India reaction to China protests over the Dalai Lama's visit to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh is one of studied ambivalence, writes B Raman
Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, who discussed India-China bilateral issues with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, on two occasions during his visit to Hua Hin in Thailand for the summit with ASEAN leaders, has maintained a studied ambivalence on the question of the reported plans of the Dalai Lama to visit Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh next month to declare open a hospital constructed with assistance from the Tibetan exile community in India.
China has repeatedly protested against the proposed visit. The latest protest was handed over by the Chinese Ambassador in New Delhi to the ministry of external affairs on the eve of the Hua Hin meeting between the two leaders.
Bilateral issues figured in the meeting of the two prime ministers on the margins of the summit on October 24, as well as during a dinner hosted by Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for the participants in the summit.
While the subject of the Dalai Lama's proposed visit did not appear to have figured at the bilateral meeting, it did figure during the discussions at the dinner as reportedly stated by Dr Singh himself during his interactions with Indian journalists, who had accompanied him. It is not clear whether the Thai dinner preceded the bilateral meeting or followed it.
Dr Singh was careful in the formulation of his remarks on the Dalai Lama's visit. He said: "I explained to Premier Wen that Dalai Lama is our honoured guest and he is a religious leader. We do not allow Tibetan refugees to indulge in political activities and proof of that is that we took resolute action against some Tibetans during the Olympics (torch relay) last year following reports that some Tibetan refugees might create problems."
The most significant part of his formulation came in reply to a question from a journalist on the Dalai Lama's proposed visit to Arunachal Pradesh. Dr Singh said he was not aware of the Dalai Lama's plans.
The proposed visit to Tawang in response to a local invitation from Arunachal Pradesh had been figuring in media reports for nearly two months now and the Chinese have repeatedly protested against it. Minister for External Affairs S M Krishna, had said that the Dalai Lama was free to visit any part of India.
Till now, the prime minister himself had maintained a total silence on the issue. To have ruled out the visit would have been politically unwise for the Congress in view of the recent elections in Arunachal Pradesh. Now that the elections are over and the Congress has retained power, the prime minister no longer seems to feel the need to observe political caution on the subject.
Is he preparing the ground for ending the controversy and defusing the tension with Beijing on the subject by quietly persuading the Dalai Lama to postpone the visit for some personal reasons?