Saturday, May 4, 2013

Tibetans in Exile: Democracy and Activism

By Tenzin Lekshay

His Holiness the Dalai Lama with Dr. Lobsang Sangay
(Courtesy:Harish Tyagi/EPA) 
Since the devolution of political leadership by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 2011, Dr. Lobsang Sangay, then the newly elected Kalon Tripa was bestowed with the authority that the former inherited from Tagdra Rinpoche. However, in 2012, the Tibetan parliament decided upon changing the title of Kalon Tripa to Sikyong, which literarily means political leader. Some amongst the Tibetan critics raised skeptic questions about the legitimacy of change in title, which they fear are misleading and undemocratic.  It is therefore, important to understand the all over democratic process in exile, that emanated such transfer of power.

Soon after coming into exile in 1959, His Holiness the Dalai Lama promulgated democratic system whereby laying foundations for the Tibetan Parliament in Exile. Later, His Holiness expanded the role of Tibetan Parliament by giving an autonomous authority and increased the members of parliament that were to be elected by the exiled Tibetan. Such initiative of accelerating the democratic reform was solely introduced by His Holiness to generate more power to the masses, so that,  it will ensure freedom of thought, expression and movement.  While reading the 'Guidelines for Future Tibet Polity and Basic Features of Future Constitution' of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, issued on 26 February 1992, one will surely be confirmed of his lifelong commitments for the Tibetan people, which we should always feel grateful. On numerous occasions, many Tibetans (including Central Tibetan Administration and Nongovernmental Organizations) had requested His Holiness the Dalai Lama to retain the political leadership, which latter rejected on the ground that his decisions will help the interest of the Tibetan people in both short and long term.

Over the years, we have attained great progress, where individuals have the power to elect their own political leaders.  Even in the grassroots level, Tibetans in the settlements have the privilege of choosing their own local assembly members and Tibetan Freedom Movement. In some areas, we have also witnessed people electing their own settlement officers. Even though the change in title from Kalon Tripa to Sikyong happened after the Kalon Tripa election, it can logically be validated as democratic. Since Kalon Tripa election is the highest form of election in practice since 2000, the result of such can assumed to be similar to Sikyong. Secondly, the change was amended by the Parliament, the highest elected law makers, it is hence be declared as democratic. Thirdly, holding a similar election after the change in the title is plainly repetition that will drain our administrative budget.

Virtue of democracy in exile were not obtained because of people's bloods and sweats, but was offered voluntarily by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Such a benevolent leader is rare to be seen in today's world, where leaders are busy consolidating their positions and powers. Though, His Holiness has relinquished his political leadership, he is the most revered and the supreme spiritual leader of Tibet, who still represents the ultimate voice of all the Tibetan, including those in Tibet. Even the revised Charter of the Tibetans in exile honored him as the free spokesperson of Tibet.

Kalon Tripa Election (Courtesy: David)
Many believe that participating in the elections and expressing their thoughts are their democratic rights. But, it is equally important that such freedom of thoughts should be productive, which generate constructive values and thoughts in bringing equality, justice and prosperity in our system. We need to value those critical thoughts, which are meant to improve our prevailing system. It is our democratic rights to criticize the government objectively, which will ultimately enlighten our people with the reality and ensures beneficial to our system. I believe such practice helps in strengthening our democracy, which is healthy. But, freedom of thoughts should not be used as an excuse, which aim to create disruptions and commotions in our system. People need to be vigilant and responsible enough to contempt those corrupted people, who tries to misguide and pollute the mindset of people that creates divisions. Spreading rumors and speculations shall not be considered as the freedom of thoughts and expression, which serve no good to the Tibetans.  At this critical stage of our freedom struggle, I think our democracy is matured enough to assure our people that rights and duties are two sides of a coin and unity is the strength of our freedom struggle.

Since 1959, thousands had fled Tibet, many thousands were born, educated and are living in exile. It is not because of lack of foods, internal disputes, or natural calamities that forced us to be in exile, but because of the brutal Chinese occupation of Tibet, that culminated into severe oppression and violation of rights, forced annihilation of Identity and the exploitation of ecology.  Keeping this in mind, all the Tibetans had consistently attributed in sustaining the freedom struggle for the last five decades. Tibetans inside Tibet have shown unwavering courage and determination to challenge the regime by sacrificing their life for the cause of Tibet.

At present, People's Republic of China (PRC) is a mighty ballooned dragon, which many powerful countries felt threatened to challenge China's misdoings. But, Tibetan, though small, remain strong in their mission based on truth and stands unitedly under the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. That makes Tibet, a taboo for the Chinese leaders.

However, over the recent years, we have witnessed a clear cut division among the middle way pathers and rangzen roaders. Few years back, when I visited Nagpur to attend a program, I met regional Tibetan Youth Congress and Regional Tibetan Women's Association executive members, they were complaining that both Middle Way Policy and Rangzen issue had complicated the mindset of the general populace that it is hard to do activities in the settlement. I have heard many similar worries among the Tibetans. People do not know exactly where they fit in. Many believe that Middle Way Policy is the brainchild of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and readily aligns with it as a loyalist. Many also feel that Independent Tibet is our birth right and is historically justifiable. Many are in confused state of mind and do not know which way they should follow. So, this creates two different ways, which people presumably believe that one is substitute to other and could not move together. In such a situation, there is an involvement of threat and negative propaganda that delineates each other as a competitor. If we do not think progressively on this issue, it will hinter our freedom struggle in the years to come. It is therefore crucial to understand what we really want (the end result). Do we want rangzen or do we want genuine autonomy? I believe there is not wrong in asking for Rangzen or genuine autonomy but the question is do we just want rangzen or genuine autonomy.

Now, it is high time for us to analysis, for whom we need rangzen for, and or whom we need genuine autonomy for? What is the real objective behind seeking rangzen or genuine autonomy? It is true that the approach and means are different, but both of them are seeking freedom, which would give ultimate happiness to the Tibetan people. When both seek freedom, why do we divide ourselves narrowly on the approaches? It is the FREEDOM that connects us to work together as a single force, whether we are the torch bearers of Rangzen or the followers of Middle Way Policy. If we still do not come to the common ground, then it will be a huge setback in our struggle. The key to success is unity, and with better education and resources, we shall lead our freedom struggle. We will then be nearer to Tibet and freedom will soon be achieved. Otherwise, if we remain to be divided, there will be no hope for our struggle.

In order to pursue the freedom struggle, Central Tibetan Administration (Tibetan Government in exile) should lead the struggle as the legitimate representative of the Tibetan people, including those in Tibet.  It is therefore, important for all the Tibetans to recognize CTA as their legitimate and legal representative. This will boost the credibility of CTA to talk to the Chinese leaders and also gain International supports, which play a vital role in resolving the Tibet issue. Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay is our current political leader, whom we have elected to lead us. Tibetans from all corners of the world should make every efforts to join him resolve the Tibet issue.  We all must become a responsible citizen to strive for freedom. Be united and we shall make a difference.


  1. One ideology, one people under one supreme leader ... This reminds me to very negative examples in history.
    Democracy is may be not only to say what you think and to vote but is definitely diversity and multiple party system. Why we have all to be pressured to follow Middle Way? What guarantee MW defenders have that their idea will succeed? It has no success nor progresses to show till today. ... Why Tibetan Government can not accept that some people have other opinions and these have the same rights to be listened to and if there are many of us that this group should be included on decision taking level? Why can leaders of Rangzen movement and Tibetan Government MW defenders not cooperate together and find new ways together as it does happen in all democratic Nations? I don't like at all this pressuring and blackmailing, to force everyone to believe what the Tibetan Government wants to. People holding to Rangzen as goal are not stupid, immature and inexperienced children. Most are well till very well educated and mature people. Many do have leading experience in Tibet related organizations and are involved since long time in Tibet activism ... I don't know any democratic country who would handle opposition like CTA does. I just don't agree with the last part of your essay ... I respect my government and our MP, but I will not follow them blindly ... If the struggle is led in a direction which I don't believe in and if I don't like how CTA is handling us the Rangzen defenders, then I surely will not join them. This has nothing to do with not recognizing them as legitimate and legal representatives. Please don't mix up everything. In the moment I would say that the Rangzen adepts are acting much more responsible by refusing to go under Chinese rule. Analyze, investigate, read and observe what is happening right now inside China and tell me what prove Tibetan Government has that Chinese government will treat us better and give us more freedom then to their own people? Unity is not something you can force ... Trust neither. I don't trust China at all and sorry, I don't like how CTA and our PM are handling our democratic rights. They did not convince me that they really care for ALL Tibetans. I feel what you say about "a responsible citizen to strive for freedom" is almost an insult to every educated Tibetan. A responsible citizen has to use its critical mind and restrain from anything that he can't and don't want to be responsible for. A responsible Tibetan will use its own brain and check what the leaders expect from us ... You forgot to say that a responsible parliament needs to represent all Tibetan people and not only the ones who think same like the Government. That a responsible government should listen to oppositions too and not just exclude them and put them down ... So I have my problems to be you kind of "responsible citizen", I trust in my common sense and I am convinced that I'll never regret to have resisted but that I would regret someday if I join MW. I wish our Government would be democrats enough to admit multiple Party system as all democratic Nations do. Since CTA is already using Tibetan Communities like a government party that lobbies and promotes MW it is unfair to not accept opposition parties being formed. Why must we be against each other? Why can't we stay different and work together for the same goal? This shows me that our government does not think for the best of ALL Tibetans but mainly that ALL Tibetans have to think that what they say is the best. That all who doubt are "rebels" and become "danger to the Unity" ... This already sounds very CCP like ...

  2. IMHO, its is one goal, different ideologies, different approaches, unity and one leadership that I tried to explain in my article, not like Tseten la put it as one ideology, one people and one leader. Such comment can be misleading. Of course, if you read it carefully, I also embrace objective criticism, which helps attain our goal and we need to find a common ground to work together. One again I stand to tell that divisive politics is not healthy.

    Tseten la, whether we adopt Rangzen or Middle Way, are we the ultimate decision makers. Can we decide the fate of Tibetans in Tibet, by simply following one's own conviction. We need to really think carefully.

    Tibetans in exile are suppose to be the voice of Tibetan brothers and sisters in Tibet, so is it our responsibility to bring freedom to prevail in Tibet? If my stand on being responsible citizen to strive for freedom is almost an insult to every educated Tibetan, then I think those insulted educated people need to look for whom they represents.

  3. Great Perspective. I think activism these days is turning into blindly following some idols and turning the Rangzen movement into criticizing CTA rather than actively engaging China on all fronts. Who said that a uniform approach cannot be taken, even when multiple ways to express our aspirations is pursued. Unity in diversity should be our goal both in the way we approach the Tibetan Struggle as well as in the way we try to resolve it. I liked your balanced and insightful views on the matter.