New Delhi: Will Prime Minister Narendra Modi cross paths with the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, later this week at the Indian Science Congress in Manipur?

According to the Manipur University website, they could—between 16-20 March, when the university hosts the 105th Science Congress. And if that happens, it is sure to draw the ire of China, which considers the Dalai Lama a “splittist" and a “terrorist."

Tradition has it that the prime minister addresses the Indian Science Congress. And Modi will be attending the prestigious annual event and speaking to delegates—two people familiar with the developments said.

But this year’s list of chief guests features the three Nobel Laureates—the Dalai Lama, Muhammed Yunus, a professor known for pioneering micro-finance lending in Bangladesh and Japan’s Hiroshi Amano, a physicist and inventor specializing in the field of semiconductor technology.

In the current context, where India is looking to mend fences with China, which strongly objects to any one hosting and or meeting the Tibetan spiritual leader, Modi sharing a stage or meeting the Dalai Lama even briefly will lead to an unravelling of the small steps taken to stabilise ties in recent weeks.

A Tibetan official familiar with the Dalai Lama’s trips said the Tibetan spiritual leader was unlikely to travel to Manipur for the Congress.

If Modi and the Dalai Lama do cross paths, it will come after a reported letter by the Indian foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale to the cabinet secretary P.K. Sinha in which the former had urged Indian leaders and officials to stay away from events marking the 60th anniversary of the flight of the Dalai Lama to India after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet in 1959.

The letter and its contents were reported by the Indian Express earlier this month.

It comes as New Delhi is taking steps to improve ties with Beijing, rocked by the 73-day old Doklam standoff that ended on 28 August.

India is looking to host a high level visitor from China this year—a move that New Delhi hopes will give a momentum to ties. Indian defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman is to travel to China next month. And Prime Minister Modi is expected to visit China in June for the multilateral Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meet.

India’s ministry of external affairs had not commented on the possible crossing of paths by Modi and the Dalai Lama.

China routinely protests travels by the Dalai Lama to different countries in the world and the hosting of the Tibetan spiritual leader by foreign governments.

India allowing the Dalai Lama to stay in the country along with hundreds of thousands of his followers is seen as a major irritant in India-China ties. China views India’s permission for the Tibetan government in exile to be headquartered in Dharamsala with suspicion.

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