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India's Tibet Policy

  • 13 Jul 2021
  • 6 min read

Why in News

Recently, some Chinese nationals protested against the celebration of the birthday of the Dalai Lama in India.

  • 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 Tibetan card in order to counter China’s continuing aggression at the Line of Actual Control.

Key Points

  • Background of India’s Tibet Policy:
    • For centuries, Tibet was India’s actual neighbour, as most of India’s boundaries and the 3500km LAC 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”.
    • In 1959, following the Tibetan uprising, the Dalai Lama (spiritual leader of Tibetan people) and many of his followers fled to India.
    • Former Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru gave him and Tibetan refugees shelter, and helped in setting up the Tibetan government in exile.
    • The official Indian policy is that the Dalai Lama is a spiritual leader, and the Tibetan community in India, with more than a lakh exiles, is not allowed to undertake any political activity.
  • Shift in India’s Tibet Policy:
    • 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. For Example,
      • In 2014, Prime Minister of India (PM) had invited the head of the Tibetan government in exile in India, Lobsang Sangay, to his swearing in ceremony.
        • However, he did not invite him in 2019 after being re-elected for a second five-year term, to ensure a smooth passage for a second informal summit between him and Chinese president Xi Jinping.
      • Recently, the Prime Minister of India (PM) wished the Dalai Lama in the first such public acknowledgement since 2013, the first time as PM.
    • 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.
  • Challenges Associated with India’s Approach to Tibet Policy:
    • Changes in Tibetan Demography: Over the past few decades, China is promoting people from mainland China to migrate into Tibet.
      • China is increasing suppression of the Tibetan populations’ links to the Dalai Lama and pouring in investment, infrastructure projects in the region.
    • Tibetans Against Each Other: As India-China tensions grow and turn violent after the Galwan valley clash, China has begun to raise Tibetan Militia groups.
      • Further, the Indian Army trains the Tibetan Special Frontier Force, which could lead to Tibetans fighting each other in the future.
    • Issue of Tibetan Citizenship: The Indian government doesn’t give citizenship to Tibetans born in India after the cut-off year of 1987.
      • This has created a sense of dissatisfaction amongst the youth of the Tibetan community.
      • Further, in the past few years, the US has also increased its role, by accepting more Tibetan refugees. This will impact India’s role as a sole entity arguing about the future of Tibetian refugee.
    • Question of Dalai Lama’s Succession: The 86 years old Dalai Lama is not only the spiritual leader, but the political leader of the community worldwide.
      • The Dalai Lama asserts that his successor could be a living incarnation, in a specific area in India or even in another country like Taiwan.

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. 
  • 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: TH

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