In a move that has both spiritual and foreign policy implications, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to the Dalai Lama on his birthday on Tuesday. This is the first time Modi openly acknowledged contact with the Tibetan spiritual leader in years. Coming at a time when India-China relations are at their most tenuous, the PM’s action on Tuesday will resonate both in Beijing and other parts of the world.
“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.
The move took China and Tibet watchers by 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 said, “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 Prime Minister 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 Dalai Lama as well as with the CTA (Central Tibetan Administration), China and Tibet expert Claude Arpi said.
India has not yet openly taken a position on Dalai Lama’s succession but let it be known that it should be the sole preserve of the Tibetans and nobody should have a role in it.
“It is 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.