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Why His Holiness the Dalai Lama deserves the Bharat Ratna: India will be honouring its own traditions of Karuna and Ahimsa

No other individual of our time, in my assessment, did more in promoting India's positive image through the thousand-year tradition of compassion (Karuna) and nonviolence (Ahimsa) around the world than His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet.

No individual of the 20th Century inspired more people than Mahatma Gandhi did. He brought back the Indian tradition of Ahimsa (nonviolence) in the arena of political struggle – an idea that changed the world from civil rights movements in the US to the Solidarity movement in Poland and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Albert Einstein, another equally prominent figure of the 20th Century, stated that “Generations to come will scarcely believe that such a man as this one, ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”

Despite becoming the most prominent symbol of peace, Mahatma Gandhi was never awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. There were several hypotheses as to why Norwegian committee members made that omission. One of them was that the Norwegian committee did not want to make the British angry. Whatever the reason/s be, Michael Sohlam, the Executive Director of the foundation, publicly declared that “…We missed a great laureate, and that’s Gandhi. It is a big regret”.

Among several world leaders inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet is one of them. His Holiness has said on numerous occasions that he considers himself as Gandhi’s follower. Time magazine named The Dalai Lama as Gandhi’s spiritual heir to nonviolence. In his acceptance speech, when His Holiness was awarded the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, he paid tribute to Gandhi by saying that “the prize is a tribute to the man who founded the modern tradition of nonviolent action for change, Mahatma Gandhi whose life taught and inspired me.”

A son of India from the land of snow

When speaking to millions of his followers or to a group of small gatherings of influential individuals, His Holiness often identifies himself as a ‘Son of India.’ In his own words, His Holiness said, “I also consider myself as the son of India as every part of my brain cells are filled with ancient Indian knowledge, and my body is because of Indian rice and dal.” Since he escaped from the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959, His Holiness has lived in India for about 62 years now. His Holiness’s four principal Commitments — the promotion of human values; promotion of religious harmony; preservation of Tibetan culture; and reviving ancient Indian knowledge based on the Nalanda tradition, fundamentally promote ancient Indian values, are missions which His Holiness has dedicated his life to.

Whenever he met with some of the most influential world leaders or the general public, he praised and promoted Indian virtues with utmost sincerity and clarity. No other individual of our time, in my assessment, did more in promoting India’s positive image through the thousand-year tradition of compassion (Karuna) and nonviolence (Ahimsa) around the world than His Holiness The Dalai Lama of Tibet. The world recognized his efforts and awarded him some of the most prestigious awards, such as the Nobel Peace Prize (1989), United States Congressional Gold Medal (2007), and several Honorary citizenships from several countries and Honorary Doctorates from many universities. 

Bharat Ratna and His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, has the sole purpose of recognizing individuals who have made “an exceptional service/performance of the highest order in any field of human endeavour.” A number of Indian intellectuals and thinkers have opined that the Tibetan spiritual leader deserves the Bharat Ratna for spreading the message of peace and Karuna all his life.

Shanta Kumar, a senior BJP leader and former Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, submitted to the Indian Government a letter signed by the MPs of several political parties recommending Bharat Ratna for Dalai Lama in 2019. A 2021 nationally representative survey conducted in India by IANS indicates that 62% of Indians support the motion of conferring Bharat Ratna to His Holiness.  

But then why was His Holiness not awarded with Bharat Ratna so far? To put it simply, I would argue that the Indian Government is being over cautious by believing that doing so will trigger a strong response from China. While it may be a practical concern, however, we must be very clear that the purpose of awarding the Bharat Ratna to His Holiness should not be to gain some geopolitical points or to anger China but to recognize His Holiness’s unparalleled contribution toward the promotion of compassion and nonviolence.

Awarding Bharat Ratna to His Holiness to gain or send a political message to China, as opined by some politicians, is not just a practically counter-productive but also disgrace to India’s highest civilian award – Bharat Ratna and definitely not a way to honour His Holiness’s exceptional service/performance of the highest order. 

Does His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet need Bharat Ratna?

True to the principle of ‘Nishkam Karma Yoga’ (the Yoga of Selfless Action) from Bhagwat Gita, His Holiness’ work in promoting ancient Indian thoughts as an Indian ambassador around the world is truly devoid of any selfish motives. His sole purpose is to contribute to the well-being of all beings. Bestowing or not bestowing any recognition/awards to him does not make much sense to him personally. But it contributes positively to the work His Holiness does in promoting human values such as compassion (Karuna) and nonviolence (Ahimsa).

I agreed with veteran BJP leader Shanta Kumar when he said, “by honouring His Holiness with the Bharat Ratna, India will be honouring itself.” Bestowing Bharat Ratna to His Holiness is actually recognizing the Indian tradition of Karuna (compassion) and Ahimsa (nonviolence). 

The Nobel committee regretted not awarding Mahatma Gandhi with the Nobel peace prize. It was loss not for Gandhi but for the ideals of Ahimsa (nonviolence). In awarding His Holiness the with the Bharat Ratna, we assure that Karuna (compassion) is honored in the land where its ideals are honored for thousands of years. Let’s make that happen. In fact, whose accomplishment and contribution are more appropriate to be honored with the peepal leaf-shaped medallion engraved with the Lion Capital of Ashoka than that of His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet? 

 

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Tsewang Rigzin
Tsewang Rigzin is a Fellow at Columbia Population Research Center and Social Policy analysis doctoral candidate at Columbia University, USA. He is the author of the book "Exile Tibetan Community: Problems and Prospects" (LTWA, 2016)

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