NEW DELHI: The government has decided to continue granting Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama exemption from frisking at airports across the country, even as it has removed Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra from the list of people accorded this privilege.
The Dalai Lama and Vadra were the only two persons in the 33 categories of people exempted from frisking at airports to be considered for review by the civil aviation ministry under the Narendra Modi government.
“The external affairs ministry has informed us that the Dalai Lama will continue to get no-frisking privileges at airports. In a way, they have rejected our proposal of a review on continuing with the spiritual leader’s no-frisking privileges,” said a civil aviation ministry official, who did not want to be identified.
The civil aviation ministry was informed about the rejection in a letter dated December 14, the official said.
The external affairs ministry did not give any specific reason for continuing the privilege to the spiritual leader who has been living in exile in India since 1959. “There is no reason but a letter saying we will continue providing him privileges,” said the official.
Vadra’s name was removed from the list after an approval from the home ministry following his threat perception analysis. Vadra was, however, accorded the privilege only when he travelled with those who are given security cover by the Special Protection Group, including his wife Priyanka Gandhi, mother-in-law Sonia Gandhi and brother-in-law Rahul Gandhi.
The categories of people exempted from frisking were pruned to 32 after Vadra’s removal, as ET first reported in September.
The current no-frisk list includes the President, Vice President, Prime Minister, Union cabinet ministers, leader of opposition, Supreme Court judges, high court chief justices, chief ministers and their deputies, governors, ambassadors and Special Protection Group protectees.
The Dalai Lama recently spoke out on the debate on alleged increase in intolerance in India, reportedly saying in answer to a question that “majority of Hindus believe in religious harmony”. While he did not name any political party, his remarks were seen by some as a veiled attack on the government.
At an event in Bengaluru, though, he reportedly said that India is the best example of religious tolerance, where non-violence and religious harmony was propagated as early as 3,000 years ago.
Dalai Lama is a Designation, Vadra Isn’t.
Being a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family is not a designation but a description. Being a Dalai Lama, on the other hand, not only means being the leader of the Gelug (Yellow Hat) school of Tibetan Buddhism, but also the head of the Tibetan state recognised by India. As a continued host of the exiled Tibetan leadership, India exempts the 14th and current Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso from being frisked in Indian airports. Robert Vadra is not a job title. So the government’s differentiation between Mr Gyatso and Mr Vadra when it comes to getting a pat-down at airport security is correct.
By Mihir Mishra, ET Bureau