Political heavyweights on Sunday kept away from a Buddhist meet which led to diplomatic tensions between India and China and an indefinite postponement of their border talks.
Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, who were listed among the speakers at the opening of the four-day event, did not turn up although Congress leader and ICCR chairman Dr Karan Singh inaugurated it.
The organisers also invited President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh but they had earlier declined it.
The global Buddhist convention will be addressed by the Dalai Lama on Wednesday and China had strongly objected to his presence.
However, a representative of Dalai Lama in New Delhi, made it clear that the congregation was a "purely religious" event with no political overtones.
"This is a purely religious conference. It should not be used by any nation or individual for a political purpose. There is no motivation (for the Dalai Lama) except meeting religious leaders and representatives," the representative, Tempa Tshering, said when asked about the controversy.
He confirmed that the Dalai Lama will continue his programme as scheduled at the conference. He will lead an all faith prayer meet at Gandhi Smriti and attend a gathering of eminent Buddhist leaders on Wednesday.
India's refusal to accede to Beijing's demand to call off the Buddhist meet, had led to a last-minute indefinite postponement of the crucial Sino-India border talks which were to be held on Monday.
While China treats the Tibetan spiritual leader as persona non grata, New Delhi has maintained that he is respectable religious leader and in a democratic country there is no restriction on freedom of speech.
Karan Singh, a Rajya Sabha MP, sought to play down the
issue. "What is new in this? The Dalai Lama has been addressing gatherings for the past 50 years," he said when asked to comment on the controversy.
In a written message on the opening day, the Dalai Lama lauded the meet for laying out an opportunity for a confluence of Buddhist thoughts and traditions but chose not to make any mention of the diplomatic row.
Earlier, Singh batted for the development of a tourist cum pilgrimage circuit encompassing places like Bodh Gaya, Sarnath and Tawang in India and Lumbini in Nepal to bring together places that are of historic significance to Buddhist history.
"India should assist Nepal in developing Lumbini. This when brought together with Gaya, Sarnath and other places will attract thousands of people," he said.
He also hoped the ancient centre of learning of Nalanda, that is being redeveloped with cooperation between India and other countries will again become a great centre of learning.
The convention is being attended over 900 eminent scholars and activists from 46 countries, including the supreme patriarchs and top Buddhist religious leaders belonging to all Buddhist traditions.
Ministers from Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Taiwan and Malaysia are also attending the conference. Lama Lobzang, President of the Asoka Mission, that has organised the event said:
"This is the first time where Buddhist leaders, practitioners, scholars from all over the world have gathered together in the land of the Buddha dharma"