Dharamsala: Amid relations between India and China worsening in the recent months and in a strategic shift, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday made a clear-cut departure from the policies of the successive governments of 'making distance' of sorts from the Tibetan spiritual leader by extending greetings to him on his 86th birthday.
"Spoke on phone to His Holiness the @DalaiLama to convey greetings on his 86th birthday. We wish him a long and healthy life," Modi informed in a tweet.
Beijing regards the Dalai Lama, who is based in the northern Indian hill town Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh, as a "separatist". It is sensitive to him meeting international leaders, attending official functions or visiting places at the invitation of the Indian government.
Responding to this development, geostrategist Brahma Chellaney said in a tweet: "I posted my earlier tweet a bit early!
"Modi has done well to greet the Dalai Lama on his birthday. The Dalai Lama is the world's most-revered living Buddha. China is waiting for him to die so that it can install a puppet, a plan the free world must foil."
Political observers told IANS making a public announcement by the Prime Minister regarding extending greetings to the Dalai Lama was an important strategic shift from New Delhi as on earlier occasions the government used to avoid such gestures to avoid upsetting China.
According to the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), His Holiness has travelled across 60 countries on 300 different occasions and has met over 490 world leaders, including presidents, prime ministers, chief ministers, judges, leaders of political parties, and spiritual leaders of different religious traditions.
The Nobel Peace laureate has also delivered speeches at over 60 renowned universities and research institutes and has received over 140 awards, including 50 honorary degrees in the US alone.
The Dalai Lama is also the recipient of over 150 global awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize, UN Environment Award, US Congressional Gold Medal, John Templeton Award, etc.
In a video message on his 86th birthday, the spiritual leader, who believes tough times do not last, but happiness does, appealed to his friends to keep non-violence and compassion in the rest of their lives.
Saying he is just a human being, the Buddhist monk, who along with many of his supporters fled the Himalayan homeland and took refuge in India when Chinese troops moved in and took control of Lhasa in 1959, said many people showed they love him.
"And many people actually love my smile," said the Dalai Lama with laughter, his secret weapon.
"In spite of my old age, my face is quite handsome. So many people really show me genuine friendship. Now this moment is my birthday, I want to express my deep appreciation of all my friends who have really shown me love, respect and trust. I want to express my thanks," he said.
The Dalai Lama's book, 'Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World', published by US-based Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2011, says: "I am an old man now. I was born in 1935 in a small village in north-eastern Tibet. For reasons beyond my control, I have lived most of my adult life as a stateless refugee in India, which has been my second home for over 50 years. I often joke that I am India's longest-staying guest."
The Tibetan exile administration, known as the Central Tibetan Administration and headed by democratically elected Penpa Tsering, is based in Dharamsala.
Addressing the function to mark His Holiness birthday in Dharamsala, Tsering called on China to recognize His Holiness as the key to resolving the Sino-Tibetan conflict and earnestly invite the Dalai Lama to Tibet and China on pilgrimage without any preconditions.
"His Holiness the Dalai Lama is one of the foremost guides of our time and is one of the few individuals who can reorient Sino-Tibetan history toward a positive direction. The Chinese government should therefore recognize that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the key to resolving the Sino-Tibetan conflict," he said.
"It should utilize the opportunity offered by the mutually beneficial middle-way approach to foster a harmonious environment where Tibetans and Chinese can co-exist amicably. Therefore, we appeal to the Chinese government to earnestly invite His Holiness to Tibet and China on pilgrimage without any precondition,"