[26 April 2011] An opinion piece by a British-based Tibetan on the Dalai Lama's recent decision to retire from politics and the potential impact on the Tibetan community and their continuing struggle for freedom.
Securing Tibetan people’s interests: The Dalai Lama knows best
By Tsering Passang (London)
26 April 2011
“The Fourteenth Dalai Lama will be compelled to do this at whatever cost to Tibet; and, paradoxically, the only way by which he might ultimately betray his people is by refusing to do it.”
(From: ‘The Presence of Tibet’ by British author, Lois Lang-Sims, 1963)
In the midst of the political turmoil in northern Africa and the Middle-East, Kyabgön Gyalwang Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, chose March this year to formally declare his ultimate decision of radical yet progressive political reforms for a better future for Tibet.
The successive Dalai Lamas have inherited the political leadership over Böd Gyal-khab (Tibetan Nation) after the founding in 1642 of the Böd-zhung Ganden Phodrang (Ganden Phodrang Government of Tibet). Today, Tibetans on both sides (in Chinese-occupied Tibet as well as those in exile) have unshakable and deepest faith, respect and above all complete trust in the 14th Dalai Lama.
For over 360 years of successive Dalai Lama rule, the Tibetan Government in Exile (otherwise known as the Central Tibetan Administration, now based in Dharamsala) is not only the continuation of the Böd-zhung Ganden Phodrang in independent Tibet, but this is the unbroken legitimate government and the true representative of the Tibetan people both in and outside Tibet, regardless of the current illegitimate rule by the Chinese Communist Party.
Last month in Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama vividly explained the reasons behind his firm and “final” decision to end the political authority of the Ganden Phodrang (also known as the Dalai Lama Institution), which would “benefit Tibetans in the long run”. His Holiness chose to voluntarily and gracefully hand over political power to leaders elected by the people.
We should note that it is His Holiness who first introduced democracy to the Tibetan people over 50 years ago. There is no question that the Tibetan people are immensely indebted to His Holiness for over six decades of compassionate leadership – both temporal and spiritual.
The Dalai Lama knows best
Many Tibet watchers have called this latest development a ‘smart move’ on the Dalai Lama’s part, whereas, Beijing immediately flogged out its unsurprising rhetoric by accusing His Holiness of playing “tricks to deceive the international community”. For the Tibetan people, His Holiness the Dalai Lama knows the best way forward. Political leaders must put their people’s interests first, which is exactly what the Dalai Lama has done in this case. However, the Chinese leadership has not only failed to ignore the Tibetan people’s needs but completely vilified the Dalai Lama. For this very reason, the Chinese Communist Party will never be able to represent the true wishes of the Tibetan people and claim to legitimate rule over the Tibetan Nation is therefore only a wild dream.
It should also be noted that the Dalai Lama’s decisive shift comes at a time when the Chinese leaders in Beijing deliberately back-tracked after nine rounds of dialogue between His Holiness’s Envoys and the Chinese representatives (from 2002 to 2009). During this time China has steadfastly refused to give any credence to the Dalai Lama’s ‘Middle-Way’ Approach. Though the ‘Middle-Way’ has the strong backing of the current Tibetan Parliament and Kashag (Tibetan Cabinet) this could change in coming years with a new leadership in place.
There is no doubt in the minds of the Tibetan people that the 14th Dalai Lama is the most compassionate and one of the greatest reformers amongst all the Tibetan leaders in history, despite His Holiness enjoying very little ‘physical jurisdiction’ over his people inside Tibet. In view of the current reality, Tibetans in Tibet still look towards His Holiness in India as their future hope and saviour. His Holiness has seen four successive Chinese presidents, and will see more in the years to come, presiding with absolute power over a country with the world’s largest population of 1.3 billion people.
We know that our just struggle is passing through a very difficult period of Tibetan history. His Holiness is well aware that the Chinese Government has poured billions of Chinese Yuan into Tibet over the past 60 years, ever since their occupation of the Tibetan lands. His Holiness knows the huge influx into the Tibetan areas of millions of Chinese migrants, including PLA troops, not only encourages ‘cultural assimilation’ but also increases the exploitation of Tibet’s rich natural resources. The Tibetan Leader also knows that the Chinese Communist Party is responsible for the continued destruction of Tibet’s fragile ecology, threatening the livelihoods of not only the Tibetans but the two billion people who rely on Tibet’s glacial waters.
These are all in addition to Beijing’s deliberate policies to subdue the Tibetan people’s wishes and their basic rights in exercising universal freedom of speech, religion and human rights. Even displaying devotion to His Holiness the Dalai Lama in public places in Tibet is not only forbidden but subject to serious penalties. Beijing’s so-called “50 Years of Democratic Reform in Tibet”, pompously celebrated in 2009, showcased its full colonial power in Tibet. The Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) has yet to see the appointment of a Tibetan as Party Secretary. All TAR Party Secretaries to date have been Han Chinese. This says it all!
Supporting the Dalai Lama’s wishes
During a meeting with British Members of Parliament at Westminster in London in May 2008, His Holiness said that he was on “semi-retirement” from the exiled Tibetan political leadership and was looking forward to “complete retirement”. Later that year, I penned an article entitled, The China-Tibet Conflict: Need for Historic Decisions, in which I made a reference to His Holiness’s wishes and wrote, “We should seriously note this [his intended retirement], while celebrating his massive achievements in many walks of life. The achievement that eludes him is a political solution to the China-Tibet conflict. His Holiness has led the Tibetan nation since the age of 16 and the failure in this area cannot be put down to any lack of effort or goodwill. But His Holiness deserves a rest and it is time for other leaders to emerge and put forward alternative proposals.”
In the same article, in the context of Dharamsala-Beijing dialogue, I wrote, “In the event of a stalemate and failure to progress then I think Dharamsala has to remodel its existing political structures and perhaps adopt a new direction, whereby people can freely share their strongly-held views. This means that they should not be required to accept uncritically every statement by His Holiness. Such passivity adversely hinders the democratisation of Tibetan society by rendering it politically immature. People who genuinely hold alternative views from those of the Dalai Lama should not be slammed or denounced as unpatriotic. Tibetans need to grow up politically. We need to revise the "Charter" and separate Chos-Sid, religion and politics.”
Now that His Holiness has made his historic decision to effect faster reforms for Tibet’s long-term future, challenging tasks lay ahead for the 43-elected Chithues (or MPs), the majority of whom are ‘part-timers’, as well as with other top leaders including the directly elected Kalon Tripa (de facto Tibetan Prime Minister). They should not only take heed of His Holiness’s progressive decision but with the help of experts, if required, from outside the Tibetan Government in Exile, must take decisive actions to secure the long-term interests of the Tibetan people and prepare for our national struggle in the years to come.
The Dalai Lama as Tibet’s ‘Head of State’
Whilst accepting the radical democratisation of our Tibetan society for a better future, in my view, we should respond to His Holiness’s recent call positively and yet continue to have the Ganden Phodrang, whereby the successive Dalai Lamas enjoy the aspect of the ‘spiritual leadership’ over our people. This should be clearly prescribed in our Charter. We know that the Dalai Lama Institution has brought immense benefit and compassionate leadership to the people of Tibet over the centuries, and we should maintain this connection legally. However, we should also be prepared for the era following the current Dalai Lama – a situation most likely to be abused by Communist China.
It is my strong contention the time has come that we should separate the current dual ‘Chos’ and ‘Sid’ (i.e. ‘religion’ and ‘politics’) from the governance of the Tibetan polity. In other words, the Ganden Phodrang would no longer enjoy any political power in exile or in future Tibet. However, it is in the interest of the Tibetan people to have successive Dalai Lamas as ‘Head of State’ of the Tibetan Nation, whereby, the Dalai Lama of the day would only act as a ‘figure head’ and take the ‘oath’ of the elected Kalon Tripa until the day comes when we want to declare the ‘Republic of Tibet’.
By continuing as Head of State, the Dalai Lama would maintain the connection as well as the legitimacy that the Ganden Phodrang has enjoyed over the Tibetan people for more than 360 years, long before the Chinese Communist Party was founded. We should put this case amongst other important matters to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for further review following the forthcoming Tibetan National General Meeting in Dharamsala at the end of May.
Tibetan ‘respect’ versus a Westerner’s viewpoint
The Tibetan people know that support for their freedom from the international community is currently limited, mostly due to the fear of offending the world’s second largest economy and losing trade. China’s increasing prominence in international issues, particularly via their role on the UN Security Council and Beijing’s growing ‘soft power’ influence abroad, e.g. in Africa and South America, also reduces the number of countries willing to criticise the Chinese Government’s policies in Tibet.
During 360 years of Böd-zhung Ganden Phodrang’s reign over Tibet, the Tibetan people’s deep faith and respect in His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been resolute and we continue to place our full trust in Him. The Tibetan Parliament and the Kalon Tripa have repeatedly requested the 14th Dalai Lama not to transfer Ganden Phodrang’s political power to the elected leaders. This is, of course, an indication of how deeply we respect and place our trust and faith in the 14th Dalai Lama and seek His Holiness’s continued leadership. But we also know that it is absolutely right of His Holiness to dismiss the pleas from the Tibetan Parliament for the benefit of the long-term interests of the Tibetan people and the future of Tibet.
A Tibetan friend of mine recently drew my attention to a book written by British author, Lois Lang-Sims entitled, ‘The Presence of Tibet’ published in 1963. One passage is of particular relevance today. It reads, “The most that lover of Tibet is entitled to state with firmness is that certain courses would be, in his or her own view, harmful and erroneous: no one but the Tibetans has the right to go further than this – and yet on the other hand, one has the right to go so far without giving at least some indication of an alternative which might hold out little hope; hence the tentative suggestions I have made concerning the future of His Holiness. In fact, of course, the very nature of Tibetan predicament is inseparable from the fact that in the 20th Century world every individual is being compelled to pursue his own truth. The 14th Dalai Lama will be compelled to do this at whatever cost to Tibet; and, paradoxically, the only way by which he might ultimately betray his people is by refusing to do it.”
Though I am neither a legal and constitutional expert nor an historian, or even fully understand the current ‘Charter for Tibetans in Exile’, one thing I do know, as a commoner, is that our leaders whether inside Tibet or in exile should serve the Tibetan people’s interests first. So, when amending the existing Charter, following His Holiness’s recent decision, our Chithues should put the Tibetan people and the national interests before their personal ‘faith’ in the Spiritual Leader or Tsawai Lama. I fully supported His Holiness’s wishes expressed in 2008, and support his most recent call for further political reform, though I must admit I accept this with a heavy heart.
In the past 15 years, since my college days, having taken a keen interest in current Tibetan affairs, I have interacted directly with over 20 Chithues during their visits to the UK or during my trips to Nepal and India. I must say that my experience with our elected Tibetan Chithues has not been very encouraging, unlike my exchanges with British MPs, to say the least! Democratically elected MPs are supposed to represent their people. They are given the mandate to serve in the Tibetan Parliament to secure Tibet and the Tibetan people’s interests whether this means amending the Charter, advancing further democratisation of Tibetan society or taking new initiatives to improve the lives of our people.
As a responsible Tibetan, I decided to write to my two European Tibetan Chithues in addition to one from North America the day after His Holiness’s 2011 March 10th statement, and urged them to support the Dalai Lama’s call for further political reform. I emphasised that any amendments in the Charter, should serve the long-term interests of Tibet and the Tibetan people. Of course, I had hoped that the Honourable Chithues would consider my request in Parliament. Ten days later, I submitted a further petition to the Tibetan Parliament, when the members were in their parliamentary session, on the same matter calling for their support.
One Chithues replied back, and to my surprise he wrote, “It is very regrettable that Tibetans like you now feel overjoyed in hoping to displace His Holiness at moment’s notice and opportunity.” He went on to say, “Frankly, I find such thought both revolting and unimaginable, especially by us Tibetans. I suppose such are facts of life now widely accepted by minority of Tibetans in exile under the new terminology of so called "democracy"”.
We are often told to lobby MPs in our country of residence, and they usually respond with due care and diligence, but when we exercise similar rights with our own elected Tibetan Chithues, the response is very different. What does this mean? It seems that the elected Tibetan MPs have no confidence in the Tibetan people’s faith and deep respect in His Holiness. Labelling ‘minority’ vocal Tibetans as ‘ungrateful’ to His Holiness the Dalai Lama particularly by those in the public offices, to me, not only shows their political immaturity but raises the question of their ‘real’ purpose of representing the Tibetan masses in our Parliament.
Final point and conclusion
A final and a very important point to note by the leaders in exile as well as those in Tibet is the recent follow-up remarks by His Holiness in relation to his retirement from political responsibilities during a public teaching in Dharamsala on 19th March 2011. The Dalai Lama said that the leaders of the Tibetan autonomous areas in Tibet should find ways to provide a democratic system in order to represent the Tibetan people’s interests.
His Holiness appealed to the leaders in Tibet and Beijing saying, “Those of us in exile, though remaining as refugees in alien countries, have carried out a genuine electoral process. If those leaders are really capable and confident, then let the Tibetans inside Tibet democratically elect their own leaders. Whatever the case may be in the rest of China, if we could emulate the exile system in Tibet itself then it would be very good.”
In conclusion, from past experience, merely showing our ‘complete faith’ in His Holiness the Dalai Lama has neither helped to develop our society, nor going to resolve the China-Tibet issue. Since our previous elder generations did not give much attention to the warning to modernise Tibet, issued by the Great 13th Dalai Lama nearly a century ago, we lost our country. Now, if we do not give heed to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s repeated counsel, we can predict our future with certainty!
(*The writer was born in Nepal and lives in London. Tsering Passang received his education in Nepal and India, and later graduated from Salford University in the United Kingdom. Tsering served on the Council of Tibetan Community in Britain and previously worked for London-based Tibet Foundation from 2001 to 2007. Currently, he is working for Tibet Relief Fund.)
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