New Delhi: On a day the foreign ministry said India's position on the Dalai Lama is "clear and consistent", Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju refused to comment on the "sensitive issue".
"As an Opposition MP (Member of Parliament), I had stated so many things. But being in the government, it's not proper for me to comment on the subject which has big ramification. You understand very well how sensitive the issue is. I would not offer any comment at this point of time," Mr Rijiju told NDTV when asked if there was a shift in India's position on the Tibetan spiritual leader.
Earlier in the day the foreign ministry said that India's position has not changed after a media report said that the centre has asked officials to stay away from Tibetan functions to mark 60 years in exile of the Dalai Lama since this is a "sensitive time" for India-China ties.
The Indian Express quotes a note sent by the Cabinet Secretary on February 26, which says "senior leaders" and "government functionaries" of the centre and states should stay away from commemorative events planned for March-end and early April by the "Tibetan leadership in India".
The cabinet secretary's note cites advice by Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale who, according to the media report, had particularly mentioned a public event titled 'Thank You India' scheduled to be held in Delhi on April 1. India had given shelter to the Dalai Lama in 1959 when the spiritual leader fled Tibet during an uprising there.
The foreign ministry statement, however, is silent on the note. "He is a revered religious leader and is deeply respected by the people of India. There is no change in that position. His Holiness is accorded all freedom to carry out his religious activities in India," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.
Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the Delhi-based think tank Centre for Policy Research, described the government's stand as "unfortunate".
"MEA didn't protest China's refusal - in breach of two bilateral MOUs (memorandum of understanding) - to share upstream data on Brahmaputra and Sutlej or its cutting off Indian pilgrims' access to two sacred sites in Tibet. And now this, when India should be doing the opposite," Prof Chellaney tweeted.
Late last month, Mr Gokhale, who reportedly held the key negotiations to resolve the 73-day standoff at Doklam, visited Beijing and held talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. His visit was in the backdrop of difficult bilateral and trilateral issues being dealt with by the two countries.
The Doklam standoff ended on August 28 after the Chinese military stopped road building close to the strategic Chicken Neck corridor in an area claimed by Bhutan.
Indian strategic experts saw the Chinese activity along the borders in Doklam and in the Indian Ocean region as an attempt to narrow India's strategic space by penetrating India's neighbourhood.
Amid reports of New Delhi keeping its forces on standby after the Maldives plunged into a crisis last month, it was China that repeatedly warned the international community including India against military intervention in the island nation, declaring that it could complicate the situation.