TEZPUR (ASSAM): Much water has flown down the Brahmaputra — or Tsangpo (the purifier) in Tibetan — since the Dalai Lama first set foot in Tezpur as
a fugitive head-of-state 50 years ago. Although the foothill town has grown into a prosperous commercial centre, mainly because of huge military installations built after the 1962 conflict, nothing seems to have changed in the embittered terms between the Tibetan leader and Communist China.
The Dalai Lama's ongoing visit to Arunachal Pradesh has revived the "wounding of the monk with words" by Beijing — an exercise that began right after he made his first statement against the annexation of Tibet on reaching Tezpur in the spring of 1959. China had angrily dismissed his first reaction from foreign soil as "a crude document full of lies and loopholes".
Ever since the 75-year-old leader spoke about touring Tawang — the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama — Beijing has upped the ante against him and India. It has not only challenged New Delhi's authority over Tawang by describing the frontier district as its own but has also repeatedly warned him against indulging in "anti-China" activities.
While at Tawang, the Dalai Lama turned nostalgic and gave details of his flight from Lhasa. He also wondered why the Chinese did not pursue him as he fled. Faced with such embarrassing questions, Beijing accused India of ignoring its request to stop the Tibetan leader from visiting the "disputed area".
What this tour, just like his other visits, has proved, is the Dalai Lama's immense popularity across the Himalayas, a fact that may never allow New Delhi to completely distance itself from the Tibetan cause. This despite India's recognition of Tibet as an integral part of China.
People who follow Tibetan Buddhism and support the free-Tibet movement dominate the Himalayas — from Ladakh to Nepal, Darjeeling, Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. The Monpas, in an overwhelming majority in Tawang, not only follow Tibetan Buddhism but also have close historic ties to Tibet. Keeping this in view, Beijing describes Tawang as "southern Tibet".
At Tawang and Dirang, a number of Nepalese and Bhutanese Buddhists were present at his congregations. "The Dalai Lama is our supreme god," remarked Nima Tamang, a Nepalese Buddhist, as she rushed to listen to the Tibetan leader with her husband and children.
Many Buddhists fear that the hostility between Dharamshala and Beijing may further complicate the dispute over the reincarnation of the 11th Panchen Lama, the second most important leader after the Dalai Lama. Tibetans allege that China has imprisoned the Panchen Lama recognized by the Dalai Lama and propped up its own Panchen Lama to divide the Tibetans. "We can't rule out the possibility of such interference by Beijing in the selection of future Dalai Lamas," said a monk from Tawang.