Explainer: Why does China want control over Dalai Lama?

New Delhi, IndiaUpdated: Jul 06, 2022, 04:52 PM IST
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File photo: Dalai Lama. Photograph:(AFP)

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This report attempts to understand the history and the institution of the Dalai Lama 

Tibetans celebrated the 87th birthday of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the 14th Dalai Lama, in the north Indian hill town of Dharamshala on Wednesday (July 6). 

The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) of the Tibetan government-in-exile organised the Dalai Lama's 87th birthday in Dharamshala. 

On his birthday, let's talk about why China wants control over Dalai Lama?

To dilute the cultural and religious identity of Tibetans, the key for China is to control the Dalai Lama. And, therefore, China wants to decide who the next Dalai Lama will be. 

This report attempts to understand the history and the institution of the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama is the spiritual head of Tibet and until nine years ago, he was also the political head. 
The institution of the Dalai Lama goes back to the 1400s and it stands on the pillar of reincarnation. Tibetans believe the Dalai Lama has control over his re-birth and he can choose the body into which he is reincarnated.  

The previous Dalai Lama died in 1933 and it took four years to find his successor. The 14th Dalai Lama is now 85 years old and is ailing. 
It is the job of the lamas of Buddhism to find their successor. 

But, China wants to control that process and appoint a pliant Dalai Lama. The US has now made a law which says the Tibetans should be able to decide who the next Dalai Lama should be. 

The second part of the history 

In 1950, China annexed Tibet and for the last 70 years, Beijing has been trying to impose itself on Tibet. 

It has hammered the land's unique identity, interfered with Tibetan Buddhism, attacked monasteries, pushed propaganda and sent Han Chinese into the region. 

But controlling Tibet is not easy for China, legitimising its claim on Tibet is even less. 

The Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government have been in exile for years now. 

When China annexed Tibet, the Dalai Lama fled to India with some thousand followers in 1959. 

Currently, Dharamsala, located in northern India, houses the Tibetan government-in-exile and the Dalai Lama. 

But, China does not recognise his authority.

The Dalai Lama says that his successor may be born in a free country and could be a female.

Traditionally, the Dalai Lama picks his own successor and tells his aides before his death where to look for a child who will be his reincarnation.

According to the Dalai Lama's official website: "The person who reincarnates has sole legitimate authority over where and how he or she takes birth".  

Watch the report here: 

Two Dalai Lamas

This time, the succession may not be so simple and the world may end up with two Dalai Lamas, one picked by China and the other by Dharamsala. 

China views the Dalai Lama as a 'separatist', who is working to split Tibet from China. 

Beijing has poured billions of dollars and shattered the traditional Tibetan monastic order with the weight of Chinese factories. 

The dragon knows that its grip on Tibet can only be tightened if it gets to pick the next Dalai Lama, who would be Tibetan by blood and Chinese by spirit. 

Beijing has called Buddhism an ancient Chinese religion and Tibetans have been jailed for hanging photos of the Dalai Lama on their walls. 

In 1995, China detained a six-year-old Tibetan boy who was recognised as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. 

The boy has not been seen since and Beijing went on to name his replacement and now wants to do the same with the Dalai Lama. 

The spiritual leader knows about the Chinese plan and in 2011, he said that the final authority over his successor is "myself and no one else, and obviously, not Chinese communists".

In 2019, the Dalai Lama said: "In future, in case you see two Dalai Lamas come, one from a free country and one chosen by the Chinese, then nobody will trust, nobody will respect the one chosen by China, so that's an additional problem for the Chinese". 

The stand of US and India

China's problems have only added up for one year and the American legislation definitely comes in the way of Beijing's plan.

India is the home to the Dalai Lama, but officially it recognises the One China policy. 

New Delhi has not commented on America's bill, but its position reflects itself in more subtle ways, like Indian leaders wishing the Dalai Lama on his birthday or India using special forces made up of Tibetan exiles to occupy strategic heights in Ladakh. 

The coming weeks and months will be crucial. 

Will India play its Tibet card more openly? Will other countries call out China in Tibet and stand up for the rights of six million Buddhists living in Tibet. 

China hoped of selecting the next Dalai Lama to silence the world, but it may not seem so simple now.