Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has let the world know that he had called on the spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, to wish him a happy 86th birthday, regardless of China’s possible disapproval.
Beijing regards the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in northern India for more than six decades, as a dangerous “split” or separatist, and frowns on any compromise with him.
Indian leaders have been generally cautious about public contact to avoid upsetting Beijing, but with India’s own relations with China on the decline, Modi said in a tweet that he had conveyed his best wishes personally.
“@DalaiLama spoke on the phone to His Holiness to convey his congratulations on his 86th birthday. We wish him a long and healthy life,” said Modi.
He spoke by telephone to His Holiness on @DalaiLama to convey greetings on his 86th birthday. We wish you a long and healthy life.
– Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) July 6, 2021
Several state leaders in India later hailed the Dalai Lama as saying that his values, teachings and way of life are an inspiration to mankind.
The Dalai Lama thanked his supporters and expressed his gratitude to India, where he has lived since fleeing his homeland in 1959.
“I want to express my deep gratitude to all my friends who have truly shown me love, respect and trust,” the Dalai Lama said in a video message.
He reiterated his mission to serve humanity and urged supporters to be compassionate.
“Since I became a refugee and settled in India, I have made the most of India’s freedom and religious harmony,” he said.
He added that he had great respect for India’s secular values such as “honesty, karuna (compassion) and ahimsa (non-violence)”.
Chinese troops seized Tibet in 1950 in what Beijing calls a “peaceful liberation,” and the Dalai Lama fled into exile and turned the city beside Dharamshala Mountain into its headquarters after a failed insurrection against Chinese rule in 1959.
A small celebration was held on Tuesday, attended mostly by government officials in the Tibetan Central Administration. On a projected screen, the video message of the Dalai Lama was played and followed by a cultural performance by the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts.
Usually, the spiritual leader’s birthday is a rather elaborate affair in the city, open to members of the public who attend the Tsuglagkhang temple where performances are made. Sometimes the leader also made an appearance.
This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the celebrations were shut down and behind closed doors. But a banner marking his birthday hung in the town square and Tibetan monks distributed sweets and juices to pedestrians outside the closed temple.
“A lot of people really show that they love me. And a lot of people love my smile, “the Dalai Lama said with a smile at the beginning of the video.” Despite my old age, my face is pretty pretty, “he said with a laugh.
New Delhi recognizes Tibet as an autonomous region of China, but has several territorial disputes with Beijing elsewhere on the Himalayan border with 3,500 kilometers (2,173 miles).
Relations deteriorated in June last year after the worst clash in decades, when Chinese troops attacked an Indian border patrol with rocks and maces, killing 20. China said it lost four soldiers during this shock.
Tens of thousands of troops remain nearby at various points in the western Himalayas, on the border that crosses the Ladakh of India, a region sometimes called Little Tibet because of its Tibetan culture and predominantly Buddhist religion.
In 2019, when Modi was still pursuing a distension with Chinese President Xi Jinping, his government had asked Tibetans in India not to hold a rally to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the uprising.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen also wished the Dalai Lama a happy birthday, tweeting, “Thank you for teaching us the importance of coming together to help each other in this pandemic.”