‘Tibet exile events off limits for Indian officials’

New Delhi: India has told top officials to avoid events held by Tibet’s government in exile to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s life in India, fearful of hurting relations with China, a newspaper reported on Friday.

Cabinet secretary P.K. Sinha, the top government bureaucrat, sent a directive to high-level officials saying it is “not desirable” for them to participate in upcoming events by the government in exile, noting “the sensitive nature of the subject,” The Indian Express newspaper reported.

Beijing is strongly opposed to the Dalai Lama, saying the Tibetan spiritual leader is trying to break Tibet away from Chinese control.

The Dalai Lama, who insists he only wants more autonomy for Tibet, has lived in India since 1959, when he fled a crushed Tibetan uprising.

India has long had a wary relationship with China, seeing it as a strategic rival and a major trading partner. While the Dalai Lama found shelter in India, New Delhi has often been careful to avoid showing him official support.

The Indian government did not react directly to the media report, though the foreign ministry on Friday called the Dalai Lama “deeply respected by the people of India”.

“There is no change in that position. His holiness is accorded all freedom to carry out his religious activities in India,” foreign ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said in a statement.

According to The Indian Express, the Indian government directive was written on the advice of foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale, until recently India’s ambassador in Beijing, who dealt with China’s hardening position on the Indo-Chinese border and other issues.

Last year, Indian troops stopped China from building a road in a disputed Himalayan plateau where the borders of China, India and Bhutan meet. In August, Beijing and New Delhi both agreed to pull back their troops from the area.

Beijing also strongly criticised New Delhi last year for allowing the Dalai Lama to visit the state of Arunachal Pradesh. Beijing claims Arunachal Pradesh is part of Tibet.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also irked China by inviting Lobsang Sangay, the prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile, to his 2014 swearing-in ceremony.

Indian political leaders have mostly met the Dalai Lama in private, but former president Pranab Mukherjee infuriated Beijing when he invited the Dalai Lama to a 2016 meeting with Nobel laureates about children’s rights.

The Tibetan government in exile is based in the north Indian town of Dharamsala, which is also home to the Dalai Lama.

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