Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Will the Dalai Lama be forced out of India?

I am sure all of you have been following the debates about India's stand in the latest violent uprising in Tibet. The views range from the sentimental, (we need to support them because of our history and Tibet's), the idealist (we need to support Tibet as a matter of principle being the world's largest democracy in the world), the cynical (we cannot do anything because we have Kashmir to deal with), the realpolitik (we should use this opportunity to get concessions on Arunachal Pradesh), to outright fear (we are scared of China). It is not my intention to appraise each of these views and suggest what India should be doing. Rather, I want to share my fears (may be completely unfounded) that the Dalai Lama will either be forced out of India or completely gagged. Today's newspapers report that our foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee has requested the Dalai Lama not to engage in political activities that could affect India's ties with China. There is also reference that he is a religious leader and is a respected guest of India. India will render all hospitality but the Dalai Lama should not indulge in any political activity. There are uncanny parallels between this statement and the statement that Pranab Mukherjee made in the Taslima Nasreen controversy. Even in her case, he said, Taslima is welcome to stay but should be sensitive to the feelings of Indians. We all know what happened to Taslima. Now, he is saying something similar in the Dalai Lama's case. Legally of course, the Government may be entitled to do this (as Article 19 is not available to non-citizens). But India's silence on Tibet combined with this statement makes me wonder, if we will end up helping China (just like we helped all fundamentalist forces by kicking out Taslima) by either forcing out or completely gagging the Dalai Lama. Apart from the direct impact on the Tibetan issue, the impact this is likely to have on free speech within India is huge. It appears that the Government is as intolerant as fundamentalists and is not keen to permit free speech which is inconvenient.
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