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23october20105Dharamshala: Jamia Millia Islamia, the National Islamic University in New Delhi, is facing serious objections from central government to its plan to confer an honorary doctorate on His Holiness the Dalai Lama later this month. The ceremony was intended to take place on 23 November.

On Friday, media reported that the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) was blocking Jamia's attempt to honor His Holiness. Jamia's media coordinator, Seemi Malhotra, commented, "The vice chancellor spoke to the Foreign Secretary today, and the University has written a letter to the Ministry seeking a review of their stance".

The foreign secretary told reporters that the "Dalai Lama is a very respected religious and spiritual leader for millions of Indians...The matter is receiving our attention".

The proposed honour comes at a time of heightened tensions between India and China, and ahead of a planned meeting between Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao, on the sidelines of the India-ASEAN summit in Hanoi at the end of October.

It had been speculated that concerns over the state of Sino-Indian relations have motivated MEA's caution on this issue. Last year, China objected to His Holiness the Dalai Lama's visit to Arunachal Pradesh, which it claims as its territory, while Delhi protested Beijing's denial of a visa to Lt. Gen. BS Jaswal.

After a meeting between Singh and His Holiness in August, Beijing lodged a strong protest, while China issued stapled visas to residents of Jammu and Kashmir, apparently questioning India's claim to sovereignty in the region.

On Friday, Rao attempted to calm these tensions: "There is enough space for India and China to grow together".

This latest development emerged after the human resources development ministry had forwarded Jamia's proposal to the MEA for clearance. The MEA responded by stating that the conferral of such an honour would be inappropriate at the present time.

Sources within the university expressed their dismay at this decision: "The Dalai Lama's presence in the campus would have made a positive impact on students". After appealing to the foreign secretary, vice-chancellor Jung said, "She [Rao] assured me that she would be happy to take a fresh look on the matter".

His Holiness has previously received such honours from universities around the world, but Jamia would have been the first Indian university to honour him in this way.

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