NEW DELHI: A Day after media reports emerged of Foreign Secretary Vijay Keshav Gokhale sending out a request urging all government officials to avoid events organised to mark the 60th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s exile in India, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said there was no change in India’s position towards the Tibetan leader.
According to a newspaper report on Friday, Gokhale’s note sent to cabinet secretary P K Sinha, read, “The proposed period will be a very sensitive time in the context of India’s relations with China. Participation by senior leaders or government functionaries, either from the Central government or state governments, is not desirable, and should be discouraged.”
The ministry was quick to respond, saying that the Dalai Lama “..is a revered religious leader and is deeply respected by the people of India. There is no change in that position. His Holiness is accorded all freedom to carry out his religious activities in India.”
Historian and columnist Claude Arpi warned that “...it is a wrong message to China in the sense that the ‘ban’ will only encourage Beijing to ask more. China will certainly use this in the future. They know now that India can be bullied”. Dhruva Jaishankar, foreign policy fellow at Brookings India, disagreed. “It appears that people are jumping to conclusions. It should be seen in the context of the Prime Minister’s expected visit to Qingdao in June. There is nothing to indicate that India’s approach to the Tibet issue has fundamentally altered,” he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to attend the next Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in June.
A retired Indian diplomat agreed. “Foreign secretary’s visit to China was mostly to do with the SCO visit, though I am sure other bilateral and multi-lateral issues were discussed. Naturally, New Delhi does not want to rock the boat before the SCO summit.”