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Sikkim CM alleges former state govt. coerced Karmapa’s exit from India

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CM of Sikkim Prem Singh Tamang in an undated photo (Photo/PTI)

By Tenzin Nyidon 

DHARAMSHALA, April 15: Ahead of the 2024 Indian Lok Sabha election, the anticipated return of the revered Buddhist figure, the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, to India has become a prominent theme in political campaigns in the state of Sikkim. Prem Singh Tamang, the incumbent Chief Minister of Sikkim, alleged on Wednesday that the previous ruling party of the state, the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) led by Pawan Kumar Chamling coerced the 17th Karmapa to leave India by unjustly labelling him a Chinese agent.

Tamang promised the crowd that the government would support a pilgrimage for 4,000 Buddhist monks to Commonwealth of Dominica to receive the blessings of the Karmapa. He criticised the former CM Pawan Kumar Chamling for supposedly pledging to send 4,000 lamas to the Commonwealth of Dominica to meet with Karmapa, calling it deceptive.

In August 2020, CM Tamang reportedly wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking the Indian government to allow the 17th Karmapa to return to India, as reported by The Week. He informed PM Modi that Sikkimese and Buddhist devotees were urging him to let the Tibetan spiritual figure come back for religious commitments.

Tamang reminded PM Modi that Karmapa was granted asylum by PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2000. He mentioned that restrictions were later placed on his movement within the country, preventing his visit to Sikkim despite popular demands from devotees. He also acknowledged that it was the Modi government that lifted these restrictions in 2018, except entry into the Rumtek Monastery, and expressed gratitude on behalf of the people of Sikkim for removing such barriers. Furthermore, Tamang stated that the public demand for Karmapa’s visit has been growing and urged Modi to consider allowing the Tibetan spiritual leader entry into India as soon as possible.

The former CM Chamling during his chief-ministership reached out to the then External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, asking for permission for the 17th Karmapa to visit the north-eastern state. “I have written a letter to Sushma Swaraj seeking her assistance and cooperation in permitting the 17th Karmapa, His Holiness Ogyen Trinley Dorje, to visit any monastery in Sikkim, if not Rumtek Monastery, to bless our people,” Chamling stated in an interview. He emphasised that the Karmapa’s visit would fulfill the longstanding demand of the people and the Sikkim government.

The Karmapa obtained a passport from the Commonwealth of Dominica in 2018 to make traveling easier after facing restrictions on movement in India. He serves as the head of the Karma Kagyu School, one of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetans and Buddhists in India have been advocating for his return to India where the bulk of his followership is based.

Rumtek Monastery, also known as the Dharmachakra Centre in Sikkim, is considered the main seat of the Karma Kagyu lineage in exile and has become a focal point of a long-standing dispute within the sect. Despite being in exile, the spiritual leader of the Kagyu lineage has not been permitted to visit the monastery.

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