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India’s Tibet Policy

India’s Tibet Policy

Why in news?

  • Recently, some Chinese nationals protested against the celebration of the birthday of the Dalai Lama in India.
  • The Dalai Lama and Tibet is one of the major irritants between India and China relations.
  • China considers the Dalai Lama a separatist, who has great influence over Tibetans. India seeks to use Tibetan card in order to counter China’s continuing aggression at the Line of Actual Control.


  • For centuries, Tibet was India’s actual neighbour, and in 1914, it was Tibetan representatives, along with the Chinese that signed the Simla convention with British India that delineated boundaries. Remember, most of India’s boundaries and the 3500km LAC is with the Tibetan Autonomous Region, and not the rest of China.
  • However, after China’s full accession of Tibet in 1950, that China repudiated the convention and the McMahon line that divided the two countries. And in 1954, India signed an agreement with China, agreeing to trading terms on what it called the “Tibet region of China”.
  • In 1959, when the Dalai Lama fled to India, PM Nehru gave him and Tibetan refugees shelter, and they set up the Tibetan government in exile, which continues to hold elections. But the official Indian policy is that the Dalai Lama is a spiritual leader, and the Tibetan community in India, with more than a lakh exiles, is not allowed to undertake any political activity. Despite frequent protests from China, especially when the Dalai Lama is invited to an official event or travels to Arunachal Pradesh, most governments have held the line on what is seen as a contradictory stand.
  • In recent years, the Modi government has attempted some shifts, but its policy has also confused many, including within the Tibetan community.

Shift in India’s Tibet Policy

  • In the event of increasing tensions between India and China, there has been a shift in India’s Tibet Policy. This shift in the policy, earmarks the Indian government actively managing with the Dalai Lama in public forums. For Example, In 2014, Prime Minister of India (PM) had invited the head of the Tibetan government in exile in India, Lobsang Sangay, to his swearing in ceremony.
  • However, he did not invite him in 2019 after being re-elected for a second five-year term, to ensure a smooth passage for a second informal summit between him and Chinese president Xi Jinping.
  • Recently, the Prime Minister of India (PM) wished the Dalai Lama in the first such public acknowledgement since 2013, the first time as PM.
  • The shift in India’s Tibet policy is majorly focused on symbolic aspects, but there are many challenges pertaining to India’s Approach to Tibet Policy.

Challenges Associated with India’s Approach to Tibet Policy

  • Issue of Tibetan Citizenship: The Indian government doesn’t give citizenship to Tibetans born in India after the cut-off year of 1987. This has created a sense of dissatisfaction amongst the youth of the Tibetan community. Further, in the past few years, the US has also increased its role, by accepting more Tibetan refugees. This will impact India’s role as a sole entity arguing about the future of Tibetian refugee.
  • Changes in Tibetan Demography: Over the past few decades, China is promoting people from mainland China to migrate into Tibet. China is increasing suppression of the Tibetan populations’ links to the Dalai Lama and pouring in investment, infrastructure projects in the region.
  • Question of Dalai Lama’s Succession: The 86 years old Dalai Lama is not only the spiritual leader, but the political leader of the community worldwide. The Dalai Lama asserts that his successor could be a living incarnation, in a specific area in India or even in another country like Taiwan.
  • Tibetans Against Each Other: As India-China tensions grow and turn violent after the Galwan valley clash, China has begun to raise Tibetan Militia groups. Further, the Indian Army trains the Tibetan Special Frontier Force, which could lead to Tibetans fighting each other in the future.


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