Buddhist spiritual leader to convene unprecedented talks in attempt to boost religious harmony in emerging economic power
By Jason Burke in Delhi
Aides said the Buddhist spiritual leader was concerned about rising communal tension in India as well as a number of other important issues, from environmental degradation and natural disasters to discrimination against women.
"His Holiness is concerned by the things that are happening. The aim is to come up with an action plan to promote religious harmony," said Gelek Namgyal, a spokesman.
Though aides stressed that the initiative was apolitical, it comes amid concern at increasingly fractious relations between majority Hindu and minority Muslim populations in the country.
In the election campaign this year, candidates from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were accused of playing on deep-seated sectarian prejudices to boost support. Narendra Modi, who took power after a landslide victory in May, told supporters during the campaign that refugees from Bangladesh, who are largely Muslim, should be deported, while suggesting that India was the "natural home" of Hindu refugees. A key aide, Amit Shah, is facing criminal charges of hate speech.
Supporters say Modi believes in true equality for India's minorities by ensuring fair opportunities and development for the country's 1.6 billion people. His critics accuse him of undermining decades of official secularism.
One BJP minister said recently that profits made from slaughtering cattle for export – a trade dominated by Muslims – funded terrorism, while another BJP official said Muslim religious schools were "manufacturing terrorists".
Politicians and activists from a variety of hardline Hindu organisations have claimed that Muslims in India engage in "love jihad", a supposed systematic campaign to convert Hindu women through marriage. Some Christian groups have backed the allegation, which is denied by Muslim community leaders.
Since fleeing to India from Tibet in 1959, the Dalai Lama has scrupulously avoided any intervention in Indian domestic politics. Aides said the meeting had "nothing to do with any political party being in power" and simply stemmed from the Nobel peace laureate's concern for the country which has hosted him for decades.
"Religious leaders have a great role and influence here in India. After living here for so long he wants to do something for this country," one said.
When "politicians disharmonised" it was possible for religious leaders to "bring harmony", the aide explained.
Representatives of all faiths are expected to participate in the meeting this weekend. They include the Hindu guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a senior Shia Muslim cleric, the archbishop of Bombay, and leaders of India's small Jewish community.
At the top of the agenda is "promoting such human values as kindness and compassion, tolerance and forgiveness" and "fostering inter-religious harmony and understanding".
The Dalai Lama, who is revered by his followers as the 14th reincarnation of the Buddha Avalokiteshvara, who achieved spiritual enlightenment, gave up his political functions in 2010.
Beijing considers the 79-year-old, who left Tibet after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule, to be a violent separatist.
The conclave was originally scheduled early this week but would have clashed with the first visit to India of China's president, Xi Jinping. Indian media reported that it was postponed after a request from the prime minister's office.
Modi used his Twitter feed on Monday to issue a statement welcoming Xi to Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat state, which will be the Chinese leader's first stop on Wednesday. Xi is on a week-long tour of South Asian states including the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
"Am sure his visit will strengthen India-China ties. Buddhism is a very strong bond between China & India. In fact, Gujarat too has a very rich Buddhist heritage," Modi tweeted.
Modi has previously been accused of failing to prevent rioting in Gujarat when he was chief minister there in 2002. An estimated 1,000 people, largely Muslims, died in the violence. A supreme court judicial inquiry found no evidence to substantiate the charge.
See original photo and article here: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/15/dalai-lama-inter-faith-meeting-india-rising-tension