After much suspense on whether Indian officials will continue to maintain a distance from the Central Tibetan Administration’s (CTA) functions, only Indian politicians marked attendance at the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Dalai Lama’s entry to India. Decked in the Indian Tricolour and the Tibetan flag, the backyard of Tsuglagkhang Temple in McLeodganj served as the venue for the celebrations.
Representing the Indian government, Union Minister for Culture Mahesh Sharma attended the event, while BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, who is known to be a key foreign policy thinker in the ruling party, was invited as the guest of honour. Among other politicians, Congress leader Satyavrat Chaturvedi and former Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, Shanta Kumar, were also present. Naren Chandra Das, the 5th Assam Rifles’ soldier who was the first person to receive Dalai Lama on his arrival in India at the border in 1959, was the special guest. Among other noted attendees were heads of all Tibetan settlements across Indian states, monks from monasteries in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, and Bhutan along with CTA’s parliamentarians-in-exile and local Tibetans.
Addressing the event, Lobsang Sangay, Sikyong of Tibetans and the President-in-Exile, said, “China promises to make Tibet a socialist paradise while exploiting Tibet’s water, land and resources. For journalists today, it is more difficult to get into Tibet than to go to North Korea. The world gets to know about human rights violations in North Korea, but who knows about the condition of people in Tibet? In all these years, no other people have done for us what India has. We thank India with an open heart.”
Celebrating 60 years of Dalai Lama’s arrival to India along with lakhs of Tibetans, CTA flagged off its year-long “Thank You India Campaign”. A trainee at CTA, Namdol, a third generation Tibetan refugee buying a box of sweets said, “This is for my Indian friends. The government will deliver their gratitude at their own scale, but on the ground, we common people, too, feel the need to express our gratefulness for this nation and its people.”
Tseten, campaign director, Students for Free Tibet (SFT), said, “For me being a refugee only means that I cannot be an Indian citizen and I cannot go back to Tibet. Other than that, we have spent all our lives here and have lived like any other Indian.”
However, expressing his resentment, Tseten said, “We understand the complexity of foreign affairs, but I feel that this is the best time for India to be assertive about its friendship with Tibet, given that China is encircling us in Bhutan and Nepal and a little farther in Maldives too.”
Over 50 monks started a padyatra from Chuthangmo and Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, on 19 March travelling the same road that Dalai Lama took upon his arrival to India in 1959.
Gangkar Tulku Rinpoche, Abbot of Tawang monastery, told The Sunday Guardian, “His Holiness’ journey has been an inspiration and we used this opportunity to travel the same road after 60 years to show our gratitude.”
Speaking about the restrictions on Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh and China’s claim over the Indian state, Rinpoche said, “China’s claim is so unreasonable. Just because the 6th Dalai Lama was born in Tawang, does not give China any right to claim it. We hope that the Indian government will help develop our remote areas since the living conditions there are not very comfortable.”
CTA’s plan to celebrate the 60th anniversary through the “Thank You India” campaign comes at a time when China and India are going through a rocky relationship at the Bhutan border. While diplomatic mills helped in the withdrawal of Chinese and Indian forces from the Doklam area, the national media in China has been hostile towards the Indian government’s persistent support for Dalai Lama and Tibet’s freedom.