a) Tibet is not a card

The government’s bid to ease tensions with China has been met with some criticism, particularly over a leaked memo to officials telling them to stay away from events that commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s 1959 flight to India. This has led to the cancellation of several public events related to Tibet. Much of the criticism stems from the perception that the government is attempting to appease China by giving up its “Tibet card”. Clearly, giving in to China’s aggression on the subject is the wrong pretext to nuance its Tibet policy, and as the government has said, where the Dalai Lama goes within India is a sovereign issue. However, the bigger error may be for the government to be using Tibetan refugees in India as a card in its relations with China.

Deteriorating ties

To begin with, ties between New Delhi and Beijing have deteriorated over the past few years for a number of reasons unconnected to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan population in India: border incursions, including the standoff at the part of Doklam claimed by Bhutan; India’s strategic shift in line with the U.S.’s Indo-Pacific pivot that targets China; China’s ‘deep-pocket’ inroads into South Asia; and differences on the international stage, including over the Nuclear Suppliers Group membership and terror designations to Masood Azhar. It would be simplistic to assume that these problems would go away if India were to make the Tibetan community and its leader less visible. Therefore, while it is a mistake to play every visit of the Dalai Lama or official meeting with the leader of the ‘Tibetan government-in-exile’, Lobsang Sangay, as a ‘challenge to China’, it is equally ridiculous to portray strictures on their activities as a ‘peace offering to Beijing’.

Second, while Indian strategists have handed down the idea of a Tibet card for decades, it is time to revise this policy with a thorough evaluation of the ground, from New Delhi to Beijing and Lhasa to Dharamshala. For starters, the landscape of Tibet, now crisscrossed with railway lines, super-speed highways, tunnels and airports, has changed drastically in the past two decades. While many have written about the Beijing-Lhasa railway line, the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) now sees many more such engineering marvels (albeit at the cost of its environment), and downtown Lhasa has all the trappings of a modern city. All of this has made Tibet more self-reliant, with more jobs for the next generation. There’s an ongoing demographic shift in Tibet, with Beijing populating areas with majority ‘Han’ Chinese workers, encouraging mixed marriages, and mainstreaming Chinese culture into the region. At the same time, the outflow of refugees from Tibet has been curtailed by the Chinese authorities over the last decade, mainly by convincing Nepal to close a popular route. As a result, the number of new arrivals from Tibet into Dharamshala is down to a trickle and the once bustling informal trade route between India and Tibet has also dried up. Bollywood DVDs, once easily available in Lhasa’s bustling markets, have been replaced by Chinese and Tibetan films.

The new reality means that India’s population of the 100,000 or so registered Tibetan refugees are more cut off from developments in their homeland than ever before. New generations of Tibetans born in India are brought up as exiles, without a real sense of what Tibet may actually be like, should they ever return. As most live separately in about 40 settlements around India, they also have a tenuous link to the host country itself. The government’s attitude towards giving them citizenship has been stern, although it lost its case in the Delhi High Court (Namgyal Dolkar v. Government of India) and must give citizenship to all Tibetan refugees born between 1950 and 1987, the cut-off year. It will be equally important to devise a mechanism for those born after 1987, many now in their twenties, living in this limbo.

The bigger question that looms over the community is that of its future leadership. During his lifetime, the Dalai Lama has been a unifying force, guiding the community through their struggle in a peaceful manner, while accepting an autonomous Tibet as a part of China. While his spiritual incarnation will be chosen through a religious process, his political successor presents a more difficult task — he or she needs to be both groomed and publicly presented to the community at the earliest. The Dalai Lama himself has retained an air of mystery on the subject, suggesting at different times that his successor may be a woman, one born in a “free” land, or there may be none at all. Another possible leader, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, recognised by the Dalai Lama as the head of the Karma Kagyu sect after he escaped to Dharamshala in 2000, has been abroad for the past year. A cryptic message from his office says he will remain in the U.S. for “rest and recovery” from undisclosed “health concerns”, with no word on when he may return to India. The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), which is empowered to run affairs and is headed by Mr. Sangay, may be the more democratic option, but it will need to carry the entire community with it. For the moment, the CTA is following a “five-50” path, to pursue talks with China in the next five years, while committing to a struggle for a more autonomous Tibet in the next 50 years. However, the past few years have seen a rise in the younger and more radical “Rangtsen” (freedom) groups that says they will settle for nothing short of an independent Tibet.

As a result, the government’s misgivings about officials attending the “Thank You, India” events with the Dalai Lama are minor compared to worries about the more restive Tibetan Youth Congress’s “Bharat Jagran Yatra”, with rallies in several cities across the country to “raise awareness for a free Tibet”. In his lifetime, there is no question that the Dalai Lama holds sway over the whole community; after him, the direction the community takes will be of vital interest to India as well.

Of equal interest are possible talks between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government. Reports that the Dalai Lama’s special emissary, Samdhong Rinpoche, travelled to Yunnan last year have fuelled rumours that the Dalai Lama is preparing to re-enter talks with China, that were dropped in 2010. Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has now secured his position for the foreseeable future, may well take a more proactive interest in the Tibet issue, which his father once discussed with the Dalai Lama.

Ground realities

In short, the idea that India holds the “Tibet card” is out of step with all the shifts on the ground, and the government needs a proactive policy that takes into account these new realities. There is an urgent need for community outreach, surveys and a referendum, if necessary, to map what the Tibetan community in India wants in its future. For those who want to make India a permanent home, especially those in the new generation, India must reconsider its citizenship laws. Above all, the Indian foreign policy establishment needs to stop seeing the Tibetan population in India as a strategic tool.

b) A first step — on NDA govt.’s Ayushman Bharat

The NDA government’s scheme to provide health cover of ₹5 lakh per year to 10 crore poor and vulnerable families through the Ayushman Bharat-National Health Protection Mission has taken a step forward with the Union Cabinet approving the modalities of its implementation. Considering the small window, just over a year, available before the term of the present government ends, urgent action is needed to roll out such an ambitious scheme. For a start, the apex council that will steer the programme and the governing board to operationalise it in partnership with the States need to be set up. The States, which have a statutory responsibility for provision of health care, have to act quickly and form dedicated agencies to run the scheme. Since the NHPM represents the foundation for a universal health coverage system that should eventually cover all Indians, it needs to be given a sound legal basis, ideally through a separate law. This could be on the lines of legislation governing the rights to food and information. Such legislation would strengthen entitlement to care, which is vital to the scheme’s success. It will also enable much-needed regulatory control over pricing of hospital-based treatments. The initial norms set for availing benefits under the NHPM, which subsumes earlier health assurance schemes, appear to make the inclusion of vulnerable groups such as senior citizens, women and children contingent on families meeting other criteria, except in the case of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe households. The government should take the bold step of including these groups universally; the financial risk can be borne by the taxpayer.

Universal health coverage is defined by the WHO as a state when “all people obtain the health services they need without suffering financial hardship when paying for them”. With its endorsement of the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, India will have to constantly raise its ambition during the dozen years to the deadline. This underscores the importance of raising not just core budgetary spending every year, but paying attention to social determinants of health. Affordable housing, planned urban development, pollution control and road safety are some aspects vital for reducing the public health burden. Unfortunately, governments are paying little attention to these issues, as the quality of life erodes even with steady economic growth. In some of its early assessments on the road to universal health coverage, NITI Aayog advocated a State-specific approach rather than a grand national health system to expand access. But the NHPM has a national character, with States playing a crucial role in its implementation, and beneficiaries being able to port the service anywhere. It is a challenging task to make all this a reality, and the government will have to work hard to put it in place.


1) Appease

Meaning: Pacify or placate (someone) by acceding to their demands.

Example: “Amendments have been added to appease local pressure groups”

Synonyms: Conciliate, Placate

Antonyms: Provoke, Inflame

2) Nuance

Meaning: A subtle difference in or shade of meaning, expression, or sound.

Example: “He was familiar with the nuances of the local dialect”

Synonyms: Fine distinction, Shade

3) Deteriorated

Meaning: Become progressively worse.

Example: “Relations between the countries had deteriorated sharply”

Synonyms: Worsen, Get worse

Antonyms: Improve

4) Standoff

Meaning: A deadlock between two equally matched opponents in a dispute or conflict.

Example: “The 16-day-old stand-off was no closer to being resolved”

Synonyms: Deadlock, Stalemate

5) Pivot

Meaning: A person or thing that plays a central part in a situation or enterprise.

Example: “The pivot of community life was the chapel”

Synonyms: Centre, Focal point

6) Ridiculous

Meaning: Deserving or inviting derision or mockery; absurd.

Example: “That ridiculous tartan cap”

Synonyms: Laughable, Absurd

Antonyms: Serious, Sensible

7) Strictures

Meaning: A restriction on a person or activity.

Example: “The strictures imposed by the British Board of Film Censors”

Synonyms: Constraint, Restriction

Antonyms: Freedom

8) Crisscrossed

Meaning: Form a pattern of intersecting lines or paths on (a place).

Example: “The green hill was criss-crossed with a network of sheep tracks”

9) Downtown

Meaning: In or relating to the central part or main business and commercial area of a town or city.

Example: “Downtown Chicago”

10) Trappings

Meaning: The outward signs, features, or objects associated with a particular situation, role, or job.

Example: “I had the trappings of success”

Synonyms: Accessories, Trimmings

11) Demographic

Meaning: Relating to the structure of populations.

Example: “The demographic trend is towards an older population”

12) Curtailed

Meaning: Reduce in extent or quantity; impose a restriction on.

Example: “Civil liberties were further curtailed”

Synonyms: Reduce, Cut

Antonyms: Increase, Lengthen

13) Trickle

Meaning: A small group or number of people or things moving slowly.

Example: “The traffic had dwindled to a trickle”

14) Bustling

Meaning: (Of a place) be full of activity.

Example: “The streets bustled with people”

Synonyms: Busy, Crowded

Antonyms: Deserted, Inactive

15) Exiles

Meaning: The state of being barred from one’s native country, typically for political or punitive reasons.

Example: “He knew now that he would die in exile”

Synonyms: Banishment, Expulsion

Antonyms: Return

16) Tenuous

Meaning: Very weak or slight.

Example: “The tenuous link between interest rates and investment”

Synonyms: Slight, Insubstantial

Antonyms: Convincing, Substantial

17) Stern

Meaning: (Of a person or their manner) serious and unrelenting, especially in the assertion of authority and exercise of discipline.

Example: “A smile transformed his stern face”

Synonyms: Serious, Unsmiling

Antonyms: Genial, Friendly

18) Limbo

Meaning: An uncertain period of awaiting a decision or resolution; an intermediate state or condition.

Example: “The legal battle could leave the club in limbo until next year”

Synonyms: In abeyance, Unattended to

Antonyms: In hand, Under way

19) Looms

Meaning: Appear as a vague form, especially one that is large or threatening.

Example: “Vehicles loomed out of the darkness”

Synonyms: Emerge, Appear,

20) Incarnation

Meaning: A person who embodies in the flesh a deity, spirit, or quality.

Example: “Rama was Vishnu’s incarnation on earth”

Synonyms: Embodiment, Personification,

21) Groomed

Meaning: Prepare or train (someone) for a particular purpose or activity.

Example: “Star pupils who are groomed for higher things”

Synonyms: Prepare, Prime

22) Retained

Meaning: Continue to have (something); keep possession of.

Example: “Labour retained the seat”

Synonyms: Keep possession of, keep hold of

Antonyms: Give up, Lose

23) Mystery

Meaning: Something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain.

Example: “The mysteries of outer space”

Synonyms: Puzzle, Enigma

24) Cryptic

Meaning: Having a meaning that is mysterious or obscure.

Example:  “He found his boss’s utterances too cryptic”

Synonyms: Enigmatic, Mysterious

Antonyms: Straightforward, Clear

25) Pursue

Meaning: Continue to investigate or explore (an idea or argument).

Example: “We shall not pursue the matter any further”

Synonyms: Conduct, Undertake

Antonyms: Give up

26) Radical

Meaning: (Especially of change or action) relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.

Example: “A radical overhaul of the existing regulatory framework”

Synonyms: Thoroughgoing, Thorough

Antonyms: Superficial

27) Misgivings

Meaning: A feeling of doubt or apprehension about the outcome or consequences of something.

Example: “We have misgivings about the way the campaign is being run”

Synonyms: Qualm, Doubt

Antonyms: Confidence

28) Restive

Meaning: (Of a person) unable to remain still, silent, or submissive, especially because of boredom or dissatisfaction.

Example: “The crowd had been waiting for hours and many were becoming restive”

Synonyms: Restless, Fidgety

Antonyms: Calm, Biddable

29) Rallies

Meaning: A mass meeting of people making a political protest or showing support for a cause.

Example: “A banned nationalist rally”

Synonyms: Meeting, Mass meeting

30) Emissary

Meaning: A person sent by one government or political leader to another to take messages or to take part in discussions.

Example: “He flew to China as the personal emissary of the President”

31) Foreseeable

Meaning: Able to be foreseen or predicted.

Example: “The situation is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future”

32) Proactive

Meaning: (Of a person or action) creating or controlling a situation rather than just responding to it after it has happened.

Example: “Employers must take a proactive approach to equal pay”

33) Referendum

Meaning: A general vote by the electorate on a single political question which has been referred to them for a direct decision.

Synonyms: Public vote, Plebiscite

34) Apex

Meaning: The top or highest part of something, especially one forming a point.

Example: “The apex of the roof”

Synonyms: Tip, Peak, Summit

Antonyms: Bottom

35) Steer

Meaning: Guide the movement or course of.

Example: “He had steered her to a chair”

Synonyms: Guide, Conduct

36) Statutory

Meaning: Required, permitted, or enacted by statute.

Example: “Statutory controls over prices”

37) Endorsement

Meaning: The action of endorsing someone or something.

Example: “The issue of full independence received overwhelming endorsement”

Synonyms: Support, Backing

Antonyms: Opposition

38) Determinants

Meaning: A factor which decisively affects the nature or outcome of something.

Example: “Pure force of will was the main determinant of his success”

39) Affordable

Meaning: Inexpensive; reasonably priced.

Example: “Affordable homes”

40) Erodes

Meaning: Gradually destroy or be gradually destroyed.

Example: “This humiliation has eroded what confidence Jean has”

Synonyms: Wear away/down, Abrade