By Anirban Bhaumik | DH News Service
NEW DELHI, India, 30 May 2019
The Government of India has not invited the chief of Tibetan Government in Exile, Lobsang Sangay, to witness Narendra Modi being sworn-in for his second term in office of Prime Minister on Thursday – ostensibly to avoid irking Beijing and derailing efforts to mend India-China relations.
Sangay was among the guests, who were in the Rashtrapati Bhavan on 26 May 2014 – the day Modi was sworn-in to the office of the Prime Minister for the first time. This irked China, which issued a démarche to India, lodging a strong protest over the invitation to the head of Tibetan Government in Exile (TGiE). New Delhi, however, has chosen to tread cautiously this time and decided against sending invitation to the Sikyong (President) of the TGiE for the ceremony to be held at the Rashtrapati Bhawan on Thursday.
The Government is unlikely to invite Taiwan’s de facto envoy to India, Chung-kwang Tien, too, as his presence at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on Thursday could be perceived by Beijing contradictory to New Delhi’s “One-China” policy. The Ambassadors and High Commissioners of several nations based in New Delhi as well as other foreign diplomats have been invited though. Like TGiE chief, Taiwan’s envoy to India too attended the first swearing-in ceremony of Modi Government in 2014.
Sources told the DH in New Delhi that no invitation had been sent to the office of Sangay to attend the ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on Thursday, when Modi and his new Council of Ministers would be administered the oath of office by President Ram Nath Kovind.
Sangay is currently on a visit to the United States. No one else on behalf of the TGiE will attend the ceremony, as his office has not received any invitation till late in the evening on Wednesday, sources said.
The TGiE – aka Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) – is based at Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh in northern India.
Sangay first took the top office of the TGiE in April 2011 after he was elected by the exiled Tibetans living in settlements across India. A few months later, Dalai Lama, who has been the face of Tibetans’ struggle to free their homeland from Chinese Government’s rule since 1959, delegated his political power to the elected head of the TGiE. Sangay was re-elected to the office in April 2016.
The Chinese Government has been accusing Dalai Lama as well as the TGiE of leading a separatist movement. Beijing has been protesting over foreign leaders meeting Dalai Lama.
It has also been sensitive about visits and other activities of Dalai Lama and the TGiE chief in India and other foreign countries.
Beijing had perceived New Delhi’s invitation to Sangay for the first swearing-in ceremony of Modi in May 2014 as a prelude to lending some legitimacy to the TGiE and giving it some degree of official recognition.
New Delhi decided against annoying Beijing this time in view of the efforts by both sides over the past one-and-a-half-years to mend the ties, which had hit a new low over the 72-day-long stand-off between Indian Army and People’s Liberation Army of China at Doklam Plateau in western Bhutan in June-August 2017. The “informal summit” between Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Wuhan in central China in April 2018 brought about a thaw in complex bilateral relations.
Ahead of the “informal summit”, Modi Government issued an advisory asking “senior leaders” and “government functionaries” in the states as well as at the Centre to stay away from events attended by Dalai Lama.
The advisory fuelled speculation that India was shifting from its traditional approach on Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetans to avert any complication in its efforts to bring back on track its ties with China. Besides, although the TGiE wanted to hold a “Thank You India” in New Delhi to mark the beginning of the 60th anniversary of Dalai Lama’s escape to India in 1959, Modi Government made it scale down the event and shift its venue from the capital to Dharamshala.
Beijing also nudged New Delhi in July 2018 to virtually re-assert its adherence to “One-China policy” and make Air India to change “Taiwan” with “Chinese Taipei” in the list of destinations on its website. Taiwan strongly reacted, stating that the move by Air India could be seen as a “gesture” by India “of succumbing to the unreasonable and absurd pressure from China”. New Delhi had earlier refrained from reaffirming its commitment to “One-China policy” for almost eight years.
India and China last year had a series of engagements, including several bilateral meetings between the leaders of the two nations on the sideline of the multilateral conclaves.
China on 1 May dropped its policy of shielding terrorists based in Pakistan from United Nations sanctions and stood aside to let the Security Council impose sanctions on the JeM chief Masood Azhar. It came as a shot in the arm for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which highlighted it in its campaign as a diplomatic victory of Modi Government.
Modi is also likely to host Xi for the second “informal summit”, which is likely to be held in October somewhere in New Delhi.
Presidents or Prime Ministers of most of the other BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) will visit New Delhi to attend the swearing-in ceremony on Thursday. Prayut Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister of Thailand, will send a special envoy to attend the ceremony. Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth of Mauritius and President Sooronbay Jeenbekov of Kyrgyz Republic have also accepted the invitation from New Delhi and will attend the ceremony. Jeenbekov also holds the chair of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.