I have just returned from an exhilarating trip to Dharamshala (Himachal Pradesh). Some time back H.H. the Dalai Lama had come to my residence at Prithviraj Road, New Delhi. He had suggested then that I visit his place at Dharamshala some day.
I had been wanting for long to visit this place which he has made his home ever since he along with tens of thousands of other Tibetans have been forced to flee Tibet. As I had mentioned in one of my earlier blogs, I had last met the Dalai Lama at Rishikesh during the Kumbh Mela in 2010, and I had been deeply impressed by his innate goodness and more so, by his childlike simplicity. So, when a fortnight back, my Lok Sabha colleague and our party’s Youth Wing Chief Anurag Thakur invited me to come to Dharamshala on 17th May to watch an IPL cricket match between Bangalore and Punjab, I just asked him to find out if the Dalai Lama would be there those days. He checked up and informed me that the Tibetan leader had gone abroad but would be returning on May 16.
A couple of days later he also communicated that if I decide to come for the IPL match on 17th, the Dalai Lama would like to host a lunch for me on May 18. And that clinched my visit to Dharamshala.
On May 17, accompanied by my daughter Pratibha, I booked a flight for Dharamshala, in Kangra District, by a Kingfisher ATR aircraft. We found the plane packed with American boys and girls. We later discovered that they were all Jews from America proceeding to meet the Dalai Lama.
The Kingfisher has two flights daily for the place, and we learnt that that day both the flights carried contingents of American Jews. All of them – a total of 61 as I gathered later – had come to India for the first time, and had planned to visit Israel on their way back.
These 61 Americans on their way back were scheduled to visit Delhi and Mumbai. I invited them to come to my residence for a chat over a cup of tea. They readily accepted the invitation and on May 19 spent over an hour at our residence, learning how the BJP had contributed towards making India develop normal diplomatic relations with Israel.
In early January 1992, I had gone to the United States for the founding conference of the ‘Overseas Friends of the BJP’. The visit took me to about ten different places across the US. Invariably, Jewish groups would meet me and ask me: ‘We are friends of India. We want India to become a strong power and play a major role in world affairs. But why has your country not yet established full diplomatic relations with Israel?’ My reply to them was: ‘My party is fully in favour of full normalization of relations with Israel. But we are not in power. The Congress party, which has been in power for the longest period since Independence, is opposed to it, and so are the communist parties.’
After returning from the US, I went to meet the then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao. I learnt that he was himself leaving for the States in a couple of weeks. After briefing him about my meetings with the American Jewish groups, I said, ‘Narasimha Raoji, before you go, take a bold decision on establishing full diplomatic relations with Israel.’ He replied, ‘I am all for it, but my party is not ready.’
‘I do not understand,’ I said to him, ‘why our policy towards Israel is still trapped in this imaginary apprehension over the reaction of some Muslims in India. After all several Muslim countries are planning to open diplomatic relations with Israel. Egypt and Turkey have already done so. Even Palestinians want to co-exist with Israel. Therefore, if something is in our national interest, we should explain it to people who may be opposed to it. In any case, our foreign policy should be immune to such false considerations of domestic pressure.’ Rao responded by saying, ‘I agree. I’ll do it by forming a group of ministers to make the recommendation so that the decision will have wider ownership.’
He kept his word. He set up a Cabinet GOM. The GOM made a positive recommendation. Today India has normal relations with Israel, fortified immensely during the six years of Vajpayee’s NDA regime.
At the end of the get-together at our residence, a Jewish Rabbi accompanying the group recited prayers for our family.
My first memory of a cricket pitch at a very high altitude is of over forty years ago. I was then Chairman of the Delhi Metropolitan Council. Accompanied by my wife Kamla, I visited Shimla. With Shimla as base, among the places I visited one was Chail where the Chail Palace owned by the Patiala Maharani had been converted into a beautiful Hotel.
Indeed, Chail was once the summer capital of the princely state of Patiala. It came into being when a former Maharaja of Patiala is believed to have been banished from Shimla, the ‘summer capital’ of the Britishers for a dalliance with the Commander-in-Chief’s daughter.
Chail’s famous cricket ground was built in 1893 after levelling out the top of a hill. This stands at about 2500 meters and is one of the highest cricket pitches and polo grounds in the world.
The Chail pitch may have been the highest, but the Dharamshala cricket stadium recently constructed is the most picturesque one can even conceive of. The IPL match between Punjab team (owned by Preity Zinta) and Bangalore team (owned by Vijay Mallya) was very exciting. Mallaya who owns Kingfisher Airlines was on the same plane by which we came and Preity was there throughout the match cheering her team. I said to her Bangalore has already qualified in the last four. Punjab which till sometime back was at the bottom of the IPL Table has now reached number five. So my natural sympathy at this match for which I was invited was with Punjab. And when after a very exciting battle, Punjab actually won, Preity said to me: your coming to see this match has proved lucky for me!
But as I have observed earlier, more significant for us in this trip to Dharamshala than the match itself was a glimpse of the superb cricket stadium created against the backdrop of the snow clad Dhauladhar ranges. All Kudos to the State Government and to Anurag Thakur, President of the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association. In terms of size and facilities the new HPCI stadium is at par with the finest national and international stadia.
The Dalai Lama invited me for a luncheon meeting on May 18 afternoon. Besides Pratibha and me he had invited Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal also. Warmth and simplicity oozes out of every word the Tibetan guru utters. I noticed that he always referred to Dhumal as ‘my Chief Minister’. At this meeting we discussed the issue of Tibet at some length. When after lunch, Pratibha took leave of the patriarch and remarked “I am going shopping,” she felt overwhelmed to hear the Dalai Lama remark “Shopping? Do you need money?”
The Dalai Lama stays in a tastefully adorned bungalow atop Mcleodganj, a cantonment area at an altitude higher than Dharamshala and about ten kms. from the main town. When we took leave of him he gave us a beautiful Tibetan Tankha (Parchment) of Bhagwan Amitayu (Lord for Long Life) and inscribed on it in Tibetan “Most Respected friend Advani ji and Pratibha ji: May all your wishes and desires be fulfilled. My prayers are: may you be successful in the service of the people.”
Newspapers and Magazines continue to carry write-ups and articles on the Osama bin Laden episode. In India Today M.J. Akbar has written a piece titled “With friends like these” in which he has snubbed Pakistan for missing an opportunity which could have helped it wipe out its entire debt.
Writes Akbar: “If Islamabad did know, as some voices now claim, why did Pakistan abjure its sovereign right to arrest Osama and put him on trial, instead of waiting for Americans to find out his whereabouts with inevitable consequences? The idea is redolent with possibilities. If the assassin of Salman Taseer was greeted with rose petals in Lahore and venerated across airwaves, how much adulation would Osama have generated during his trial? Pakistan could have repaid its national debt by charging an admission fee.”
MJ concludes his piece thus: “Obama needs to select his friends with as much care as he has chosen his enemies.”
22 May, 2011