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Disappointments of Samdhong Rinpoche’s 10-year Tenure

posted Jul 1, 2011, 6:56 AM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Jul 1, 2011, 7:20 AM ]

By Thokme Sangpo
Samdhong Rinpoche’s 2nd term Prime Ministership is nearing its end.  I voted for him in the 1st election and against him in the 2nd.  I had great hope in him but was utterly disappointed by his performance. So my assessment of his policies may not be as dispassionate as I would like to be.  But I jotted down some points which I hope will invoke some reflection.  I also hope that the incoming government may not repeat such errors and may even take steps to repair wherever possible.  In the future, whenever there is danger of any policy mistake, an informed public must exercise its opinion to thwart it in the process. 

External Front:

1. Our equation of force vis-à-vis China in the international arena has been completely reversed in the last 10 years largely because of Chinese economic and diplomatic rise but partly because of our own doing.  Twenty or thirty years back, the Chinese Foreign Office was said to be bombarded with complaint memos from their offices abroad that the Tibetan movement was a huge pain in their ass and that they must do something to improve the situation. [1]  Now they live in peace and tranquility.  They used our government to divide us! Our government forbade the Offices of Tibet abroad to initiate, encourage or participate in protests against the Chinese government. [2]  During the thick of 2008 protests, some of our Offices of Tibet, under PM’s instruction, asked the Tibetans to come to pray at their Offices instead of participating in the demonstrations! [3]  Samdhong Rinpoche was reported to have discouraged many protest rallies. [4]  The Chinese also seem to be subtly manipulating His Holiness’ teaching of “love thy enemy”. 

2. Our international movement is at its low ebb and we can remobilize it only if our government and people are united in our aim and endeavor to resist the Chinese policies.  We cannot afford to be divided.

3. Our government has been hoping against hope that the Chinese government will settle for a middle way of approach.  The Chinese, from the very beginning, had set their target very high.  “There is no issue (problem) of Tibet.  The only issue is about the status of the Dalai Lama”. [5]  Our negotiators have been talking about talks [6] for the last 30 years.  Sometimes they gave us some hope [7] which later turned out to be false. [8] This created more confusion, frustration and dissension.  In exile our precious resources, both human and financial, are wasted in our internal “campaign, struggle & reeducation”. [9] 

4. We have suffered some huge diplomatic reversals in the past 10 years.  Notably, India  and Britain (Miliband’s statement in 2008) have changed perimeters of their long standing policy on Tibet. [10]  Our own policies gave, if not impetus, an excuse for their changes. [11] 

5. Samdhong Rinpoche will be best remembered in the annals of Tibetan history as the PM who surrendered to the Chinese lock, stock and barrel. [12]   He used his professorial mastery over the Chinese constitution & distilled our history, our status, our aspirations, our hopes and dreams into a document of docile submission. Samdhong Rinpoche got in return only rebuke and scorn from the Chinese!
“May this heartfelt wish of total freedom for all Tibet,
Which has been awaited for a long time,
be spontaneously fulfilled;
Please grant soon the good fortune to enjoy
The happy celebration of spiritual with temporal rule” 
In vain we recited this prayer for millions of times over.  Why not discard this prayer?  During his 10 year tenure, he did not come up with one single good idea to fight the Chinese occupants.
Internal Front: 
1. Destruction of Financial foundation: Indiscriminate sale of all the Paljor enterprises[13] was a reckless policy which compromised the very existence of our TGIE and its independence in the long run.  Majority of the retired kalons, secretaries and government officials were against this policy and they raised their voice.[14]  But Rinpoche had his way through the Parliament.  Now we are left without any economic foundation.  We came as beggars and we still remain as beggars. Ex-FM was said to be going around in Indian cities begging people to buy table reservations to raise fund to finance the government.[15]  What a shame!
2. Centralization of all decision making powers: All the decisions are centralized in his hand.  The Settlement Officers, who are supposed to be looking after the welfare of the settlers, have no power to raise fund for any local project [16].  A few of these Settlement officials are said to be whiling away their time in hunting “Makhees” in their offices and I heard settlers call them “Makhee Hunters”.[17]
3. Degradation of Staff standard: His initial denigration and contempt of the core Tibetan civil service had left a lasting negative impact [18].  Many able civil servants, hitherto remained in the service out of dedication, decided to leave their job. People in Dharamsala, including Samdhong Rinpoche himself in private, lament the poor quality of our civil service.
4. Introduction of Indian bureaucratic system: Since he remained an Indian bureaucrat for so long, perhaps he thought it is the best for us too.  Of course, there should be rule of law.  But since we are working under particular circumstances we should not be bound down by the rules.  I hear that some Tibetan officials spend more time on how to avoid transgressing the rules and regulations rather than taking new initiatives.  For instance, strict adherence to the rules on seniority effectively closed the door of our civil service to the bright and qualified upcoming youngsters.
5. Settlement Policy:  Some people in administration and Chithue seem to think that the Tibetans in settlements are their vassals.  They can order them to do whatever they like; change their way of life as they like and even admit or dismiss them from their settlement as they wish. [19]  Slightest protest on such matter is subdued in name of His Holiness.  Majority of the poor settlers are so respectful of His Holiness that they are willing to sacrifice everything for Him.  I don’t think the settlement lands belong to the Tibetan government.  They were leased by the Indian government to the settlers.  These lands are governed by the respective state land Acts.  In most of Indian states if a leased land is tilted for more than 15 years that occupant can claim for its ownership.  And the Tibetan settlers have occupied their land for more than 30 years and that their children are Indian citizens by virtue of their birth in India (born between 1955 to 1 July 1987).  Therefore, most of the Tibetan families in our settlements are legally entitled to their land and nobody can evict them without due process.  In any case, the TGIE has never been able to implement their rules and regulations uniformly and indiscriminately in all the Tibetan settlements.  We need only to look at some of these monasteries.
Why does the Tibetan government have to conduct so many prayers?  For some poor families in the settlement this unending every day tax to count Mantras has become a huge inconvenience.  [20]  Especially if that family consist of old, infirm and young children.  If they miss a prayer session they are heavily fined.  So they have to leave their household work and attend these prayers.  If the Kalons and their departments are not able to conduct the prayers themselves why ask every Tom, Dick and Harry for Mo and burden the poor Tibetans with recitation of prayers.  If people want to pray it should be on voluntary basis and not forced as it is being done at the moment.  Samdhong Rinpoche loves lecturing us how we should respect the Indian law.  If I am not mistaken, this act contravenes the Indian laws on freedom of belief.
6. Samdhong Rinpoche’s agriculture policy a disaster: It has been reported that his insistence on bio-agriculture has put many of our farmers into difficulty.  [21]  This policy was initiated on the basis of his own ideological inclination.  This shows our rulers don’t know (or care to know) the ground realities in our settlements.
7. The poor and justice forsaken for political expediency: When ex-U-tsang Chithu Mr. Pema Tsewang, his son-in-law Sange Tseten, etc. had declared bankruptcy and refused to repay hundreds of crores of rupees of loan amassed from the Tibetan people, the TGIE headed by Samdhong Rinpoche remained a silent spectator.  [22]  Thousands of Tibetans lost their lifelong savings.  Some Settlement Officers and Chethues seem to have told the Tibetan victims that it was their mistake to deposit money with these people and it was an illegal act under Indian law.  Poor Tibetans were effectively silenced.  Many people were rendered penniless and some died under extremely difficult circumstances.  Why did Samdhong Rinpoche, who knows the Indian law so well, let these people down?  Why was he not on the side of the people and the deprived?  Is there no law in India covering money lending and bankruptcy?  Why didn’t TGIE study these avenues and come to people’s rescue?
Look at the appointment and immediate recall of Thupten Gyatso as the Representative of His Holiness in Brussels.  It is a blatant case of injustice.
8. Restriction on immigration to western countries: The Tamil population in Canada in 1983 was fewer than 2,000.  By 1991 the estimated Tamul refugee population increased to 400,000.  The Tamil refugee population in Germany is 60,000, in France 100,000, and in Switzerland 50,000.  Not all these refugees migrated through proper channels.  Yes, Tibetans have tried to migrate to western countries through all possible means.  It may be unethical but it is their right to escape the Chinese occupation and seek better life elsewhere.  

Samdhong Rinpoche is reported to have written letters to all the western Embassies in Delhi not to grant visa to the Tibetans without his administration’s recommendation. [23]  He effectively stopped the generous gestures of these governments.  What right has he to restrict the free movement of our people, particularly the new arrivals from Tibet?  Fortunately, His Holiness seemed to have reversed this policy and pointedly asked some governments to accept Tibetan refugees.  In 2010 1.04 million immigrants were granted legal permanent residence in the United States.  [24]  Samdhong Rinpoche doesn’t need to act as an immigration officer of these western countries.
9. TGIE Name Change: Recent systematic decimation of TGIE, [25] against the will of the people, [26] seems his last act of kowtowing the Chinese. This act may please some of his Chinese friends but for us the Tibetans, he has destroyed even the semblance of our hope and wish.  True, no government recognizes our TGIE but many international newspapers and media use the name TGIE.  It seems the only work left for him is to persuade the media not to use TGIE.  Against all odds, the past generation of TGIE officials tried to preserve and protect every symbol of our struggle alive for the last 60 years.  Now, these are dumped as “insignificant designations”. [27]
What I expect from the new Prime Minister:
1. The new Prime Minister must be a leader; not a ruler: He should not be bogged down under heavy load of files nor caged in by rules and regulations nor succumb to endless, fruitless and degenerating internal political squabbling.  His main concentration should be on how to improve our “rapport de force vis-à-vis China”.  Great leaders, while leading their movements, have conceived ingenious ways and means to fight their enemies.  Our leaders also must come out with new ideas.  If they are incapable of conceiving new ideas, at least they must encourage the young, bright, patriotic Tibetans to get involved in our movement and come up with fresh ideas.  Only with new ideas can we hope to challenge our enemy.
2. TGIE should be run more as an efficient company (or a movement) rather than as an Indian bureaucracy: He must commission a team of experts, preferably Tibetan MBAs, IITs etc., to devise ways and means to decentralize our decision making processes, lighten the rules and regulations, improve efficiency, respond effectively to people’s need and draw out long term plans and projects.  In the past, our Planning Department has done some wonderful works but in recent years it seem be quite ineffective.  In Tibetan settlements, where the bulk of our people live, we see no change, no new project, no new improvement, no planning, no resources …  Poor settlers are left to fend for themselves.
3. A master-plan for the development of our settlements: Our settlements have been developed into a bastion of our culture and civilization and a catalyst for the Tibetan diaspora.  If we are forced to live in exile for next generations we need to develop our settlements on a modern footing and for that a master plan is a must. Just some random thoughts:
i. It is inevitable that next generations of Tibetans in India will take up Indian citizenship.
ii. TGIE must request the government of India to withdraw all those settlements that are not situated in strategic areas from the Notification under PAP.
iii. Installation of some wind power projects in our settlements will ensure a reliable supply of energy and also give impetus to all round development. There is no reason why such project cannot be self-supporting.
iv. Since Bangalore, Mysore, Hubli etc. are being developed into high-tech industrial cities; there may be possibilities of turning our nearby settlements into sub-contract satellites. A good project and a good contact with one Indian industrial giant could change the fate of some of our settlements.
v. Majority of Tibetan immigrants to western countries have their root in these settlements.  In the long run, they could also bring in human resources and financial investment.
vi. Our settlements could also become tourist attractions as some of them have already done.
4. An efficient TGIE core civil service: The new PM must instill a sense of respect, sacrifice and dedication among our TGIE staff.  In this age of liberty, freedom and equality, nobody will work like a servant, as done by our previous generation of civil servants.  The service conditions of the TGIE staff must be improved.
5. A white paper on the financial situation of our government: The new PM must bring out a white paper on the present financial condition of our Government and devise ways and means to have a sound financial base in the long run.  We can’t survive indefinitely on the charity of other organizations and countries.
6. He must review the recent hasty changes: Being a learned scholar of international law, he must review the hasty decisions taken by his predecessor.  If there are no insurmountable legal and political obstacles, at least the Tibetan wordings of our government and insignia should be restored through a referendum at an appropriate time.  Gaden Phodrang may go into oblivion but it need not drag with it the Tibetan government.  History belongs to the people, not to any individual or any institution.  Even if we are not able to restore our freedom during our lifetime, we have no right to mitigate the hopes and aspirations of our future generations.  The dismantling of our TGIE prompted me to write this sketch and unload or else I could write another article on the good works done by Samdhong Rinpoche! 
[1] Internal Chinese document obtained by TGIE in 1980's.
[2]           i. Written instruction given to all the Offices of Tibet. 
                ii. Samdhong Rinpoche’s (SR) statement to the 5th Tibet Support Groups Conference (Tibetan Bulletin May - June 2007  Volume 11, Issue 3 ) “Here, I reiterate my earlier statement that Central Tibetan Administration has no intention to motivate, inspire, direct or even request you to do any specific thing in accordance with our plan or strategies.”

[3] In France there was an argument between the President of the Tibetan Community and the Representative on this subject and was known to all the Tibetans there.
[4]  -       i. Jamyang Norbu’s Blog : Sangay December 23rd , 2008/2:59 PM
“PM Samdhong Rinpoche, under the tone of evoking some articles from Exile Constitution, orders to all exile Tibetans to follow TGIE’s middleway policy, and forbided any Tibetan from embarrassing Hu Jintao when he visited their towns and cities.” 
    ii. Daring Thokmay/ January 27th, 2009/12:03 AM …”Even we have no full freedom to do demonstration in democratic countries like India not because of Indian government but because of Tibetan Government”…
    iii. Phayul Forum : mind Posted 15 March 2008 - 01:58 PM “Is there any CTA staff who would like to talk about today's rally in gangkyi premises? Why do the people came into Office premises? Why did they pull two MP forcibly to join the rally? Is there any unsaid message that people try to convey to the staff?”
    iv. Phayul[Monday, June 27, 2011 13:05] Lama denies ‘One-China policy’ statement: “Thiley Lama the newly appointed co-ordinator for Tibetans in Nepal denied making a controversial statement on the ‘One-China policy’ that the Nepali government stringently follows.“I was wrongly quoted as saying that Dharamshala recognises the ‘One-China policy’, Lama told “All I said was that the Kashag has time and again issued appeals to Tibetans in Nepal not to take part in anti-China protests”.
[5] DHARAMSALA & BEIJING Initiatives & Correspondence 1981-1993’ published by DIIR in March 1996

[6] Tibetan Bulletin, January-February 2004 Volume 8, Issue 1, Interview
Kalon Tripa: “…A ‘Dialogue’ means two parties talking face to face with each other. A ‘Negotiation’ means there is an established process to resolve specific matters between the two parties.”... "We have not yet entered negotiations."....

[7] Tibetan Bulletin, January - February 2004 Volume 8, Issue 1,
Report entitled: Tibetan Envoys Bring Message of Hope " Lodi Gyari said that His Holiness the Dalai Lama welcomed the positive gesture of the leadership in Beijing and was satisfied that a renewed contact has been established."
- I personally heard these encouraging news from some of the delegates.

[8] - Jamyang Norbu Forum: Jamyang Norbu's article dated 8/5/2008 Negotiation Nightmare.
[9] Numerous campaigns launched by various TGIE organs and organizations, sometimes turn into ugly struggles, render people tired and fed up. I live in a Tibetan Settlement all through my life.

[10]        i. See: Institute for Defence Studies & Analysis, Delhi, IDSA COMMENT, India Should Revisit its Tibet Policy, Abanti Bhattacharya April 4, 2008.  “In 2003, the Vajpayee government went further than any other government before by stating that the “Tibetan Autonomous Region of China is part of the territory of China.” This has two critical implications for Indian security. First, it excluded Inner Tibet (present day Sichuan, Yunnan and Qinghai provinces) from the geographical notion of Tibet, thus recognising Inner Tibet as Chinese land. Second, it provided China a greater opening to advance its claims on Arunachal Pradesh. For, Outer Tibet or the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), according to the Chinese definition, includes Arunachal Pradesh, which it refers to as its ‘southern state’.”
    ii.     Financial Daily from THE HINDU, Friday, Jul 18, 2003, Vajpayee visit — Foreign policy lessons from China, G. Parthasarathy "The Indian side recognises that the Tibet Autonomous Region is an integral part of the People's Republic of China". This is the first time that we have "recognised" Tibet as being a part of China.”
    iii. Tibet dealing was changed from Northern Division to Chinese Division in the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. 
    iv.        See:  JOHN ROBERTS on Jamyang Norbu’s Blog| December 17th, 2009 | 4:30 PM.  "Today Denmark has recognized China’s claim over Tibet, last year it was England.”

[11] Indian Express, 27 November 2008, ‘India’s Tibet ambiguity’ By C. Raja Mohan,
..."Discarding Britain’s traditional position late last month, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said London’s “outdated concept of suzerainty” was “based on the geo-politics of the time” and regretted that “some have used this to claim that we are denying Chinese sovereignty over a large part of its own territory.”
"Official India too has stopped using the term “suzerainty” with reference to Beijing and Lhasa, but remains committed to its contemporary political essence — the Tibetan right for “autonomy” within China". ....
… “Indian officials explained in 2003 that Vajpayee’s words were a bow to the current reality”.
[12]       i. Samdhong Rinpoche’s speech to the 5th International Tibet Support Group Conference (Tibetan Bulletin May-June 2007, Volumn 11 Issue 3) “We are not asking for “high” or “low” degree of autonomy. We are simply asking for the sincere implementation of the national regional autonomy provisions enshrined in the constitution of the People’s Republic of China, which is further spelt out in the autonomy law. Similarly, it is a fact that Tibetans are just one minority nationality amongst the 55 minority nationalities of the PRC.” … “Since we have accepted to remain within the constitutional framework of PRC, we identify ourselves as an autonomous constituent of PRC. Therefore, we are as patriotic towards PRC as any citizens of the People’s Republic of China, including the majority Han nationality. Therefore, labeling us as unpatriotic or separatist is entirely baseless and unjustifiable.”…
    ii.  Dharamsala, March 13 2009 (ANI): “Prime Minister of the Tibetan government in exile, Samdhong Rinpoche, has welcomed Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s offer of holding more talks with envoys for the Dalai Lama….. “[on Wen Jiabao accusing Western countries of exploiting the Dalai Lama] “If there is any truth, they should establish with evidences. As far as the Tibet issue is concerned, we have nothing to do with Western countries. We consider this is an internal matter of the People’s Republic of China, and if the People’s Republic of China is willing to deal with us as an internal matter, we are absolutely ready.“…

[13] To my knowledge, except for the hotel in Gangtok, all the Paljor enterprises have been sold off.

[14] I learnt from some of our ex-ministers and secretaries.

[15] My own family member participated in one of such dinners.

[16] I learnt from my brother, a camp leader.

[17] People make fun of this situation and crack jokes.

[18] Phayul Form: This subject has been discussed there too. In his very 1st address to the Tibetan civil servants, SR reportedly told them that they were “mere servants” who have “no right to decide on their own”. They are there to “execute the decisions taken by their political leaders”.

[19] Land redistribution rule has been changed several times over the years. The 1st comprehensive rules were formulated when Tashi Topgyal was the Home Secretary. This rule, however, could not be implemented uniformly in all the settlements. For instance, Camp n°4 of Bylakuppe simply refused to apply these rules. So during TN Tethong's time as the Home Minister, after wide consultations, rules were amended to be more practicable. Under this rule, a land once allotted to a family will remain unchanged till the disparition of the whole family. When no one is left of the family then only the settlement officer could reclaim their land and re-distribute it. Because of this rule, lands were sold and bought and ownerships have changed hands. Then, Chithue and Samdhong Rinpoche came up with new rules which are totally inapplicable. Only poor families who respect TGIE's direction suffer under this rule. It is not only unjust but illegal, I think, under Indian law.
[20] I have personally seen some heart breaking cases. Some lonely aged people don't even get enough time to cook their food properly.

[21]        i. Phayul Forum. Even though the participants on Phayul Forum are anonymous and some are bias but many are telling the truth.
    ii. Jamyang Norbu’s Blog: Tsowa-rang-kyong, September 9th 2009/4:53 PM“… Rimpoche has carried out a number of his own policies and most of his ideas are failed so far. The CRAP idea of adopting organic methods of farming in Kollegal settlement was biggest failure in his term. He and former Kollegal settlement representative Mr.Wangdu(kungo Gochen) put lots of effort to convinced and cheat the poor people of settlement and made them to go for Organic farming however it was idea was failed and end up losing crores of rupees of our govt.”

[22] Since these frauds took place, SR paid two extended visits to Bylakuppe. To my knowledge, he neither uttered a word on this subject nor received any lay victim to hear his grievances.

[23] This happened during SR's 1st term. Officials who dealt with this matter told me.

[25] See:, Article, Decapitated, then emasculated, The programmed termination of the Tibetan nation, by Christophe Besuchet
[26] See: Article: ‘The Chater Amendment, A Test of Our MangtsoBy Ogyen Kyab Tuesday, Jun 7, 2011Majority in the general meeting voted for retaining the name Tibetan Government in Exile (Tsenjol Bhoe Zhung)”…
[27] See:  Article in Tibetan Political Review: a statement of SR translated into English by TWA.

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