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News: Recently, the Prime Minister inaugurated the Kushinagar International Airport in eastern Uttar Pradesh to facilitate Buddhist pilgrims to reach the important site of the Mahaparinirvana Temple.
The completion of the Kushinagar airport is a significant milestone in the Indian government’s 2016 plan to develop a “Buddhist Circuit”.
The ambitious tourism circuit, will help India to achieve regional objectives.
How the development of Buddhist circuit will help India to achieve regional objectives?
Facilitation of people-to-people diplomacy between the SCO members: Both India and the seven members of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan) share a common Buddhist religious and cultural legacy.
Will counter ongoing Chinese attempts to distrust the Buddhist narrative in the maritime Belt & Road Initiative countries like Sri Lanka, in Himalayan border monasteries in Leh, Arunachal Pradesh, and also in India’s neighbours Nepal and Bhutan.
Neighborhood First policy: Bhutan has about 75 per cent Buddhist Lamaist population, while Nepal has 10 per cent. China had already started to leverage the soft power of Buddhism in these countries to achieve its strategic geopolitical goals. In this context, India’s Buddhist Circuit including Lumbini in Nepal as a pilgrimage site holds great potential in bringing greater ties between India’s neighbours.
Spread of India’s soft power: The spread of Buddhism also coincided with the transmission of secular knowledge from the Indian subcontinent – like traditional Indian medicine (Aayush), manufacturing (sugar) and the astro-sciences into these regions. Most monasteries along the Silk Route during the first millennium were often headed by Indian monks. They hosted merchants, travellers, and tended to the sick using traditional Indian medicine. Even today, amongst the Central Asian Republics (CARs) there is an interest in traditional Indian medicines. Exchanges (research and students) for studying this would be of great interest to these countries.
What steps were taken by India in this regard?
Recently, when India chaired SCO, India hosted the Shared Buddhist Heritage virtual exhibition in New Delhi, where it showcased Buddhist art, tapestry, ritual objects from across this vast Eurasian region.
What is the way forward?
First, Buddhist history, trade and student exchanges, should become truly impactful.
Second, tracing back Buddhism’s living legacy and its archaeological remains in the SCO nations to its roots in India is essential for India’s soft diplomacy.
Source: This post is based on the article “On the path of Buddha and his followers” published in Indian Express on 27th Nov 2021.