NEW DELHI: China seems to have scored over India when it comes to using 'Spirituality' to further its agenda by replacing India's primacy in organising 'Vesak' (Buddha Jayanti) in Lumbini, Nepal on May 21 . The same day India will have a lacklustre event at Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium to mark Buddh Purnima. But, this is just one side of story. The real 'Chinese Lumbini Coup', officials in the know said, began when International Buddhist Confederation (IBC) based in Delhi, faltered on India's chances to co-host the grand 5-day celebration in Kathmandu and Lumbini, birth place of Gautam Buddha.
According to officials, the India’s plan to co-host the event with Nepal was going on for over a year. In December last year the programme in Lumbini was almost finalised during a visit of Nepal's minister for culture Ananda Prasad Pokharel, who attended an IBC event in Tripura. Pokharel came with a message of Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli that India-Nepal should organise the event together. IBC and Nepal also decided to further discuss about theme of the event incorporating the importance of Bodh Gaya, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to develop as ‘Spiritual Capital’ of Buddhist world.
“It was seen as ice-breaker between India-Nepal as diplomatic relationship between the two neighbours was on the downhill. It was planned that PM Modi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma and MoS Home, Kiren Rijiju will be invited for the event that will mark a new beginning between India-Nepal relationship. Although, China was nowhere in the picture at that time, it was watching from the sidelines,” government officials said.
According to sources in March this year, Nepal suggested that theme of event should be ‘Lumbini fountainhead of Buddhism.’ Sources also confirmed that IBC was supposed to take a delegation to Nepal to discuss the agreement for the event but internal bickering within the organisation delayed the Nepal trip. Since IBC was supposed to bear the expense for the event, Indian side wanted inclusion of Bodh Gaya theme as well.
“But, the delay in sending a delegation to Nepal and signing the contract provided much needed opportunity for Chinese who till March were watching from the sideline. A one man delegation finally went to Nepal in the first week of April but by the time, Chinese were already active and through back channel with Nepal culture Minister had offered to sponsor the entire event,” Sources said further adding that IBC senior functionary who visited Nepal after much delay did not consult Indian Ambassador or Ministry of External Affairs and ended up agreeing to theme that was basically Chinese agenda.
“ Nepal narrative was Chinese narrative as they want to prop up Lumbini to counter importance of Bodh Gaya where Gautam was enlightened and became Gautam Budhha. IBC senior functionary appears to be solely responsible for the fiasco which gave China an edge. Chinese Minister recently landed in Lumbini to oversee event and propaganda,” sources said.
But, what is alarming, sources said is not just one off event, but a systematic ‘Spiritual Coup’ by China, Nepal and now Pakistan to corner India on Buddha’s legacy. While China-Nepal is making Lumbini core Buddhist site, Pakistan is not far behind. The neighbouring country has launched planned programmes which it calls ‘reviving of Gandhara Trail’ and inviting monks, Buddhist followers and researchers from China, Sri Lanka and even Bhutan. Last month, Sri Lankan Buddhist delegation visited Taxila in Pakistan while top Buddhist monks from Bhutan visited Saidu Sharif monastery in Swat Valley.
“India’s response so far in term of soft power diplomacy against China, Nepal and Pakistan has been pathetic. The government needs to wake up and reform the organisation it is depended on before it is too late,” sources added.