By Ngawang Choechen
The core policy of Sikyong (Prime Minister) and Chitues (Representatives) should be finding a solution to the Tibetan issue: Ume Lam (middle way approach) or Rangzen (independence). Do we have a candidate with a third option to solve our problem? Let me discuss what the third option is in the succeeding paragraphs.
The primary voting for Sikyong and Chitues of the Tibetan Administration is less than a month now. Out of five candidates for Sikyong, four support Ume Lam and one supports Rangzen. No one has a third option. Tibetan voters should know the policy and program of the candidates and cast his or her vote without any influence from others.
Currently, the Tibetan Administration is pursuing Ume Lam (middle way) approach. But differing opinions, views and stands are welcome in a democratic system. As such, candidates supporting either Ume Lam or Rangzen should equally be acceptable in a healthy democratic system. I was also a member of Tibetan Youth Congress which supports Rangzen and still support the organization. We all know that historically Tibet was an independent country. Until 1974, His Holiness the Dalai Lama also strived for Rangzen. It is very important for all of us to fully understand Ume Lam and know that His Holiness never forced us to accept Ume Lam. His Holiness gave us the choice and the majority of the Tibetan electorates chose Ume Lam through a democratic process. The main goal of pursuing Ume Lam was to save the very identity of the Tibetan people which is at the verge of extinction in Chinese occupied Tibet. It was also aimed for the mutual benefits of the Tibetan and Chinese peoples.
But His Holiness had also said that the ultimate decision lies with the Tibetan people. As such Rangzen can be acceptable if the Tibetan people chose it democratically. But a candidate cannot merely say that I stand for Rangzen without any plan of action. In our society, people especially some younger generation are excited when somebody talks about Rangzen. But the question is not, “Do we like Rangzen or should we choose Rangzen?” It is, “How can we achieve Rangzen”. “What should we do to achieve Rangzen”.
Although I support Rangzen (Independence) policy of Tibetan Youth Congress, I have not been able get a clear answer to my above questions. In fact, when I asked a long time veteran Rangzen advocate how Rangzen could be achieved, he had no answer. In fact, he even got upset with my question. It is not the question of choice. It is a question how Rangzen could be achieved.
Therefore, in the pretext of Rangzen, speaking against His Holiness the Dalai Lama is very sad and unacceptable. His Holiness as the supreme leader of the Tibetan people has tirelessly worked for the Tibetan cause from the age of 16 to 80. He has now politically retired and handed the rein to a democratically elected Sikyong. Still His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the symbol of our unity. Maligning His Holiness using the name of Rangzen during the election campaign or elsewhere is unacceptable. It creates disunity among the Tibetans and only helps the Chinese government. So a candidate speaking against His Holiness should apologize in public and also should not repeat such remarks if he wants to win the election.
A candidate can certainly pursue Rangzen with the question, “How” in his mind. He or she needs a clear road map how he is going to work for attaining Rangzen. Has the current Sikyong candidate supporting Rangzen a clear plan of action? Unfortunately I have not seen or heard that he has explained us how his plan of action will lead to achieving Rangzen.
The third option is to pursue Ume Lam for a specific period and then switch to Rangzen. In this case first we should pursue Ume Lam, which is the current policy of the Tibetan Administration. But we should not merely say that our doors are always open for talks. Chinese government will never use our open door to talk to us. For a successful dialogue with China for accepting Ume Lam, we need rigorous effort to reach the decision making top Chinese leadership for a result oriented dialogue. We need to make serious effort to knock on their door and reach the highest Chinese authority including the Chinese President for a meaningful and decisive talk. The elected Sikyong using the Third Option needs to approach the Chinese leadership through numerous channels and give them an ultimatum or specific time limit such as three years for a decisive talk. In case no positive response or concrete result is achieved within the specific period, we have to rethink our approach. We should not wait for Ume Lam indefinitely. If the Chinese leadership plays the ill conceived game of delaying tactics, we should approach His Holiness the Dalai Lama for his blessing and the Tibetan people through democratically Chitue Lhenkhang and then vote for Rangzen option. Rangzen can be achieved. If everybody seriously think and discuss about the ways, means and plan of action how to achieve Rangzen, there should be a way. Freedom is our birth right and when there is a will there is a way.
Whatever the stance of the candidate, we should always be respectful, cautious and vigilant especially during the election season. These days we hear a lot of allegations against almost all the candidates. Chinese communist party and the government always try to use even our trivial differences against us to create disunity amongst us. In order to overcome such evil designs, we need to understand the sensitivity and complexity of our regional and sectarian based society. We need to work sincerely for the genuine and solid unity of all the Tibetan people from the three provinces of Tibet and also the religious traditions. Our Sikyong, Chitue candidates and community leaders should be able to provide factual and convincing information to the younger generation particularly few misinformed people about the Tibetan administration and our Buddhist tradition. We should educate our youths how our disunity is helping the Chinese government so that innocent people will return to the main stream. We should try our best to win the hearts of misguided people through education. Constructive suggestions are always welcome and productive in a democracy. Unfounded, baseless and negative comments with an ill intention to damage a promising candidate based on rumors or distortion or personal grudge should be discouraged and challenged. We must always judge the future policy and program of a candidate rather than wasting our time on rumors about his or her personal matters.
Besides the main Tibetan core issue, each candidate needs other specific policy programs and should declare them. Recently I have seen in Youtube five point program of a promising North America Chitue candidate. His program was very attractive especially for the Tibetans in North America. They include unity of all Tibetans, preservation of Tibetan language, 21st Buddhist studies including providing a spiritual teacher for each of 32 Tibetan Associations in North America, promotion of democracy including citizen’s duties and increasing the Tibetan population. Others should also publicize their programs.
One of the important issue is that the next Tibetan parliament should seriously discuss and change the term of Sikyong and Chitue to four years. We need a four years term and not five years at the present situation. A Sikyong winning two terms and serving for ten years is pretty long for our case. Eight years is quite reasonable for a Sikyong to prove his or her capabilities. With a shorter term, more people will avail opportunity to serve the Tibetan people. Several countries including the United States already follow this system and is very effective.
Other important programs of a practical candidate could include helping the ever increasing Tibetan immigrants: There are numerous immigration programs which the Tibetans are not making best use of them. Tibetan refugees in some countries in Europe face certain problems due to lack of knowledge about immigration rules of those countries. As such, North American Chitues and Chitues in Europe can organize seminars by themselves or encourage Tibetan associations or non profit organizations to do so by inviting immigration attorneys in places where a large number of Tibetans reside. The Tibetans will learn various legal immigration programs such as asylum, marriage, adoption, relative petition, religious, business and employment related visas.
The new Tibetan immigrants face numerous problems in a new country with a vast different system such as travel in large cities, asylum procedure, family reunification, permanent residence, citizenship, school admission, higher studies, employment, micro business, health care, insurance, etc. Chitues in various countries should recommend establishing a section in the Office of Tibet for organizing regular weekly orientation sessions for new Tibetan immigrants. Also it becomes important to discuss the merits demerits of establishing an Office of Tibet in a moderate Muslim country because not many Muslims in the world know that Tibetan Muslims also had to suffer and leave Tibet due to Chinese invasion. They had to resettle in India or elsewhere in the world and also Communist Chinese government subsequently destroyed few mosques in Tibet during the notorious Cultural Revolution. We have educated and experienced Muslims in Kashmir who could lead such Office of Tibet.
We talk about our education policy a lot. As part of our education policy, our Chitues and Sikyong can ask the relevant departments/organizations to arrange career counseling & information session for higher studies for those who plan to pursue higher studies such as law, engineering, medicine, information technology, communication, journalism or obtaining various licenses such as teaching, nursing, real estate, etc.
Another issue is Green Book. Our current election system requires a voter must possess a valid Green Book in order to be eligible to participate in the election. Also Green Book contribution is a major source of revenue for our government in exile. But obtaining a Green Book has been pretty complicated process for the past few years especially Tibetans living in small numbers in all over the world. Therefore, one of the important responsibilities of the Chitue is to ensure prompt supply of Green Books to Tibetans and timely collections of Green Book contributions. Small populated areas including ours face such problems.
The Central Tibetan Administration, Tibetan settlements as well as Tibetan associations in the west need to discuss the utilization of experience and skills of the former members of Special Frontier Force, Establishment 22 (Tibetan military organization). The personnel of this organization are well trained in various fields such as guerrilla as well as conventional warfare. Many have leadership experience while others are trained in skills such as physical fitness exercises, rock climbing, mountaineering, swimming, etc. Many others are trained in health services, sports, marching band, office work, security service, driving, cooking, cleanliness, etc.
These persons are in general physically fit, hard working and disciplined to mobilize in an emergency relief work such as flood, earthquake, fire, etc. There are thousands of former members all over the Tibetan clusters. Who knows if a situation arises we will be able to utilize the services of these compatriots to fight for our Rangzen if the Chinese regime refuses to accept our middle way approach with delaying tactics. I am not advocating for a military campaign now but it is one of the available options for us.
Tibetan population in the western countries is ever increasing over the years. A time has come to explore the possibility of establishing Tibet Towns in the western countries where large number of Tibetans reside. The Tibetan Administration or Tibetan entrepreneurs could initiate projects by exploring to buy a large tract of land consisting several hundreds or even a thousand of acres. There are vacant lands for sale for less than a thousand dollars an acre not far away from a city in many parts of the United States.
The land thus procured could be divided into plots of around a quarter of an acre and then sold among individual buyers. Architectural designers, developers, builders, investors, realtors could be convened for a feasibility study. The infrastructure in the Tibet town should generally focus on self reliance and self employment. It could include facilities such as a Palace for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a Rimey (non-sectarian) Monastery, schools, Thangka schools, child care centers, medical clinics, libraries, culture centers, entertainment units, sports facilities, restaurants, guest houses, handicraft centers, gift stores, grocery stores, gas stations, laundry, parks, walking trails, etc.
Yet another important issue is senior` citizens. Currently there are many senior living facilities for Tibetans in India. But there are none in the west. More and more Tibetans are getting old in the west. Persons who were 45 when they immigrated to US in 1993 are already senior citizens now. We need senior homes designed to the spiritually rooted Tibetan elders such as a Buddhist shrine and stupa in addition to facilities such as living quarters, dining hall, recreation center, park, etc. Chitues should approach the concerned departments in order to explore the possibility of establishing simple senior living facilities by seeking financial assistance from foundations & also using their own Social Security and savings.
So far a few Chitue and Sikyong candidates have declared their policy programs but others have not. The serious Chitue or Sikyong candidates must have prepared their policy programs by now. I wish the candidates consider some of the above items. It is important that they should publicize` their policy programs using all available channels as soon as possible as the Tibetan voters would like to know their programs. We should not vote for a candidate who has no specific program.
Our best wishes are with the candidates with clear and practical programs.
The contributor lives in North Carolina, US and owns a Tibetan Gift Shop.