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India Cuts Mansarovar Yatra to One Batch

May 21, 2008

Indrani Bagchi,TNN (
The Times of India
May 21, 2008

NEW DELHI -- The government cancelled the first two expeditions of
the Kailash-Mansarovar yatra on Tuesday after China refused to accept
pilgrims until June 21.

The truncated yatra this time will have only one batch of pilgrims
who will leave Delhi on June 13.

While China cited "domestic reasons" for the delay, the real reason
is the fact that it wants to keep the Tibet region free of foreigners
until the Olympic torch has passed through the area -- it's scheduled
to be in Tibet between June 19 and June 21.

China is paranoid about letting people into Tibet before the torch
goes through, for fear of unrest or any incident. Both Mount Kailash
and Mansarovar are situated in the Tibet Autonomous Region, hence the
Chinese reaction, said senior government sources.

In a statement, the MEA said, "The government of the People's
Republic of China conveyed to the ministry of external affairs that
on account of domestic reasons they would not be in a position to
receive pilgrims before June 21, 2008."

The Chinese decision was made suddenly, because until May 7, India
and China were preparing for the yatra starting on June 1. This was
clarified by the MEA spokesperson on that day as well.

But soon after, China started to refuse visas to pilgrims which
sparked speculation. This crystallised over the weekend, when India
had to cancel the yatra.

The Chinese have been hit very badly with Tibetan unrest during the
Olympic torch relay and have taken the path of "abundant caution" in
their dealings on Tibet.

They have even told Nepal to stop treks to Mount Everest from their
territory, which is also on a temporary stop. A Nepalese pass through
which pilgrims can go to Tibet is also out of bounds this year, said
government officials.

While these actions actually rebound on China in terms of popular
perception, but China believes -- and it's been stated by none less
than Hu Jintao -- that the Tibet unrest has become a sovereignty
issue. Between bad PR and maintaining control of Tibet, it's a
no-brainer about what is more important to the Chinese state.

The MEA spokesperson said India was trying to accommodate pilgrims in
the earlier batches, but sources said this may not really be
possible, given the huge demand for this trip.

This year, 960 pilgrims were scheduled to go in 16 batches on the
highly prized 26-day Kailash-Mansarovar yatra -- the last batch is
expected to return on September 24. China has also told India to cut
these batches down to eight from 16.

The annual yatra, which is arduous in nature, has been organised by
MEA since 1981 under a bilateral arrangement between India and China.
While the pilgrims are India's responsibility, China has been
facilitating them over the years, with communication cover, etc.
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