#> COVER STORY THE DALAI LAMA

Sometime in the mid-1950s, Chinese President Xi Jin­ping’s father, Xi Zhongxun, met the young Dalai Lama of Tibet in Peking, and the two became friends. The Dalai Lama gifted the senior Xi a watch, which he was still wearing in 1980 when an envoy of the by-now middle-aged Dalai Lama, now resident of McLeod- ganj in Himachal Pradesh, met him in Beijing. In the intervening years, Xi Zhongxun had been purged by Mao’s revolutionaries and his son sent to live in a cave to look after pigs. But Xi Zhongxun survived and his son rose through the ranks of the all-powerful Communist Party of China.

This week, en route to the US to celebrate his 80th birthday on July 6 with the powerful Tibetan community in California, the ageing Dalai Lama told india today in an exclusive inter­view that he would like to go home to Tibet—as well as meet his friend Xi Zhongxun’s son, President Xi Jinping.

Some would say that the Dalai La­ma’s overtures to the Chinese govern­ment, through this frank interview, constitutes his most direct statement of interest to reopen talks with Bei­jing. Certainly, the Tibetan leader is pleading for an honourable settle­ment for his people, who have been coarsened and brutalised in the dec­ades since the Chinese forcibly took over the province in 1950.

Others would argue that the Dalai Lama is indirectly admitting that he has few cards left. Or that he is lay­ing them all on the table, in the full knowledge that China has become richer and much more powerful since he fled to India in 1959. The strategic set may contend that that is hardly a smart move; on the other hand a spiritual leader is hardly expected to anticipate the chess manoeuvres of a Communist leader who, in the last two years since he became president, has also assumed the six other most important positions in the Chinese military, party, economy and state.

If this were a direct contest be­tween Tenzin Gyatso, Tibetan Bud­dhism’s holiest man, and Xi Jinping, the contest would surely be over be­fore it started. But what is fascinating in this most unusual challenge is that the Dalai Lama has not only refused to treat the Chinese as his bitter adver­sary, he is in fact counting on the sup­port of the growing numbers of “out­wardly atheist but inwardly spiritual” Chinese Buddhists in civilian as well as military circles—400 million, ac­cording to him, and growing—to tilt the balance just enough so as to give him and the Tibetans a real chance.

Meanwhile, the Chinese continue to reserve a special anger against this elderly monk in maroon robes. They have called him all kinds of names. They have put pressure on govern­

ments, bullied civil societies aim threatened NGOs with revocation aid if they host him, or worse, all him to propagate spectacularly ab­surd mush like peace and happir.- – and brotherhood. But the Dalai Lam. even in his 80th year, continues to b* treated like a rock star, feted alike b j influential people like Barack Oban _ Richard Gere and Desmond Tutu.

Truth is, just as the Dalai Lamt has virtually single-handedly, trat- formed a broken movement-in— ile in 1959 to one recognised by tr world today as having legitimate as­pirations, he is also the only person ■ the world who can upset the Chine- where it hurts, in its soft underbeli

“Despite the fact that he left Tib- . so many decades ago, the Dalai Lam continues to have a large followir: inside Tibet. The Communist Par leadership simply cannot accept a: other organisation or leader bes::- itself which has such a genuine mas – following,” says a former Indian am­bassador to China who did not war to be identified.

MANN Kl BAAT\NHH THE MONK

Interestingly, the only major lead – in the free world who seems to be as circumspect as the Chinese about tr – Dalai Lama is Prime Minister NV endra Modi. A meeting between tr – two on August 20, 2014, ahead Xi Jinping’s September visit to Df –

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