Why did India not invite the Dalai Lama to the Kushinagar airport inauguration?

By denying the invitation to the Dalai Lama for the inauguration of Kushinagar international airport, it is obvious that  India wants to ensure that China is not displeased

N S Venkataraman Oct 23, 2021
Kushinagar airport inauguration

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has inaugurated the Kushinagar International Airport in Uttar Pradesh that would connect the key Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India. Kushinagar is believed to be the final resting place of Gautam Buddha and therefore, is an important Buddhist pilgrimage destination.  The Indian government is especially focussing on the development of places associated with Lord Buddha through better connectivity and the creation of facilities for devotees to visit the Buddhist pilgrimage centers in India. Lumbini, the birthplace of  Lord  Buddha, is not far from Kushinagar. 

Sarnath, where Lord Buddha gave the first sermon, is also within a radius of around 150 kM from Kushinagar. Bodh Gaya, where Buddha attained enlightenment, is also a few hours' drive from Kushinagar.

Certainly, India has done great service to the cause of Buddhism by facilitating the Buddhist devotees to visit and pay their respects to Lord Buddha. This is particularly so since the Buddhist devotees everywhere in the world desire to visit the birthplace of Lord Buddha and pray there at least once in their lifetime.

A large contingent of Buddhist monks from different countries was invited for the inaugural program at Kushinagar airport.

Buddhist monks and diplomats from twelve countries with predominant Buddhist populations - Sri Lanka, South Korea, Nepal, Singapore, Japan, Mongolia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos, Bhutan, Cambodia, and Thailand - participated in the inaugural function.

Dalai Lama's absence 

What is conspicuous is that the respected Dalai Lama, one of the tallest and most respected Buddhist monks in the world today,  was not present in the program. It is suspected that the Dalai Lama was not invited to the program. If he has been invited, the Dalai Lama certainly would have attended the program, since it would facilitate the visit of Buddhist pilgrims to various Buddhist pilgrim centers.

While the media mentioned the Buddhist monks and delegates from twelve Buddhist countries attending the program, there has been no mention of the Buddhist monks in good number from Tibet being part of the attendees.

Tibet is a Buddhist region with great tradition and philosophy reflecting the virtues of Lord Buddha’s teachings. There are several historical Buddhist shrines in Tibet.

Unfortunately, China aggressively entered Tibet decades back, massacred thousands of Tibetan protestors, and is now occupying and ruling the region with an iron hand.

India's historic blunder

India has done the historical and grave mistake of recognizing Tibet as part of China. Millions of Indians are very unhappy about the Indian government's ethically and morally wrong decision to approve China’s occupation of Tibet.

China is now one of the biggest adversaries for India in the world, which is very clear from China’s observations and acts against India’s interests in the last several years. China is occupying thousands of kilometers of Indian territory and claims Arunachal Pradesh in India as part of China.  The Chinese army is frequently intruding into Indian territory and in the process, several Indian soldiers have lost their lives in recent times.

Many in India today think that China will start a war with India sooner or later, to fulfill its territorial expansion ambitions.

Even in such circumstances, the Indian government appears to be trying to keep China in good humor and is frequently discussing with China the border disputes, to avoid a war-like situation with China. Many people in India think this is an appeasement policy since China is not reciprocating India’s gestures.

By denying the invitation to the Dalai Lama for the inauguration of Kushinagar international airport, it is obvious that  India wants to ensure that China is not displeased. China would have certainly protested had the Dalai Lama been invited to the program, as it has been protesting even when any Indian official would meet the Dalai Lama.

Modi lacking courage of conviction

This instance of India not inviting the Dalai Lama to this important inaugural program, which was of great interest to the Buddhists all over the world, clearly shows that the Indian Prime Minister has not acted as per his conscience and with the courage of conviction. Mr. Modi has merely acted like an ordinary politician with priority for political expediency and deliberately not inviting the great and elderly Buddhist monk the Dalai Lama, who has been living in India not very far away from Kushinagar for several decades.

By not ensuring the presence of the Dalai Lama in this important program where several Buddhist monks from various countries were present, Prime Minister Modi has lost his much-earned positive image as a principled leader, to some extent.

Certainly, we hear the thundering silence of Tibetans around the world craving for free Tibet. Why is Mr. Modi is not supporting the cause of free Tibet by standing up to China and censuring China for occupying Tibet unethically?

(The writer is a Trustee, NGO Nandini Voice for the Deprived, Chennai. The views expressed are personal and not shared by editors of South Asia Monitor. He can be contacted at nsvenkatchennai@gmail.com)

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