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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Dalai Lama raises profile in India

November 30, 2010

Financial Times
By James Lamont in New Delhi
November 29 2010

Before the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, stepped up to receive an honorary doctorate from Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia university last week, the vice-chancellor had sought permission from India’s foreign ministry for fear of upsetting the delicate trans-Himalayan diplomatic balance.

With permission granted, Najeeb Jung exhorted the 3,500 students receiving degrees at the same time “to soak in the presence of His Holiness and the values he shares with our ancient land”.

The contrast with China could not be more sharp. The Beijing authorities have consistently tried to isolate the Dalai Lama, a potent symbol of Tibet’s nationhood, putting pressure on world leaders not to meet him. But now, only days before Wen Jiabao, China’s premier, is to visit New Delhi – his first for eight years – the Dalai Lama has considerably raised his profile in the Indian capital.

His numerous public appearances in Delhi – the most extensive for years – have coincided with efforts by India and China to resolve a border dispute about what India calls its state of Arunachal Pradesh and China claims as South Tibet.

Calling himself the “son of India”, the Dalai Lama has given India’s leaders plenty of opportunity to reflect on the strong links between the world’s largest democracy and Chinese-controlled Tibet.

Early in November, he spoke at one of Delhi’s most prestigious annual conferences, the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit. Other speakers included Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, Al Gore, the former US vice-president, and Gordon Brown, the UK’s former prime minister.

His public celebration by India’s political and business elite did not go unremarked by Beijing. Senior editors of the Hindustan Times, a daily newspaper, said Chinese diplomats had made concerted efforts to prevent the Dalai Lama from headlining their blue-riband event. “India has two things that China cares about: democracy and the Dalai Lama,” said one.

The Dalai Lama’s appearances last week in Delhi underscored his fight against isolation amid a backdrop of stalled peace talks with Beijing. He emphasised links between Tibet and India, the country that gave him sanctuary after China annexed his homeland in the 1950s.

“We learnt a lot from Indian scholars,” he said. “I always introduce myself to western audiences as a scholar of Indian thought.”

The 76-year old was also confident about his succession. He said Beijing was preoccupied with the issue in the hope Tibetan nationalism would die with its current leader.

The Dalai Lama, by contrast, emphasises the increasing role of the Tibetan government elected in exile, based in the northern Indian hill station of Dharamsala. As he sees it, the key to Tibet’s future lies with the democratic leadership rather than with the 400-year-old institution of the reincarnated Buddhist spiritual leadership.

He said his reincarnation would probably take place within the freedom movement outside Chinese-controlled Tibet: “If my death occurs while we remained outside [Tibet], then logically the very purpose of the new reincarnation is to succeed the works started by previous life,” he said.

“So, reincarnation should be something to carry continuously my sort of struggle  . . .  Logically reincarnation will be outside Tibet.”

Interviewed by one of India’s foremost broadcast journalists, he told Karan Thapar he wanted to reduce his public commitments and could go into retirement within six months.

But the Dalai Lama’s vigorous Delhi programme, showed he is far from stepping back.

Some analysts believe China has bigger worries in the region than the Dalai Lama and regard New Delhi’s perceived rivalry with Beijing as exaggerated in India.

“China's biggest concern is the supply of lines of energy coming from the Middle East,” said Kenneth Lieberthal, a China expert and senior fellow at Brookings Institution in Washington.

“I do wonder if the national security perspective does overwhelm the other aspects of the relationship [between India and China],” said Richard Rigby, head of the China Institute at the Australian National University. “Today the broad discussion about China and India is not always as balanced as it should be.”
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