By Shyamal Sinha
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, describes himself as a simple Buddhist monk. He is the spiritual leader of Tibet. He was born on 6 July 1935, to a farming family, in a small hamlet located in Taktser, Amdo, northeastern Tibet. At the age of two, the child, then named Lhamo Dhondup, was recognized as the reincarnation of the previous 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso.
The call for New Delhi to confer the Tibetan leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama, India’s highest civilian honor has grown stronger over the months ever since an Indian MP demanded that the “son of India” should deservedly be bestowed the honor.
BJP MP and former Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Shanta Kumar earlier in November last year ‘demanded’ the Bharat Ratna (India’s Gem) for the Nobel Peace laureate amid a clangorous rupture of applause at Dharamshala’s Tsuglakhang Temple during an event.
The veteran Indian politician pushing for the Dalai Lama’s candidacy for the honor has, perhaps more legitimacy that any of his counterparts in New Delhi or elsewhere. The two remain friends through years of acquaintance; Kumar’s political constituency of Kangra and his state which he had served twice as the Chief Minister – Himachal Pradesh has been the home of the Dalai Lama in exile for over the last 58 years.
Politically, the momentum was further enhanced when the right-wing and Hindu Nationalist outfit Rashtriya Syawamsevak Sangh (RSS) in Arunachal Pradesh launched a signature petition campaign on the eve of the Tibetan leader’s visit to Tawang there. The 81 year old, District RSS leader Lhundup Chosang, said “deserved” the award and will send a message to the world.
He told the press, “We have so far collected some 5,000 signatures. We will submit our plea to Prime Minister Narendra Modi after getting 25,000 signatures. Besides, the Dalai Lama deserves the Bharat Ratna as he has said that he is a son of India and feels honored to be the longest serving guest of this great country.”
Amid the calls endorsing the octogenarian leader for the prestigious award, voices of dissent is not absent. All India Monks Association’s General Secretary, Bhante Anand in Bihar has threatened extreme measures if things go through. “We would go to the extent of immolating ourselves before Parliament if the government makes any move or accepts any proposal to confer the Bharat Ratna on the Dalai Lama,” he was cited saying by a regional news outlet. However, the same portal also reported that the objection stemmed from the monk’s discontent with the Dalai Lama for failure to support them in their efforts to gain control of the Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya.
The tension between India and China, observers say, could work both ways when it comes to Indian government making the final call to award the honor to its longest staying guest and a distinguished ambassador. The backlash over the Dalai Lama’s official visit to the border state of Arunachal Pradesh last month is still continuing with Beijing resorting to animated ways and renaming places in the Indian territory near the border recently.
Sources also confirmed that a high profile foreign ministers’ trilateral meeting between India, Russia and China had to be cancelled after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi refused to come to Delhi following the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang. The new found resilience by New Delhi while dealing with China could give traction to the Dalai Lama-Bharat Ratna front, but India’s meticulous diplomacy will be vary of Beijing’s wrath in the aftermath.
The egalitarian Tibetan leader is no stranger to awards and honors with close to two hundred awards and honorary doctorates in his name since the first one in 1957 from the Benaras Hindu Universty (Doctor of Letters). His most prestigious ones include the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize and the US Congressional Gold medal in 2007.
The Bharat Ratna award is conferred “in recognition of exceptional service/performance of the highest order” recommended by the Prime Minster to the President of India. In the history of the award, Pakistan national Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and former South African President Nelson Mandela have been two non-Indians laureates.
The Dalai Lama is a man of peace. In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent struggle for the liberation of Tibet. He has consistently advocated policies of non-violence, even in the face of extreme aggression. He also became the first Nobel Laureate to be recognized for his concern for global environmental problems.