It was 1958-59 when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru categorically informed two senior aides of US President Dwight Eisenhower that “if India was to accept the Dalai Lama, the US would have to help New Delhi develop nuclear weapons.”
The Chinese were plotting to “kill or capture” Dalai Lama during a final pacification in Tibet in 1959 and President Eisenhower believed India could provide asylum to the Dalai Lama. Major William Corson, intelligence aide to the President, also revealed that Nehru was a hard bargainer and made it amply clear to Eisenhower that India wants its own nuclear assurance against China!
It was a dangerous commitment to make and Eisenhower was not willing to comply. However, he did offer a middle ground, a compromise. Carson says, “Eisenhower decided that the US would accept 400 Indian students into American graduate programmes in the nuclear sciences. The course of the negotiations left no doubt that Nehru would assign the American-trained scientists to produce nuclear weapons.”
India tested its first nuclear device in May 1974, less than 16 years after Nehru and the US PENNED “the deal”. Nehru did a good job of laying the foundation for future tests, but it also became incumbent upon India to ensure that the Dalai Lama remained safe from the clutches of the Chinese.
It would so appear that the Dalai Lama was given asylum on political grounds, not humanitarian. The Government during the time denied all such accounts, saying it’s nothing but fairy tale. Dalai Lama’s entry into India is shrouded in mystery, with differing accounts, but it doesn’t really matter now.
What really matters now is the way forward. What is the best way going forward as far as the Dalai Lama is concerned. India cannot continue to support the Tibetan spiritual leader at the cost of growing hostility between India and China. On humanitarian grounds, India has been more than kind, but can we afford to push it to a point where international relations sour? We can be firm on principle, but we cannot make it an ego issue with the Chinese. It is not practical for a country to stand behind an individual, even if it meant destroying bilateral relationships with neighbouring countries. India has been Dalai Lama’s host for many decades now. It’s time for other countries to take the responsibility, too.
In any case, Dalai Lama has not only overstayed his welcome, he has also become very comfortable with the care and attention he is given at all times. He lives a life of a celebrity, he has luxurious accommodations and there is nothing that he cannot have. McLeodganj and Dharamsala have turned into domains for monks. He has set up a government-in-exile at McLeodganj and the 80-year-old Nobel Laureate has a perfect settings. Would he want to leave all the comfort and India’s graciousness for the struggle that lies ahead? Is there even a game-plan to end this adhoc arrangement?
The Dalai Lama talked about interfaith dialogue, he spoke of the significance of peace and other such virtues. But the spiritual leader never lacked anything. He did not suffer from ‘want’, it was all there for him. Ever since his coming to India, he has not had to struggle. He is safe from harm. Such a person has no right to rebuke those who lead high lives.
Since his arrival, Dalai Lama traveled extensively. He has talked about the welfare of the Tibetans, taught Tibetan Buddhism, and investigated the interface between Buddhism and science. He has done well, but India must look towards the future now.
Around the world, institutions face demands from China to avoid him. Some do, some don’t. India should not discard the Dalai Lama. It is against the spirit of India, it is not in our nature and culture to abandon people. But we can at least start looking at some of the options available.