It’s often ironic how the measures undertaken by a government to sideline and almost obscure an issue can turn on it itself and instead, accentuate it. Unfortunately for India, this is exactly the case. As this year's host of the annual BRICS summit, India is definitely the center of attention—but neither for its economic progress nor for its extolled hospitality. Instead, following Tibetan activist Jamphel Yeshi’s self-immolation amid protests against Chinese President Hu Jintao’s arrival in New Delhi, all eyes have turned towards India’s increasingly abstruse stance on the Tibetan-Chinese issue.
Dharamshala, a city in northern India, is currently home to the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan government-in-exile and approximately 200,000 exiled Tibetans. Having fled to India in 1959 in promise of freedom of speech and religion, this community has always hoped to enjoy the same democratic rights granted to all Indians. However, with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent statement asserting that India “recognized Tibet as an inalienable part of Chinese territory and will not allow Tibetans to engage in anti-China activities,” not only has India’s ambiguous political game come into question but also its seemingly hypocritical commitment to its democratic constitution.
In hope of a peaceful and well-executed BRICS exhibition, Indian authorities have arrested almost 250 Tibetan activists during recent protests as well as placed New Delhi’s Tibetan community under house arrest. As we all know, this is not the first time either. A breach of democratic rights? Evidently, yes. But in what is this ambiguity rooted? The timely coincidence between India’s improving economic relations with China and its problematic role as protector to the Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile has forced India into an arduous fix. While on one hand China has expressed it appreciation towards India’s position, on the other, the international community remains critical of India’s inconsistent democratic efforts.
Therefore, is this a matter of economic gain versus democracy? Perhaps the issue is not as clear-cut as that. However, what is clear is that India’s way of dealing with such politically charged protests has once again put its wavering approach to democracy under the spotlight. Too often ready to forsake democratic rights in the name of social stability or economic benefit, perhaps India needs to take a moment and assess the many trade-offs prevalent in its ambiguous political game.