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Dalai Lama

  • 03 Jan 2022
  • 6 min read

For Prelims: Tibetan Government in Exile, Buddhism, Line of Actual Control, McMahon line.

For Mains: Impact of Dalai Lama and Tibet on India-China Relations.

Why in News

Recently, the last surviving member of a small troop of Indian soldiers who escorted the Dalai Lama as he fled from Tibet in 1959 has died.

Key Points

  • About:
    • The Dalai Lama belongs to the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, which is the largest and most influential tradition in Tibet.
    • There have been only 14 Dalai Lamas in the history of Tibetan Buddhism, and the first and second Dalai Lamas were given the title posthumously.
      • The 14th and current Dalai Lama is Tenzin Gyatso.
    • The Dalai Lamas are believed to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron saint of Tibet.
      • Bodhisattvas are realized beings inspired by a wish to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings, who have vowed to be reborn in the world to help humanity.
  • Dalai Lama’s Escort:
    • The political landscape of China started changing in the 1950s.
    • Plans were made to bring Tibet officially under Chinese control. But in March 1959, Tibetans took to the streets demanding an end to Chinese rule. Chinese People’s Republic troops crushed the revolt and thousands were killed.
    • The Dalai Lama fled from Tibet to India with thousands of followers during the 1959 Tibetan uprising, where he was welcomed by former Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru who gave him permission to form the 'Tibetan government in exile' in Dharamsala (Himachal Pradesh).
  • Process to Choose Dalai Lama:
    • Following the Buddhist belief in the principle of reincarnation, the current Dalai Lama is believed by Buddhists to be able to choose the body into which he is reincarnated.
    • That person, when found, will then become the next Dalai Lama.
    • According to Buddhist scholars it is the responsibility of the High Lamas of the Gelugpa tradition and the Tibetan government to seek out and find the next Dalai Lama following the death of the incumbent.
    • If more than one candidate is identified, the true successor is found by officials and monks drawing lots in a public ceremony.
    • Once identified, the successful candidate and his family are taken to Lhasa (or Dharamsala) where the child studies the Buddhist scriptures in order to prepare for spiritual leadership.
    • This process can take several years: it took four years to find the 14th (current) Dalai Lama.
    • The search is generally limited to Tibet, although the current Dalai Lama has said that there is a chance that he will not be reborn, and that if he is, it will not be in a country under Chinese rule.

Tibet and Dalai Lama: Impact on India-China Relations

  • Background:
    • For centuries, Tibet was India’s actual neighbour, as most of India’s boundaries and the 3500km LAC (Line of Actual Control) is with the Tibetan Autonomous Region, and not the rest of China.
    • In 1914, it was Tibetan representatives, along with the Chinese that signed the Simla convention with British India that delineated boundaries.
    • However, after China’s full accession of Tibet in 1950, that China repudiated the convention and the McMahon line that divided the two countries.
    • Further, in 1954, India signed an agreement with China, agreeing to recognize Tibet as “Tibet region of China”.
  • Current:
    • The Dalai Lama and Tibet is one of the major irritants between India and China relations.
    • China considers the Dalai Lama a separatist, who has great influence over Tibetans.
    • India seeks to use the Tibetan card in order to counter China’s continuing aggression at the Line of Actual Control.
    • In the event of increasing tensions between India and China, there has been a shift in India’s Tibet Policy. This shift in the policy, earmarks the Indian government actively managing with the Dalai Lama in public forums.
    • The shift in India’s Tibet policy is majorly focused on symbolic aspects, but there are many challenges pertaining to India’s Approach to Tibet Policy.

Way Forward

  • India currently has an executive policy (not a law) on Tibetans in India.
  • While the current policy was a significant development for Tibetans' welfare in India, it is devoid of legal backing on core issues of Tibet. For example, destructive Tibetans' demand for freedom in Tibet.
  • Therefore, it is high time now that India should also adopt a more assertive stand on the Tibet issue in dealing with China.
  • Further, India should avoid a situation where it has a young and restive Tibetan population that resides in India, but looks outside of India for its leadership and command structure after the Dalai Lama has passed.

Source: ToI

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