In 2025, His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama will turn 90. I think the Government of India should grab the opportunity to honour His Holiness with India’s highest civilian award, the 'Bharat Ratna' on this occasion.
Why Does the Dalai Lama Deserve the Bharat Ratna?
On 23rd March, 2021, Tsering Yeshi and Chime Tamdin kicked off their All-India Bike Rally to urge the Government of India to confer its highest civilian award upon His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama of Tibet. This particular campaign, to my mind, is a gentle reminder for the Government of India to recognize the contributions of His Holiness to the entire world and to India in particular. His Holiness has consistently stated that he is a son of India — promoting India's timeless civilizational values like Ahimsa and Nalanda-based Buddhist Traditions around the world. He also jokingly says that his body is made up of Indian rice and lentils (Daal). So, shouldn't the Government of India honour her son and her longest serving guest?
When His Holiness visited India in 1956 to commemorate the 2500th Birth Anniversary of Buddha, His Holiness was honoured 'Doctor of Letters' — his first ever honour received abroad — from Banaras Hindu University in 1957.
(Left: His Holiness receiving 'Doctor of Letters' from Dr. V.S Jha, Vice-Chancellor of BHU, 1957. Photo Courtesy: TIME; Right: Image 2 BHU Library Visit: His Holiness visited Library on 23rd December 1956)
Indians asking for the Bharat Ratna for Dalai Lama
Not only Tibetans, but even some towering Indian leaders along with the Indian public have been asking for the 'Bharat Ratna' to be conferred to His Holiness. For instance, When Gopalkrishna Gandhi — grandson of Mahatma Gandhi — wrote a piece titled "Bharat Ki Jarurat Hain Dalai Lama" (The Dalai Lama- A necessity for India) published in a Hindi daily, Bihar's Chief Minister Nitish Kumar endorsed the former's plea by a tweet: "I agree with Gopalkrishna Gandhi's write-up titled "Bharat Ki Jarurat Hain Dalai Lama".
The erstwhile Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, Shri Shanta Kumar, publicly demanded 'Bharat Ratna' for His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama during a book launch ceremony held at Tsuglagkhang (commonly known as the Dalai Lama Temple) in McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala on 1st November 2016. His book titled 'Red Shadow on Himalayas' was launched by His Holiness at this launch. During the launch, he said:
"The Dalai Lama is spreading the message of peace through Buddhism in the world, and I demand that the Government of India honour the spiritual leader with the Bharat Ratna."
If my memory serves me right, he became a pioneer in this campaign asking the Government of India to confer her highest civilian award on His Holiness. Later, he even wrote a letter addressed to Prime Minister Modi asking the same demand. Whether his letter was responded to or not is yet to come to the public's knowledge.
On 15th April 2019, The Parliamentary Forum for Tibet consisting of 200 current and former Members of Parliament presented a memorandum to Home Minister Rajnath Singh (currently Defence Minister) asking the centre to confer the award on His Holiness. Shri Shanta Kumar — a member of the forum — said in a press release that "His Holiness' contribution has been acknowledged across the globe. He was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. The parliamentarians have made a conscious decision to demand Bharat Ratna for him."
During the 6th All India Tibet Support Groups' conference held on 15th-16th June 2019, as many as 216 Indian delegates and supporters of the Tibetan cause leaders like Shri Rinchen Khandu Khrimey congregated. During the event, Dr Anand Kumar proposed the following:
"The Dalai Lama as a holy ambassador of Indian culture enriched with non-violence, compassion and religious harmony to the world. And because of his immense contributions in creating goodwill for India in the last six decades, we propose for the country’s highest civilian honour ‘Bharat Ratna’ to His Holiness."
Recently, even an IANS-C Voter poll surveyed whether the Government of India should confer her highest civilian award on His Holiness. A whopping majority of 62.40% supported the idea of conferring the 'Bharat Ratna' on His Holiness. Such consistent support stands testament to the appropriateness of the award for His Holiness.
Bharat Ratna can be awarded to non-Indians as well
The 'Bharat Ratna' — the highest civilian award of India — was instituted in 1954 and any person without distinction of race, occupation, or sex is eligible for the award. So far, 45 great personalities were awarded this prestigious award. The nature of the award does not limit it to Indian citizens alone. Out of 45 Bharat Ratna recipients, there was a naturalised Indian citizen recipient — Mother Teresa, and two non-Indian recipients namely Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Nelson Mandela. Thus, many Indian leaders and scholars believe that His Holiness also deserves this award as well.
Prof. Srikanth Kondapalli in his interview to Tibet TV's Weekly Analysis said:
"I think as the spiritual guide for Buddhism, and also he has been very close to Indian people. Through his message of non-violence and peace, His Holiness has resurrected Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, and other proponents of non-violence. In light of this, it is appropriate for the Indian Government to confer the highest award."
Today, His Holiness is regarded as a peace-icon around the world. Therefore, the Bharat Ratna is as much an honour as an endorsement of India’s timeless values in today's world.
Will conferring the Bharat Ratna to His Holiness irk the Chinese Government?
The United States of America didn't pay heed to China's furious objections when they conferred the US Congressional Gold Medal — its highest civilian award — to His Holiness in 2007. The Gold Medal was given in "the recognition of His Holiness' many enduring and outstanding contributions to peace, non-violence, human rights and religious understanding". That was completely based on humanitarian grounds and has no bearing on China’s fundamental interests.
Keeping a view of Indo-China border disputes, the Government of India, perhaps, finds it quite difficult to accept the demands made by fellow Indians on conferring the highest civilian award on His Holiness. However, China does not have any right to interfere in India's domestic matters. The conferring of Bharat Ratna to His Holiness may crop-up some unsavoury situations between the two nations. On the other hand, it will send a huge message to the Chinese Government about India's sovereignty and the values India has upheld for centuries. During the ongoing tension due to the Indo-China border conflict, even the RSS — the ideological counsel to the ruling party BJP — wants the Indian Government to send out a strong message to China by conferring India's highest civilian award.
Ramchandra Guha, one of India’s best-known historians, says that “I think our love and regard for the Dalai Lama should be affirmed not merely by the Indian public but by the Indian government as well. For one thing, he should be awarded the Bharat Ratna, which he deserves more — far more — than many past recipients”. This affirmation reflects how the conferring of the Bharat Ratna on His Holiness could mean a lot to India's century-old values, especially Atithi Devo Bhava — Guests are equivalent to Gods, considering His Holiness has been under India's shelter for the past 62 years. A Bharat Ratna for His Holiness would stand testament to India’s continued commitment to its civilisational values- of tolerance, peace, brotherhood and acceptance.
(Yeshi Dawa is the former Academic Administrator at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. He is currently an Affiliated Fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute and an Anchor at Tibet TV, the Central Tibetan Admnistration's Web-TV Station. You can contact him through us at firstname.lastname@example.org , and follow him at @yd_tweets)