Reopening of Kailash Mansarovar Yatra would strengthen bilateral relations
Abhishek Pratap Singh
The bilateral relations between India and China are not in ‘good shape’, due to the stand-off between the two countries at strategically important and until-now obscure Himalayan territory at the trijection of India, China, and Bhutan. As per the news reports the exact place of impasse is near the Doka La Pass in Doklam near Sikkim.
One of the immediate repercussions of the stand-off has been China’s denial of the entry to Indian pilgrimages on June 23 citing damage to roads, forcing several people to return to Sikkim’s capital Gangtok. Given these developments Indo-China relations remain an interesting subject of observation for the scholars of China studies in India and abroad.
The kind of ‘preventive engagement’ between both sides and still surviving ‘trust deficit’ has much role to play towards this dynamism. Moreover, the strong ‘anti-China constituency’ in India often finds rationale with its arguments due these incidents at the border. Unlike the previous incursions this time the escalation of despite has reached new heights.
Meanwhile as the impasse continues, the highest leadership of both the states met at SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation), first such meet after the full time membership was granted to India. According to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Government of India noted that leaders of both the countries had discussions on ‘range of issues’. A Chinese daily noted that, “despite recent frictions at the border the participation of India, reflects that relations remain unaffected by this”. However, despite the shortcomings bilateral relations has seen an upswing considering some recent developments in terms of increased cooperation between both on global climate change talks, management of North Korean crisis, stability in Afghanistan, reform in global financial governance system, cooperation under multilateral institutions like BRICS and SCO. Interestingly, the bilateral relations can not be seen within the framework of ‘zero sum game’ since both the states are sincerely striving to uphold their ‘national interests’ which might not often find ‘strategic convergence’ between the objectives of their conduct of diplomacy.
In the given context of bilateral relations, the successful completion of third successive year of Kailash Mansarovar Yatra 2016, between both the countries would certainly have been a moment of positive significance for bilateral relations. Earlier the yatra used to be conducted via Lipulekh, Uttarakhand pass but the opening of new route via Nathula pass, Sikkim (June, 2015) has been hailed as ‘good gesture’ from Chinese and in due recognition to the fact of ‘building cultural ties’ across the Himalayan range.
Kailash, the holy mountain, is located in Tibet, the autonomous region of China. For Indians, Mansarovar Yatra holds key religious and spiritual significance. According to Hindu classical texts and beliefs, a ‘holy dip’ in the Mansarovar and completion of the parikrama of Mount Kailash makes a devotee absolved of its sins and is considered as a liberation from the cycle of birth and death. This experience makes an individual to realise ‘state of oneness’ causing all ‘sensory activities’ being ceased to exist. It makes the ‘holy unification’ with sacred Brahmin (Atman) the ultimate soul represented by Mount Kailash as Lord Shiva.
Both the countries had signed a ‘bilateral agreement’ on the alternative route via Nathula Pass during Chinese President Xi Jinping”s much ‘celebrated visit’ to India in September, 2014. While the opening of new route through the Himalayan Pass of Nathu La in Sikkim, 4,000 metres above sea level, was officially announced during Prime Minister Modi”s visit to China. The border trade via Nathu La Pass was opened in 2006 under the Vajpayee Government.
The new route offers a different experience in comparison to Lipulekh Pass, which mostly comprises of tough terrain, inhospitable condition and high trekking. The new route reduced the ‘pilgrimage time’ from more than 20 days to about 8 and also enabled pilgrims to travel the 1,500 km-long routes from Nathu La to Kailash by buses. These modalities particularly count for the elderly yatris. Noting the importance of new route, External Affairs Minister Smt. Sushma Swaraj said, “The route via Nathula Pass is completely motorable so now people can just take a vehicle to reach there.” Moreover, “It is not only a big event for the yatris, but also a milestone in Indo-China relations”, said Le Yuchung, the then China’s Ambassador to India.
When the yatra began on the new route due to the efforts of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China and the Chinese Embassy in India, Le Yuchung was personally present there to greet and welcome the first batch of yatris in June, 2015. In addition, Chinese side also offered every yatri from India a ‘pilgrimage gift bag’, which included dawn coats, hats and blankets in order to facilitate the comfort of yatris. It also witnessed efforts from Chinese side in the form of building four stay points, necessary makeshift facilities and other related amenities in order to provide the yatris from India a peaceful, clean, comfortable and life learning experience.
It is well to acknowledge that these ‘people centric initiatives’ provide strong bonds for interaction between both the ‘civilisational states’. Interestingly, it also proves to be a new gesture towards consolidation of the cultural foundations and inject ‘positive synergy’ in the Indo-China relations.
Given the context of present frictions in bilateral relations between both, the reopening of Kailash Mansarovar Yatra will surely offer new source of cultural synergy and confidence in bilateral relations between India and China. While China has refused to give reasons for not allowing pilgrims on the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra to cross the border, saying the two foreign ministries are discussing the issue. There are reports that China might consider opening of yatra in the near future. The rhetorical editorial columns from both sides cannot be allowed to downplay the long term goal of ‘developmental partnership’ between both the states as desired by their leadership. India firmly believes in ‘civil military relations’ where Supreme Commandership rests with His Excellency the Presidency of India.
The successful completion of Mansarovar Yatra, 2017 will infuse ‘timely contribution’ to bring back on track bilateral relations between both the countries. With great power comes great responsibility. China must show the ‘strategic maturity’ and a sense of easiness and de-hyphenation in relation to India. To quote great Chinese philosopher Confucius, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” n