Prime Minister Narendra Modi let the world know on Tuesday that he had rung Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to wish him a happy 86th birthday, disregarding any potential disapproval from China.
Beijing regards the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in northern India for more than six decades, as a dangerous “splittist", or separatist, and frowns on any engagement with him.
Indian leaders have generally been circumspect about public contact to avoid upsetting Beijing, but with India’s own relations with China at a low ebb, Modi said in a tweet he had passed on his best wishes personally.
“Spoke on phone to His Holiness the @DalaiLama to convey greetings on his 86th birthday. We wish him a long and healthy life," Modi said.
Several state leaders subsequently greeted the Dalai Lama saying his values, teachings and way of life is an inspiration to humanity.
Chinese troops seized Tibet in 1950 in what Beijing calls a “peaceful liberation", and the Dalai Lama fled into exile in 1959, following a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
New Delhi recognises Tibet as an autonomous region of China, but has several territorial disputes with Beijing elsewhere on their 3,500 km (2,173 mile) Himalayan border.
Relations deteriorated in June last year following the most serious clash in decades, when Chinese troops attacked an Indian border patrol with rocks and clubs, killing 20. China later said it lost four soldiers during that clash.
Tens of thousands of troops remain in close proximity at several points in the western Himalayas, on the border running through India’s Ladakh, a region sometimes called “Little Tibet", because of its Tibetan culture and predominantly Buddhist religion.
Back in 2019, when Modi was still pursuing a detente with Chinese President Xi Jinping, his government had asked Tibetans in India not to hold a rally to mark the 60th anniversary of the uprising.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen also wished the Dalai Lama a happy birthday, tweeting: “Thank you for teaching us the importance of coming together to help one another through this pandemic."
Meanwhile, the president of the Tibetan government-in-exile, Penpa Tsering, said that the Chinese government should recognise that the Dalai Lama is the key to resolving the Sino-Tibetan conflict and should invite him to “Tibet and China on pilgrimage without any precondition". He was speaking at a ceremony to mark the birthday of the Tibetan spiritual leader.
“The Chinese government should, therefore, recognise that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the key to resolving the Sino-Tibetan conflict, Penpa Tsering, who was elected as the president or Sikyong of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) in May, said. He asked China to utilise the opportunity offered by the “mutually beneficial Middle Way Approach" to foster a harmonious environment where Tibetans and Chinese can co-exist amicably.
“Therefore, we appeal to the Chinese government to earnestly invite His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet and China on pilgrimage without any precondition, Penpa Tsering said At the ceremony, he paid rich tributes to the Dalai Lama for his “visionary leadership" and pledged to strengthen Tibetan unity by resolving the minor differences within through constructive discussion. When it comes to our struggle, we must recognise our common opponent and work towards resolving our differences by engaging in constructive discussion.
“Our consolidated efforts should be directed towards fulfilling our common goals which is the mandatory and historic responsibility of the exiled Tibetan people, said the Sikyong. The 14th Dalai Lama has made India his home since fleeing China in 1959.
(with inputs from Reuters and PTI)