17 June, 2021

Shishya Dakshina

Official India must accept the Dalai Lama's relevance as a moral force

Illustration by Sorit
Shishya Dakshina
At a conclave in early March, the Dalai Lama said he was a "shishya" or disciple of India. He metaphorically explained that the Himalayan snow became pristine white only when light came from India. I recall in 1986 the Dalai Lama asking then president Zail Singh whether, if invited to visit China without permission to visit Tibet, should he go at all. The president thought he should. In post-perestroika Soviet Union, he explained, church attendance was up and the state sanctioned the millennium celebration of the Russian Orthodox Church. Why wouldn't the same happen in China, with increased economic liberalisation reviving interest in Buddhism all over China? The Dalai Lama, visibly touched, took a deep breath and remained silent. Though China hasn't exactly gone spiritual, its prosperity still keeps Zail Singh's hope alive.

The Indian approach to the Dalai Lama from 1959 and to Tibet from 1947 has been ambivalent. The Nehruvian assessment of China was laced with romanticism—a nation rising to complement the Asian renaissance, albeit...
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