Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, who discussed India-China bilateral issues with Prime Minister Wen Jiabo of China, on two occasions during his visit to Hua Hin in Thailand for the summit with ASEAN leaders, has maintained a studied ambivalence on the question of the reported plans of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to visit Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh next month to declare open a hospital constructed with assistance from the Tibetan exile community in India. China has repeatedly protested against the proposed visit. The latest protest was handed over by the Chinese Ambassador in New Delhi to the Ministry of External Affairs on the eve of the Hua Hin meeting between the two leaders.
Bilateral issues figured in the meeting of the two Prime Ministers in the margins of the summit on October 24,2009, as well as during a dinner hosted by the Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for the participants in the summit. While the subject of the Dalai Lama's proposed visit did not appear to have figured at the bilateral meeting, it did figure during the discussions at the dinner as reportedly stated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself during his interactions with the Indian journalists, who had accompanied him. It is not clear whether the Thai dinner preceded the bilateral meeting or followed it.
Dr Manmohan Singh was careful in the formulation of his remarks on the Dalai Lama visit. He said: "I explained to Premier Wen that Dalai Lama is our honoured guest and he is a religious leader. We do not allow Tibetan refugees to indulge in political activities and proof of that is that we took resolute action against some Tibetans during Olympics (torch relay) last year following reports that some Tibetan refugees might create problems."
The most significant part of his formulation came in reply to a question from a journalist on the Dalai Lama's proposed visit to Arunachal Pradesh. Dr. Singh said he was not aware of the Dalai Lama's plans. (emphasis mine)
The proposed visit of His Holiness to Tawang in response to a local invitation from Arunachal Pradesh had been figuring in media reports for nearly two months now and the Chinese have repeatedly protested against it. India's minister for external affairs, Shri S.M. Krishna, had said that His Holiness was free to visit any part of India.
Till now, the Prime Minister himself had maintained a total silence on the issue. To have ruled out the visit would have been politically unwise for the Congress (I) in view of the recent elections in Arunachal Pradesh. Now that the elections are over and the Congress (I) has retained power, the Prime Minister no longer seems to feel the need to observe political caution on the subject lest the electoral fortunes of the Congress (I) be affected.
Is he preparing the ground for ending the controversy and defusing the tension with Beijing on the subject by quietly persuading His Holiness to postpone the visit for some personal reasons?
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies