By Abhishek Madhukar
DHARAMSALA, INDIA (Reuters) – The Dalai Lama called on his people to remain united as the Tibetan community gathered on Saturday in a small hill town to mark 60 years of political asylum in India – although just one federal minister appeared at the event.
The “Thank You India” event had been scheduled for India’s capital, New Delhi, but was shifted to Dharamsala, a small town in the country’s north where Tibetans run a government in exile, as India tries to avoid a confrontation with China, which views the Dalai Lama as a dangerous separatist.
Officially, New Delhi says its policy toward the Dalai Lama remains the same, and the Tibetan government in exile says it moved the event to Dharamsala out of respect for India’s foreign policy needs. India’s culture minister was the only minister present at the event.
“Today we are celebrating 60 years in exile and we are confident, and we can see how our future shapes up,” the Dalai Lama said at the event.
He emphasized the “strong bond between India and Tibet”, saying the two shared a “deep connection of culture and literature”.
China took control of Tibet in 1950 in what it called a “peaceful liberation”. In March 1959, the Dalai Lama, then 23 years old, fled to India along with his followers.
Then-Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru welcomed the monk and allowed him to make Dharamsala his seat. But the ties have weakened as India tries to improve relations with China and avoid a standoff such as a 73-day military face-off along a stretch of their disputed border last year.
“From Nehru to Modi, we have followed a one-China policy,” Ram Madhav, the general secretary of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party said. The links between India and Tibet were “very little political but more spiritual, religious and cultural,” he added.
Earlier this month, India issued an unprecedented ban on Tibetans holding a rally with the Dalai Lama in New Delhi to mark the 60th anniversary of the start of a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
The Dalai Lama also canceled a visit to the Indian border state of Sikkim this week, hosted by authorities there, officials say, lest it offended China.
That is in contrast to the Dalai Lama’s free movement within India, including the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims as its own.
Lobsang Sangay, the head of the Tibetan government in exile, was critical of China’s Tibet policy at Saturday’s event.
“It’s been 60 years since China’s illegal invasion and occupation of Tibet, 60 years of destruction of Tibetan civilization, Tibetan culture and Tibetan identity,” Sangay said, thanking India for its support.
(Reporting by Abhishek Madhukar in Dharamsala, writing by Sankalp Phartiyal, editing by Larry King)