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Dalai Lama’s Arunachal Pradesh visit begins today

LiveMint logoLiveMint 03-04-2017 Elizabeth Roche

New Delhi: Ignoring protests from China, the Dalai Lama is poised to begin a weeklong visit to India’s North-Eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, claimed by Beijing almost in its entirety and the source of tensions between the two countries.

According to an official programme listed out on the Tibetan spiritual leader’s website, the Dalai Lama is to “consecrate a new Tara temple” on the morning of Tuesday, teach at Tawang between 5-7 April and move to Dirang on 10 April for further teachings and finally reach Itanagar on 12 April for another round of teachings.

The Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh this week comes eight years after his previous visit, which was given the green signal by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The spiritual leader’s visit to Tawang in 2009 came exactly 50 years after he had passed through the town on his way from Lhasa in Tibet to India.

The Tibetan spiritual leader fled from Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. He now lives in exile at Dharamshala in northern India.

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India cleared the visit of the Tibetan spiritual leader to Arunachal Pradesh in November. This came against the backdrop of China making it clear that its opposition to India securing a seat on the elite Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) that controls global nuclear commerce remained unchanged despite India’s attempts to engage China in a dialogue on the matter. Beijing had also then indicated that its position on the “listing issue pursuant to resolution 1267 (to designate Pakistan-based Maulana Masood Azhar a terrorist by the UN)” remains unchanged.

Both these issues have been sore points for India with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and foreign secretary S. Jaishankar urging Beijing to be sensitive to India’s legitimate aspirations while seeking accommodation and building of trust.

According to Harsh Pant, professor of International Relations, Department of Defence Studies, at London’s King’s College, “The implications of India allowing the Dalai Lama to visit Arunchal Pradesh are difficult to predict because relations are already at a nadir.”

Pant was of the view that there was a question mark over what Beijing could do to retaliate in the short run though he predicted that China could become more intransigent on the issue of resolving the decades-old border dispute between two countries.

China claims more than 90,000 sq. km (35,000 sq. miles) that India says is its territory—i.e. Arunachal Pradesh. According to China, Arunachal Pradesh is part of what it calls South Tibet.

Disagreement between India and China over parts of their 3,500-km (2,175-mile) border led to a brief war in 1962. Since then, the two countries have moved to manage the dispute, but many rounds of talks have not yielded much progress.

“The Modi government has learnt that the Chinese government is not going to budge on key issues and aims to keep India within the confines of South Asia,” Pant said.

Permitting the Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal Pradesh and specifically Tawang—where the sixth Dalai Lama was said to have been born—seems to be part of a strategy by which to seek some leverage vis-a-vis China, Pant said.

“In the past two or three years, Modi has made an effort to reach out to China,” he said. But with Beijing unwilling to play ball, India has had to rethink its position, he added.

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