KATHMANDU: He commiserated with the people of Nepal over the massacre of its royal family in 2001 and still earlier, helped the government of Nepal see an end to fierce guerrilla warfare against its powerful northern neighbour. But despite his real – though unacknowledged – contribution to peace in Nepal, the Dalai Lama, Buddhism’s most famous disciple alive, remained a pariah in the birthplace of the Buddha with his followers not allowed to pray for his long life and health on his 75th birthday on Tuesday for fear of angering China.
"Over 350 Tibetans were detained by Nepal police while trying to attend the prayer meeting today on the occasion of His Holiness’ 75th birthday," said a doleful Tibetan journalist, who declined to be named. "There were extraordinary security measures to deter Tibetans from attending the mass meeting and we were not allowed to pray at the traditional public Buddhist places like Boudhanath, Swayambhunath and Pharping."
To underscore its distance from the Dalai Lama, the caretaker government sent instructions to the parliament secretariat, asking the 601 members of parliament not to attend the subdued ceremony that was held at the Jawalakhel Tibetan refugee camp in Lalitpur district. The order came after Nepal’s President, Dr Ram Baran Yadav, and Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala earlier this year accepted invitations to attend celebrations at a Buddhist monastery but were hurriedly forced to cancel them after a red-eyed Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu objected fiercely.
However, though none of the Nepali MPs attended the nearly three-hour prayer meeting, three of Tibetan People’s Deputies, members of the Tibetan parliament in exile, came to offer their allegiance and best wishes to the Nobel laureate and a message from the Tibetan cabinet based in Dharamshala was read out. Two former members of Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission were also present and one of them, Sudip Pathak, said the Dalai Lama should be allowed to visit Nepal on purely religious grounds.
Lumbini in southern Nepal, the birthplace of the Buddha, remains one of the most venerated sites for Buddhists and though the Dalai Lama has been known to be eager to visit the shrine, he has not made any move for fear of being rebuffed. Though living less than an hour’s flight away from Lumbini, the exiled Tibetan leader visited it only once in 1987 after an extraordinary gesture of goodwill shown by the then king Birendra Bir Bikram Shah.
The north of Nepal, adjoining Tibet, had remained restive since the 1950s after China invaded and captured Tibet, forcing the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, to flee secretly to India after a failed uprising by Tibetans in 1959. Tibetan warriors, trained by the CIA and India, continued to resist Chinese occupation by making quick attacks from Mustang in northern Nepal. The resistance stopped after the Dalai Lama, realising the futility of the forays, sent word to the loyal Khampa warriors to end the guerrilla war.
The gesture saved Nepal from China’s wrath and possible retaliation and King Birendra allowed Tibetan refugees to proceed to India through Nepal without harassment. He also allowed the Dalai Lama to pay a low-key visit to Lumbini. However, things changed drastically after Birendra’s successor, his brother Gyanendra, sought to seize absolute power with China’s blessings. King Gyanendra caused the closure of the office of the Dalai Lama’s representative in Kathmandu and sought to shut down a centre for Tibetan refugees as well.
Ironically, Gyanendra himself fell from grace in 2006 and his birthday that year faced almost the same crackdown that greets the Tibetan leaders with the new government as well as diplomats based in Nepal boycotting the event. Today, four years later, the deposed king has been reduced to a tax-paying commoner who will celebrate his 63rd birthday quietly at his private residence in Kathmandu on Wednesday while the Dalai Lama’s birthday continues to be celebrated around the world.