Indian Government Shuns Dalai Lama

The Indian government ordered members of the cabinet to stay away from a ceremony in the capital honoring the Dalai Lama. At the event, the Tibetan spiritual leader decried China's "cultural genocide" of his Buddhist homeland, and called on China's president to achieve harmony in Tibet through the heart, and not the gun. VOA's Steve Herman reports from New Delhi.

Tibet's Dalai Lama has been accorded official meetings in recent weeks with the president of the United States, the chancellor of Germany and the prime minister of Canada. But the Indian government remains skittish about the foreign policy ramifications of its own ministers honoring him.

The central government ordered all Cabinet ministers to stay away from a Saturday event congratulating the Tibetan spiritual leader for receiving the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal.

The chief minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit, was announced as a guest, but she, too, failed to appear.

A letter to ministers sent by the federal cabinet secretary (K.M. Chandrasekhar) called the event "not in conformity with the foreign policy of the government." That was a polite reference to avoiding a diplomatic upset with China, which considers the Dalai Lama a separatist leader.

The Tibetan spiritual leader has been living in India since 1959, after fleeing China's forcible takeover of his homeland eight years earlier. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

At his first appearance here since receiving the U.S. congressional honor, the Dalai Lama reiterated his position that the Chinese occupation is causing "cultural genocide" in Tibet. He complained that Beijing recently responded to peaceful protests in Tibet by bringing in thousands of soldiers with artillery and guns. "President Hu Jintao, his main sort of message or emphasis is 'harmonious society.' I fully support that, it's very good. But genuine harmony must come from heart, not under gun," he said.

While India's current government shunned the gathering, a former prime minister, Inder Kumar Gujral, did attend. He told the Dalai Lama that India shares the honor of the U.S. medal because it expresses the philosophy of modern India's spiritual father, Mahatma Gandhi.

"This inscription on the medal by itself embodies Gandhi in spirit and Gandhi's message, and your presence. And when the Congress presented it to you we felt honored, because we thought that this was a message which was not only given to you, but to the Indian nation also," he said.

Although he originally advocated Tibetan independence, in recent years the Dalai Lama has called for a "middle way," with Tibet achieving autonomy, but under Chinese rule. Discussions between the Dalai Lama's envoys and the Chinese government have been held sporadically since 2002, with no progress reported.