New Delhi, March 17: The Centre is understood to have rejected the request for a Bhutan visit by a top Tibetan Buddhist leader on the pretext that he could “meddle” with the clergy in Bhutan.
But sources said the home ministry was concerned the approval for Tai Situ Rinpoche could be construed as a relaxation of curbs imposed because he is seen as a “Chinese agent”.
Tai Situ had found and anointed Ogyen (Ugyen) Trinley Dorje as the current Karmapa. The young Dorje is also viewed as being uncomfortably close to China, although he is recognised by the Dalai Lama.
The fears were reinforced when Rs 8 crore of unaccounted foreign exchange was found in his monastery in Himachal Pradesh in 2011 and some foreigners were arrested. Dorje was booked but the charges were dropped at the request of the BJP government then ruling the state.
The move to block the trip by Tai Situ — whose pro-China image has stuck for over two decades — is seen as part of a larger strategy that shapes New Delhi’s policy towards Tibetan Buddhists and Beijing. The plots and subplots are spread from Tibet to Sikkim, Himachal and Bhutan.
The Dalai Lama has not visited Bhutan, although it has a Tibetan settlement. Sources said the reason could be that Thimphu is not too eager to get entangled in Tibetan matters and consequently in Chinese politics.
Bhutan is also said to be “wary” of Tai Situ’s visit, although he holds a Bhutanese passport. As a child living with the 16th Karmapa, the one who preceded incumbent Dorje, Tai Situ was respected by the then Bhutan king, sources said.
Tai Situ sent the request to Delhi last week asking to be allowed to visit Bhutanese monasteries and then return to India. But the ministry does not want to give the impression that the restrictions on him have been lifted.
In the late 1990s as Tai Situ was visiting China, the security establishment in New Delhi decided to not allow him to return as it saw him as a “Chinese agent”.
The “ban” was revoked following pressure from various quarters but soon security agencies furnished “evidence” that made the government change its mind again. The ministry then decided that if Tai Situ leaves India, he would not be allowed to return.
This time, officials said, Tai Situ has asked for a “no objection” to return. “If he is allowed to visit Bhutan and allowed to return, it would amount to lifting the ban on his movement,” said a senior former IB official.
New Delhi has imposed some curbs on Dorje too — especially on visits to the Rumtek monastery in Sikkim — suspecting him and Tai Situ of being part of a long-term project to ensure “China-friendly” monasteries in the Himalayan region.
But the latest move is likely to be criticised by Himachal leaders, including Congress chief minister Virbhadra Singh, who revere Buddhist leaders. Tai Situ and Dorje, the Karmapa, enjoy similar political clout in Arunachal Pradesh.
Home ministry officials allege Tai Situ visited Hong Kong on a Bhutanese passport earlier, as well as China through Kathmandu. He also holds a Chinese passport and documents to suggest that he is a Tibetan refugee, sources said.
The Bhutan trip damper comes close on the heels of King Jigme Khesar Wangchuk’s visit to India as chief guest at this year’s Republic Day parade. “We do not think that Tai Situ Rinpoche is welcome in Bhutan,” said an official.
According to the website of Tai Situ’s Karma Kargyu sect, he was six when he fled Tibet. He travelled first to Bhutan and then to Sikkim where he “joined” the 16th Karmapa, Dorje’s predecessor. In 1975, he established the Sherab Ling monastery in Himachal, a move seen by New Delhi as a sign of rift with the then Karmapa.