Karmapa’s Caribbean citizenship cost him Indian recognition

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Karmapa Lama visits Queen's Park

Sources say India never recognised Ogyen Trinley Dorji as the 17th Karmapa, the head of one of Tibetan Buddhism’s four main schools.

New Delhi: India has never recognised Tibetan spiritual leader Ogyen Trinley Dorji as the 17th Karmapa Lama, the head of one of Tibetan Buddhism’s four main schools, sources say.

Ogyen, one of two claimants to the post of Karmapa, is recognised as the head of the Karma Kagyu sect by China as well as the Dalai Lama, the most prominent face of Tibetan Buddhism.

After living in India for close to 18 years, he left for the US last year for medical treatment and took up citizenship of the Commonwealth of Dominica, a decision that reportedly didn’t go down too well with New Delhi.

Explaining his decision, Ogyen had said at the time that he needed to travel often to meet his followers and the Dominica passport, unlike the Indian one, did not need a visa for most countries.

His relationship with New Delhi, which has for years harboured suspicions that Ogyen might be a Chinese spy, is said to have been uneasy since.

Ogyen, government sources said, was issued the same identity papers as the hundreds of other Tibetan refugees in India when he arrived in India via Nepal in January 2000.

According to sources, the fact that Ogyen took up citizenship of another country was seen by New Delhi as a slap in its face, especially as it had treated the Tibetan spiritual leader as an “honoured guest” since his arrival in India as a teenager.

“If we were being transparent and open, then why wasn’t he?” a source asked.

‘In good faith’

The sources said the Karmapa had not informed the government that he intended to take up another citizenship.

“In good faith he ought to have done that…why didn’t he share?” one of them noted.

Now that he is a citizen of the Commonwealth of Dominica, a tiny island in the Caribbean, Ogyen needs a visa to visit India, where the office of the Karmapa is based in Dharamsala.

Sources in the Indian government told ThePrint that New Delhi was willing to issue him a visa to travel to India, but would not say whether it would be a multiple-entry visa or a single-entry one, which would essentially deter him from leaving once he came here.

However, when Ogyen approached the Indian consulate in New York in October to surrender his Indian identity papers in order to apply for a visa, he reportedly failed to do so, with the staff believed to have told him that they “were awaiting instructions from Delhi”.

Asked why the government was refusing to accept the return of his identity papers, the sources pointed out that it was clearly stated in the contractual obligations that if he took another country’s papers, his Indian documents would cease to be valid.

“Once he took the Dominica passport, the Indian papers were cancelled out,” a source said.

A long dispute

The matter of the Karmapa Lama, who has been living in the US for the past year, has been a bone of contention between the Tibetan community and the government for some time.

While the Chinese government has focused its ire on the Dalai Lama, it has watched Ogyen’s movements closely. It is said to be keenly aware that Ogyen escaped from under its nose, which essentially constitutes a major security lapse.

Meanwhile, Delhi hasn’t still quite got over the fact that Ogyen managed to escape from security-obsessed China in the dead of winter in 1999, walking through snow and travelling on horseback with just a few aides.

It continues to treat him with some suspicion, although, over the years, he has been allowed to travel to most parts of the country — the Rumtek monastery in Gangtok, the seat of the Karma Kagyu sect, being the sole exception, given the presence of two claimants.

In late November, he was supposed to return to India to attend a conference of all the heads of Tibetan lineages called by the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, which is why he needed the visa. But the death of a senior lama living in Nepal meant that the conference was postponed indefinitely.

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