The cabinet secretary's directive to officials not to attend functions commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Dalai Lama's arrival in India is capitulation by the government to China's diktats. It is a reversal of an important element of the country's foreign policy, which was based both on principles and national interest. The directive was issued in response to a note from Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale which suggested avoidance of any event with which the Dalai Lama is associated as bilateral relations with China are at a "sensitive" stage. The note was made in view of upcoming engagements with China, including the annual Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) meeting in June, to be attended by Prime Minister Modi. Gokhale had just returned from a visit to China where he was told by China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi that India should handle sensitive issues "with prudence". The question is, should India compromise its policies and positions because China opposes them.
The Dalai Lama and his followers, who came to India in 1959 fleeing Chinese persecution, were given asylum in accordance with India's tradition of not turning away refugees. India stood up to China and risked its displeasure over the matter. The Dalai Lama has been free to pursue his religious and spiritual activities in the country. India has not overtly supported political activities by Tibetan refugees but by granting asylum to the Dalai Lama, India defied China and sent a message that New Delhi wanted Beijing to pursue a peaceful political solution in Tibet that was acceptable to Tibetans. This was true even when the country recognised Tibet as a part of China. It was for all this that the Tibetans had wanted to hold a commemorative event "Thank you, India" in New Delhi. And the Modi government directed ministers and officials not to attend the event, forcing it out of Delhi.
China considers the Dalai Lama a "splittist" and a "dangerous separatist". It has always threatened leaders of other countries against meeting him. But India has always maintained that the Dalai Lama, as a spiritual leader, could move and function freely within the country. It must be remembered that the Tibetans run their government-in-exile from here. New Delhi ignored China's warnings against his visit to the Tawang monastery in Arunachal Pradesh last year accompanied by Union minister Kiran Rijiju. But the government's latest directive suggests a change of this long-standing policy. This shows India as weak and bending to China's demands. China is growing more assertive, and any concession made to it is only likely to make it demand more. The directive hurts India's interests and weakens its position for no concrete gain in return. It also sends a message to our neighbours and the world that India cannot stand up to China.