Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi let the world know that he has called the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, to wish him a happy 86th birthday, regardless of any potential opposition from China.
Beijing regards the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in northern India for more than 60 years, as a dangerous “separatist” or separatist, and opposes any contact with him.
Indian leaders are usually cautious about public contacts so as not to annoy Beijing, but because India’s own relationship with China is at a low ebb, Modi said in a tweet that he has personally conveyed his best wishes.
“On his 86th birthday, I would like to send greetings to Venerable @DalaiLama over the phone. We wish him health and longevity,” Modi said.
Talking with His Holiness on the phone @DalaiLama Greetings to his 86th birthday. We wish him health and longevity.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) July 6, 2021
Several Indian national leaders then paid tribute to the Dalai Lama, saying that his values, teachings and way of life are enlightening to mankind.
The Dalai Lama thanked his supporters and expressed his gratitude to India, where he has lived in India since he fled his homeland in 1959.
The Dalai Lama said in the video message: “I want to express my deep gratitude to all my friends who truly express their love, respect and trust to me.”
He reiterated his mission to serve humanity and urged supporters to be compassionate.
“Since I became a refugee and now settled in India, I have taken full advantage of India’s freedom and religious harmony,” he said.
He added that he respects India’s secular values such as “honesty, karuna (sympathy) and ahimsa (non-violence)”.
The Chinese army occupied Tibet in what Beijing called “peaceful liberation” in 1950. The Dalai Lama fled into exile after the failure of the uprising against Chinese rule in 1959 and used the hillside town of Dharamshala as its headquarters.
On Tuesday, the Tibetan Administrative Center held a small celebration, mostly government officials. A video message of the Dalai Lama was shown on the projection screen, followed by a cultural performance by the Tibet Performing Arts Institute.
Usually, the birthday of the spiritual leader is a rather complicated event in the town, open to the public who will flock to the Tsuglagkhang Temple where the performance is held. Sometimes, leaders will also appear.
This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the celebrations were held behind closed doors. But banners commemorating his birthday hung on the town square, and Tibetan monks distributed sweets and juice to passers-by outside the closed temple.
“A lot of people really show that they love me. In fact, many people like my smile,” the Dalai Lama said with a smile at the beginning of the video. “Although I am old, my face is still very handsome,” he said with a smile.
New Delhi recognizes Tibet as an autonomous region of China, but there are several territorial disputes with other parts of Beijing on the 3,500 km (2,173 miles) Himalayan border.
In June last year, the two countries had their worst conflict in decades. The Chinese military attacked the Indian Border Patrol with stones and clubs, killing 20 people. The relationship between the two countries deteriorated in June last year. China later said that it lost four soldiers in that conflict.
Tens of thousands of troops are still near several locations in the western Himalayas, on the border across Ladakh, India. This area is sometimes called Little Tibet because of its Tibetan culture and main Buddhist beliefs.
As early as 2019, when Modi was still seeking peace with Chinese President Xi Jinping, his government had asked Tibetans in India not to hold rallies to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the uprising.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen also wished the Dalai Lama a happy birthday and wrote on Twitter: “Thank you for teaching us the importance of uniting and helping each other in this pandemic.”