NEW DELHI – Buddhists from around the world chose India last week as the headquarters of a new international Buddhist organization, and united in their criticism of the Chinese government for trying to prevent the Dalai Lama from speaking at their meeting here in New Delhi.

It was something of a victory for India in what observers increasingly see as a contest with China for the hearts and minds of the global Buddhist community. India is the land where Buddha gained enlightenment and taught, but China has the largest population of Buddhists today.

The communist government in Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama of trying to split Tibet from China, and such is its distaste for the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism that it demanded the Indian government prevent him from speaking at the Global Buddhist Congregation, held in New Delhi this week.

When the Indian government rejected the demand, Beijing called off talks between leading diplomats from the two countries.

In apparent deference to Chinese sensibilities, India’s President Pratibha Patil stayed away from the event’s opening ceremony. Other leading Indian politicians also failed to show up.

“There is some contest between India and China in this; even if it is not projected explicitly, it is implicit,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, professor of Chinese studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.