Should Dalai Lama Go Home?
Image Credit: Rak Kumar

Should Dalai Lama Go Home?


Because India has almost as many holy men as it has cricketers, Indian officialdom remains in denial about the effect that the 1959 decision to give His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama of Tibet, asylum (along with an indeterminate number of his followers) has had on relations with China. Although Delhi has sought to normalise relations since at least 1978, such efforts have foundered on the rock of Zhongnanhai's distrust of Indian intentions.

To the Chinese leadership, by 'protecting' if not encouraging the Dalai Lama, India is a willing participant in what it regards as an international effort to 'split' or weaken China. But if the presence of the Dalai Lama in India has had a baleful effect on Sino-Indian ties, no less harmful has his half-century of absence from Tibet been for the people that revere him. Although few would mourn certain aspects of the Lama System in Tibet, such as the practice of using the poor as serfs or the fusion of religious with temporal roles, some strands in Tibetan culture deserve to be eternal, including its contribution to medicine and to Buddhism.

The absence of the Dalai Lama – the core of Tibetan spiritual life – has led to a steady dilution in the intensity of tradition, an outcome that culturally impoverishes the whole world. While his present exile is comfortable, alternating between India and the West, the Dalai Lama may need to ask himself if a return to Tibet would not help reverse the steady drift away from indigenous culture.

Having visited China numerous times since 1999 and dealt with party officials, the military, academics and ordinary Chinese, my assessment is that the Communist Party may be willing to consider a return of His Holiness to the Potala Palace, if some adjustments are made – the obvious one being a clear enunciation that both Taiwan and Tibet are a part of China and will, in the opinion of the Dalai Lama, remain so.

Next, would be the abjuring of any temporal role within Tibet, with the Dalai Lama conforming to the practices and lifestyle of a religious leader (although for logistical purposes, he may once again be given the protocol rank of a Minister, as he held in the 1950s). Discussions between the Dalai Lama's very able negotiator, Lodi Gyari, and the Chinese leadership could ensure that not only His Holiness but all the senior lamas would be given the facilities needed to function, but this time without temporal authority.

While such an agreement would be viewed as a climbdown by several within the Dalai Lama's entourage, the reality is that unless a catastrophe befalls the Peoples Republic and it dissolves, there seems no prospect of independence even for the present territory constituting the Tibetan Autonomous Region, much less the Greater Tibet sought by several acolytes and their international well-wishers. After 50 years, the time seems to have arrived for an unsentimental look at the impact of current policies on the population that most needs to be factored in – the indigenous people of Tibet. Indeed, given the widening hold of spiritualism among the Chinese people, it's not improbable that His Holiness would emerge as the pre-eminent religious figure of the Peoples Republic.

China has changed significantly since the 1950s, as indeed has Tibet. A generation is coming up that, while being intensely patriotic, is nevertheless searching for anchors to moor traditions in. Should the Dalai Lama return to the Potala Palace, such an outcome could well be the proverbial swallow heralding an acceleration of faith in China.

Congressional Medals of Honour to the Dalai Lama and meetings with Western leaders have made no tangible difference to the millions of Tibetans who have been without their spiritual leader for so long. Perhaps the time has come to take the initiative for a return of a spiritual leader who has for too long been separated from his roots and most of his people.

November 24, 2011 at 04:42

I dont mean to disrespect no one !!!

It all looks like … d.lama is just not ready to accept the old times are over and now its about people not the rulers anymore… He should go back to China for the sake of his blind followers and give them a good future in China keeping there culture intact … just as so many different cultures and people live in India. As he always talks about love and compassion… he should show the same love and compassion for the brothers and sisters in China as well. After all home is home and he will never feel at peace till he goes back to his new home called China which has liberated Tibet as well… God home and help China be the Super Power. God bless us all…

February 24, 2011 at 10:53

Tibet is a part of china ,there is no doubt about it !The situation in tibet is quiet different from our indian time under the rule of british!Mahadma GANDHI never ask us to seperate pakistan from india,becouse we are the same country,though different religions and races,it’s the same like China and tibet,it should’t be seperated!

Bagchand Singh
May 25, 2010 at 06:34

Dear Mr. Madhav Nalapat Ji,

Sadha Namaskar! Your profile convince me that you are not an ordinary citizen like me, but a cream of our nation.I’m really saddened by this article of yours, it speaks what I expect to hear from China as they always do.

Firstly, when did China officially invite Dalai Lama to Tibet even after repeated request by him solely for religious purpose, as recent as when people of quake hit send a request letter to Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabo to invite Dalai Lama to the region to do needed prayers for those who died,in response to which Dalai Lama had shown strong interest. But in vain.

Secondly, why should we send back such an international figure back to Tibet, even if china accepts the proposal. It’ll be another blunder we will be committing towards our centuries old neighbor, Tibet, china is recent and only exist to us living in border area only in 1950′s.

Thirdly, how can you guarantee that the decision will be beneficial to our national interest? Once, Dalai Lama and his people goes back to Tibet and given whatever you’ve written, isn’t it obvious that they have the upper hand to claim over much disputed border areas of Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh? While in China have you seen the real chinese official map of Tibet Autonomous Region? I doubt you’ve slightest clue about it. Well to your dismay it includes not only central Tibet but also part of Himachal, J&K (Ladakh region), Uttrakhand, Nepal, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh (Tawang region). So will you cease our very own region to china?

Fourthly, how can any leader claim other independent nation as part of china just to proceed the negotiation? We have to be pragmatic. How can anyone proceed negotiation with few precondition points to accept? that’s not negotiation at all.

Now is the time we should use Tibet chip, which gives us the upper hand and use it for our own national interest, but not give up the only chance just like that as Mr. Nalapat has naively written.

May 25, 2010 at 04:02

It is a bit jarring to note that on the one hand, the author, Madhav Nalapat, holds the UNESCO Peace Chair but on the other he implies that India and the rest of the world should give a free reign to the autocratic regime in Beijing. If he meant it in the context of ‘every country has its own self-interests to protect’ then I think he should explain his association with UNESCO. If every country lives for its own sake, then why do we have global bodies like UNO and its offshoots?

May 24, 2010 at 21:18

Very weak article where the author doesnt seem to know the recent history of interaction between HHDL and Beijing.

May 24, 2010 at 14:42

China has changed but Chinese rule in Tibet has not. It’s still a police state in occupied Tibet where Tibetans have no freedom of speech, assembly or religion. Tibetans are arrested for what they write, read & say. Tibetans are arrested for celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday or displaying his picture. China just prohibited copy centers in Tibet from printing anything in Tibetan w/o prior permission from the authorities? You call that progress? I call it racial discrimination. Tibetans are treated as 2nd class citizens & have the lowest education level & highest illiteracy in the PRC. Don’t believe me? Go to Lhasa & hold up a picture of the Dalai Lama in public & then count the seconds before the Chinese police arrest you.

May 24, 2010 at 11:06

The writer makes some clear points in his writing. The Dalai Lama’s presence in Tibet fueled a system of oppression whereby the rich and noble class owned almost 95% of the income, leaving serfs and ordinary Tibetans impoverished.

The simple truth is that Tibet has improved dramatically since the exile of the Dalai Lama, who has received funding from the American CIA to instigate Guerrilla attacks on the PRC. This is well documented on American Government websites under the document ‘issues pertaining to Tibet’.

During the current Dalai Lama’s rule on Tibet, he appointed his chief adviser Heinrich Harrer who was a SS Nazi Officer and Death Squad leader. He also had various affiliations with war criminals such as Dr. Bruno Beger, Augustine Pinochet, Miguel Serrano, and Jorg Haider. These affiliations and photos can be seen on the following website

Living standards in Tibet have improved since the current Dalai Lama has left and it is clear that the Tibetans of today to not desire nor do they need the Dalai Lama to return.

May 24, 2010 at 08:58

Have you been to Tibet and observe how Tibetans are living under this red sun. How can he return under such a circumstances. China took the lives so many patriotic Tibetans including well known Panchen Lama. Who will take the responsibility if they harm him also. I think he should remain outside untill good time comes -when Tibetans can determin what they want. Not now!!!!!!!!!!!

May 24, 2010 at 06:31

You are indeed right so many has changed in this last 50 years or so, but one simple essence is missing in this whole story – in this last five decades Tibetan rights have been denied thoroughly and Tibetans all over the world are united as one for our rights.
Whether people call it national interest or whatever they name it, the fact is India is abiding by the law under UNO the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees

May 24, 2010 at 06:00

First, the use of such terms as “Lama System” and “serfs” has an uncanny resemblance to Beijing-Speak. These are the terms Beijing has used for over 60 years to justify its illegal occupation of Tibet: that it is the liberating and civilizing force for the Tibetans.

Second, it should be clear to everyone that the Dalai Lama’s absence from Tibet is “forced” rather than voluntary. I don’t know if exile can be “comfortable”. Yes, the freedom Tibetan exiles get outside Tibet is beyond doubt, but comfortable? I am referring to the whole gamut of rootlessness, displacement, exclusion,etc. Only an exile will know what he/she goes through. Also the current policies in Tibet under China are threatening the survival of Tibetan culture, identity and way of life and not the absence of Dalai Lama.

Third, the author makes “some adjustments” sound like simple give and take procedure. It is not. A fuller knowledge of Tibetan history may have averted such an assessment. Mahatma Gandhi would have never said India is a part of Britain because India was independent before the British occupation.

Fourth, “Greater Tibet” is a term used by Beijing to distort the autonomy proposal presented by the Dalai Lama’s envoys to Chinese authorities. Tibet was Tibet, there was no greater or lesser Tibet in history until in 1965, Beijing carved out central Tibet from Tibet proper and named it Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)and the rest of Tibet were merged long ago into Chinese provinces to quicken the sinification process. In this way, traditional Tibetan territory was dismembered to suit Chinese interests.

Fifth, If any Tibetan is unsentimental about Tibet, it is the Dalai Lama. His proposal for granting genuine autonomy to the Tibetan people is the most pragmatic and peaceful approach to resolve the Tibet issue. He has said millionth time that he’s not asking for independence from Beijing.

Sixth, only Tibetan people in Tibet and in exile know what a world of difference Dalai Lama’s Congressional Gold Medal and meetings with Western leaders make to their collective quest for freedom.

Yes, the times has come to solve the Tibet question. With handful of Tibetans against the might of Chinese juggernaut, it is the responsibility of every peace-loving people all over the world to bring about a negotiated solution to the problem and India as the largest democracy in the world can play a very important role. Sending off the Dalai Lama back to Tibet on Chinese conditions is the easiest, most convenient, politically pliable, and highly irresponsible solution.

May 24, 2010 at 03:46

The writer’s assumption is that Tibetans in exile including the Dalai Lama himself is consciously prolonging exile sojourn and making no efforts to return to Tibet. This is simply not true. As recently as in the wake of the major earthquake, he has shown his genuine interest to return even if it is for just days. As many have before, you have already been trapped by Chinese arguments that they are prepared to accept Dalai Lama back if he concedes to the issues that you raised. Will you be in a position to guarantee if he did ? It seems you have only seen the second layer of their mental model not the deeper part!

Bhagat singh
May 24, 2010 at 01:05

The Dalai Lama will only return to Tibet if the CCP agrees to give fully Autonomous Region with self rule system. Tibet issue is not a private issue of the Dalai Lama, its an issue for the six million Tibetans in Tibet. The Dalai Lama is religiously and politically the leader of Tibetans, not only Tibetans but by all Himalayan region people. Tibet is a free country and fully independent once before. We have diplomatic relations from all Asian countries. Time will come sooner or later Tibet will be free again. Tibet independence will be given back by the Chinese new generation leader when China becomes a fully democratic system. Wait for game 2012. The world will change.

May 23, 2010 at 17:31

India needs dalai lama more so than china does. (1) providing safe haven for splittist/freedom fighter, supplanting chinese internal conflicts (2) displacing geopolitical ambition and leverage (3) making case to the domestic audiance china/tibet is “bad” despite tibetan GDP per cap is twice of indian.

It is in line with Indian’s national interest to keep Dalai lama as long as possible.

May 23, 2010 at 12:17

The real question is the right of Tibetans people in Tibet not the just the return of Dalai Lama.

China is trying to Dalai Lama as the only issue of Tibet. So long as Tibetans are not free in their own country the problem and issue will remain.

The best solution is China leave Tibet. Didn’t India demand freedom from British not the rights of few Indian leaders but for millions of Indians.

jojo star
May 23, 2010 at 05:51

Split china?? – you forget Tibet was not part of China but invaded and occupied. Tibet had cultural union with China long ago but that was during the Mongol rule of China after Mings took over they inherited this link. Later more than one dala lama had to flee to India due to a Chinese invasion. China had been doing the same to Vietnam for 1000 years, but you don’t claim Vietnam is part of china do you? Tibet is just too weak to resist, but that doesn’t mean they should accept their land and culture being taken over by han Chinese imperialism. Tibet is disputed land the same way the West Bank and Gaza is.

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