group of youths submitted to the Dalai a demand for “compensation” of Rs. 20 billion for the destruction and pillage of property wrought by the Tibetan Khampas in northern Nepal. If such was the reaction then in the course of a short, low profile visit purported to be nothing but purely pilgrimage, would not a high profile visit now not invoke greater security risks?
SENSITIVITY: Whatever the official stand, the Dalai is aware of the political points his visit to Kathmandu can fetch, accompanied by media mileage of political overtones. Dharmashala, the Dalai’s residence in India, has sent requests to Nepal government for allowing him a visit to Buddhist sites in Kathmandu and Kavre at least on “humanitarian grounds”. The Dalai is keen on visits to three dhams (Swayambhu, Bouddha and Namo Buddha) in Kathmandu and Kavre.
In this regard, it may be recalled that Bhutan’s regime did not allow him to a visit the Drukland, though Bhutan is culturally and ethnically much closer to the Tibetan community. The then Bhutanese King Jigme was aware of the effects that a Dalai visit would have on relations with Beijing. Instead, he called on the Dalai several times at Dharmashala during his innumerable visits to India.
The Dalai Lama once equated the Tibet issue with Kuwait’s during the Gulf war over the emirate following Iraqi invasion. This prompted the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu to issue a strong reaction against the proposed visit of the Dalai in the spring of 1991. Religious or otherwise, a visit to Kathmandu would allow the Dalai a lot of publicity and political capital, much to Beijing’s consternation. It would be unwise to ignore a matter so sensitive to Beijing and a purpose of so little value for Nepal’s national interests. What does pragmatic diplomacy dictate?