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India, China battle it out over Buddhism

Sunday November 27, 2011 05:32:54 PM, Vijay Kranti, IANS

The sudden decision of India and China to drop the meeting of their special representatives only a day before it was scheduled in Beijing has brought a cold war on Buddhism out in the open.

China decided to drop the meeting as New Delhi reportedly turned down its demand to keep the Dalai Lama away from a four-day Global Buddhist Congregation that began in New Delhi Sunday. This glitch automatically puts off the later defence secretary level annual dialogue of Dec 8-9.

Both sides have publicly downplayed the issue but there is far more behind the scene than what meets the public eye.

The Chinese leadership is determined to make China the supreme Buddhist power. The sudden love affair with Buddhism arises more from anxieties related to the Tibetan spiritual ruler Dalai Lama, than a change in heart on religion.

China's Communist rulers are focused at building up enough credibility in the international Buddhist community to have their way on the selection of the Dalai Lama's new incarnation before he dies. The Chinese believe that a friendly Dalai Lama will solve their Tibet knot that has found frequent expression through public uprisings and self-immolation sprees since 1951.

It was the unexpected Tibetan uprising of 1989 that made Chinese leaders realise that a Tibetan generation who had never seen the Dalai Lama and who grew on daily staple of Communist propaganda was to blame. Following a serious review at the third 'Tibet Work Forum' in 1991, China adopted a new policy in Tibet which accepts religion as a tool of winning hearts.

As part of this strategy, Chinese Communists have selected at least two top ranking lama incarnations of Karma Pa and Panchen Lama in 1993 and 1995 respectively. Gedhun Choeky Nyima, the six-year-old who was recognized by the Dalia Lama as the 'real' Panchen Lama, still remains under Chinese custody 18 years later.

While Chinese candidate Giancin Norbu has yet to be accepted by Tibetan masses, the Karma Pa escaped to India to join the Dalia Lama on the eve of New Year of 2000.

To the supporters of the Dalai Lama, the selection of these two senior incarnate lamas are dress rehearsals for China to impose a baby of its own choice as the Dalai Lama once the incumbent is no more.

Leaving behind Mao's distaste for religion, Beijing hosted the first World Buddhist Forum in 2006 in Zhejian province and the second in March 2009 in Wuxi. The latter attracted over 1,700 delegates from 50 countries. In both meetings, Giancin Norbu was paraded as the senior most representative of Buddhism in the world.

This aggressive marketing by China as the real Buddhist powerhouse of the world has not gone down well with India, where the Buddha attained enlightenment. New Delhi too has launched its own Buddhist conferences in Singapore, Cambodia and Sri Lanka. There will be similar shows in Nepal and Vietnam.

While the current posturing by New Delhi and Beijing over border dialogue shows where their real concerns lie, the new religious theatre is bound to lead to new fireworks.


The author is a long-time Tibet watcher. He can be reached on





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