GUWAHATI, India, 8 April 2017
Braving sudden bad weather in northeast India, and ignoring the relentless threats from China’s government in Beijing, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso finally arrived in Tawang monastery of Arunachal Pradesh on 7 April. The Nobel peace laureate was initially scheduled to fly to Tawang from Guwahati on 4 April, but the inclement weather compelled him to take the land route.
The octogenarian Tibetan leader, who arrived in Guwahati from Dharamshala in north India to grace a number of occasions in Assam, arrived in Bomdila of Arunachal’s West Kameng district on the same day evening. Then he climbed up to Dirang and finally reached the Tawang town, which houses the second largest Buddhist monastery in the world after the Potala palace in Lhasa of Tibet.
Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Pema Khandu escorted the highest religious leader among Tibetan Buddhists from Guwahati to Tawang all along the nearly 550-km hilly and snow-clad road. Thousands of Tibetans wearing colourful traditional attire warmly welcomed their ‘living God’ in Tawang Gaden Namgyal Lhatse and sought blessings.
In the historic city of Guwahati, the Dalai Lama graced the concluding programme of The Assam Tribune’s platinum jubilee and Dainik Asom’s golden jubilee celebrations on 1 April. Next day, he attended a public function at Gauhati University, where the Assamese translation of My Land and My People (Mor Desh Aru Mor Manuh) was released in presence of Assam Governor Banwarilal Purohit and Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal.
An emerging voice for conservation of nature also joined in the Namami Brahmaputra festival, which was inaugurated by President Pranab Mukherjee on 31 March on the banks of the Brahmaputra, which originates in the Tibetan glaciers. He visited Dibrugarh University in eastern Assam on 3 April to address a select gathering, where he emphasized internal peace for every individual.
In various interactions in Assam, the Dalai Lama preached Ahimsa (non-violence) with Karuna (compassion). He also termed himself the longest-tenured guest of India. He remembered the days when the Han Chinese invaded Tibet and he had to escape from Lhasa. He revealed that now he becomes a messenger of Indian culture to the world, like a true son of the great country.
But the Chinese government continued making noises over the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang, a region that Beijing still claims to be their own, where various so-called non-government agencies and the government-controlled media outlets strongly opposed his visit to Arunachal. They argued that his visit to the disputed locality would seriously damage the bilateral ties between India and China. Showing on time loyalty to Beijing administration the banned Unite Liberation Front of Asom (Independent), which has been waging a war for decades against New Delhi for an independent Assam (Swadhin Asom), also discouraged the Dalai Lama’s visit to the region.
Even showing audacity to the spiritual leader, the armed outfit warned him not to utter a single word against Beijing from the soil of Assam, because “China has always been a friendly neighbour to Assam and the relationship between China and Assam is truly very deep in linguistic and cultural heritage of the two nations.”
In a formal letter addressing the religious leader, the self-styled chairman of Ulfa (Independent) Dr Abhizeet Asom argued that the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang would disturb peace and tranquillity in Assam as the Chinese government was opposing any high-profile individual’s visit to Arunachal, terming it a part of South Tibet.
The militant leader, whom the National Investigation Agency (of India) suspects to be based in London with a different name of Dr Mukul Hazarika, wrongly pointed out that during 1962 Indo-China war, the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) personnel “did not set foot on Assam soil.” But in reality the Chinese soldiers crossed Arunachal Pradesh and arrived at Tezpur until the Beijing administration received warning from the American authority.
Abhizeet Asom, who was picked up by Paresh Barua — now reportedly a tenant of Ruili town in the southern Chinese province of Yunnan, also criticized the Indian nationals who extended moral support for a Free Tibet and raised voices for the Tibetan government-in-exile along with the Dalai Lama. Citing that the former Indian Prime Minister AB Vajpayee accepted Tibet as an integral part of China, the militant leader also argued that India’s first Premier Jawaharlal Nehru also officially recognized Tibet as a region of China.
The Ulfa (I) tried to make the point that New Delhi was illegally occupying Nan Zhang (South Tibet) as like Assam. It also criticized Pandit Nehru for welcoming the Dalai Lama as a special guest after the failed uprising in Tibet against the Chinese invasion. Even His Holiness, who earlier accepted that Tibet is an autonomous region of China, recently commented that Tawang belongs to India and that way he supported New Delhi’s occupation over Nan Zhang.
However, on the ground the separatist militants’ reaction was endorsed by nobody, with the allegation that the Ulfa (I) had slowly turned into a puppet of Red China for their shelter in south China-Myanmar border areas. China turns out to be the last refuge for Paresh Barua, who faces a death penalty in Bangladesh, after his ouster from Bhutan and also resistant from the newly-formed quasi-democratic government in NayPieTaw.
But contrary to the diktat of Ulfa (I), the Patriotic People’s Front Assam (PPFA) welcomed the Dalai Lama to the Northeast, and it clarified that Tibet, not China, is the actual northern neighbour of the region. So the civil society group expressed hope that His Holiness’s visit would strengthen the bond between the people of Tibet and the north-eastern region of India. The PPFA also criticized Red China for using the Ulfa (I) card against New Delhi.
The Indian external affairs ministry in a strong statement commented that “no artificial controversy should be created around religious leader Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh.” The Union government has clearly stated on several occasions that the Dalai Lama is a revered religious leader, who is deeply respected as such by the Indian people. Hence no additional colour should be ascribed to his religious and spiritual activities and visits to various states of the country, said a ministry statement.
Earlier the Union minister Kiren Rijiju, who hails from Arunachal, commented that the Dalai Lama’s visit was materialised because of the Arunachali peoples’ long-standing demand. The young minister clarified that his visit to the Tibet-bordering Indian State was completely religious, and no political angle behind his visit should be ascribed. “Arunachal is an inseparable part of India and China should not object to His Holiness’s visit to the State. It’s India’s internal affairs,” said Rijiju, who practices Buddhism and strongly commented that New Delhi had never interfered in China’s internal affairs and it expected Communist China also to reciprocate.
As the international media poured out news about the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal, the Chinese foreign ministry in Beijing came out with the statement that by hosting the Tibetan leader “on a contested stretch of land on the India-China border”, New Delhi has caused serious damage to the relations between the two neighbouring countries.
The Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying commented that Beijing firmly opposed the visit by a man (the Dalai Lama) whom the Chinese government labels ‘a dangerous separatist’ to the disputed border region and New Delhi would benefit nothing out of it. Rejecting the arguments that the Dalai Lama’s trip was solely religious in nature, Chunying informed that Beijing would lodge a formal protest with New Delhi in this regard.
However, the Dalai Lama clarified during a media interaction at Bomdila that New Delhi had never used him against Beijing. India is a land of peace, harmony, and non-violence with secular ethos, he disclosed. The spiritual leader also urged the Chinese government to offer the Tibetans genuine autonomy and meaningful self-rule (if not independence).
Meanwhile, the Arunachal government chief Pema Khandu asked China not to advise India “what to do and what not to do with His Holiness’s movement inside the country.” He even asserted that China is not Arunachal’s next-door neighbour (but Tibet). The McMahon Line demarcates the boundary between India and Tibet, the young chief minister claimed.
The Dalai Lama has previously visited Arunachal Pradesh in 1983, 1997, 2003, and 2009. Each time China reacted sharply, which was responded to by New Delhi in softer words. But with a new regime led by the Bharatiya Janata Party in New Delhi under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the situation turned different and it remains smarter to Beijing’s attitude.
In fact, it started with the swearing-in ceremony of the new regime in 2014, when PM Modi preferred to invite the Tibetan government-in-exile head Lobsang Sangay along with all neighbouring country leaders in power (avoiding Red China). Lately President Mukherjee also hosted the Dalai Lama at his official residence in the national capital, which was the first meeting of the Tibetan leader with an Indian head in the last six decades.
About the author
Nava Thakuria is a Guwahati-based journalist. He has been covering socio-political developments of northeast India, along with its neighbours Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, for various media outlets for more than two decades.
More articles by Nava Thakuria on Tibet Sun.