By Sonam Wangdu, New York City
The legacy of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is the democratic system of government with a Constitution that He established in the 1960s. His legacy is not and must never be the Middle Way Approach (MWA), a policy He announced on 15th June, 1988 in Strasbourg, France, and declared invalid in 1992.
The democratic system of government, with elected officials essentially exists to this day in Dharamsala, India, the seat of the Tibetan Government in Exile (TGIE), now known as the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA). Over the years its goal has shifted profoundly so a historical perspective may be helpful to understand TGIE’s evolution from struggling for the independence of Tibet to CTA’s ‘autonomy’ within the Communist Chinese Regime.‘ In His wisdom, His Holiness said His policy shift from independence to ‘Autonomy’ would disappoint many Tibetans and it has. However, it is important to note that this disappointment is not a loss of faith in Him or in His leadership. This expression of disappointment is to exercise their freedom of speech and to express their views in the affairs of the nation. In this regard it is important to separate a political stand dealing with the nation’s future and a religious reverence; the first deals with the nation’s future and the second is a personal matter between a lama and his disciple.
The March 10, 1959 Tibetan National Uprising in Lhasa, Tibet was to reject Chinese rule and reclaim Tibet’s independence. His Holiness and His government escaped and reestablished their base in exile in India. The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted resolutions in 1959, 1961 and 1965 which called on the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to respect the rights of the Tibetan people, including their right to self-determination. These resolutions, especially the ones of 1961 and 1965 are important because in 1960 in order to expedite the decolonization process of captive nations, the United Nations changed ‘self-determination’ from a principle to a political right which allowed a people to choose to remain under occupation by a foreign entity or to break away as an independent nation state. As we know, these resolutions were ignored by the PRC and the Tibetan people have continued to suffer under Chinese oppression unabated to this day. In an effort to alleviate the sufferings of His people in Tibet and to stop the destruction of the environment, His Holiness unveiled His Middle Way Approach (MWA), widely known as the ‘Strasbourg Proposal’ 15th June, 1988, which essentially called for ‘autonomy [with] a self-governing entity with democratically elected officials’ within PRC.
However, in 1992 His Holiness declared His MWA policy invalid simply because China had completely ignored His outreach.
In March 2011, His Holiness resigned from His political role. On March 14 of that year, upon His resignation from His political role, He said, “as a result, some of my political promulgations such as the Draft Constitution for a Future Tibet (1963) and Guidelines for Future Tibet’s Polity (1992) will become ineffective. The title of the present institution of the Ganden Phodrang headed by the Dalai Lama should also be changed accordingly.” The transformation of the Tibetan Government in Exile (TGIE) to the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) became a reality over concerns raised by many Tibetans and Tibet supporters.
Yet Chinese leaders continue to attack His Holiness in the most cruel and crude ways in order to conduct all the evil things they do to the land and people of Tibet. On one hand the Chinese treatment of Him is expected because His Holiness represents the truth of a people and a nation state, and the Chinese leaders realize that they have no legitimacy to support their claim over Tibet so instead they tirade Him ceaselessly to turn the world’s attention away from their oppression, destruction and occupation of the people and land of Tibet. On the other hand, in order to discourage criticism of its revised Middle Way Approach (MWA), the present CTA and its supporters claim they have His full support and blessings. This political move is detrimental to free speech and unity.
The current Kashag and the Assembly of the Tibetan People's Deputies are responsible for the new version of the MWA. Therefore to claim they have His Holiness the Dalai Lama's 'support' and ''full blessing' for their revised MWA is politically motivated in order to shield themselves from public criticism. Frankly, the present CTA’s acceptance of the Chinese Communist Party rule and its declared stance of not seeking democracy for Tibet will turn away worldwide supporters and more specifically hundreds of millions of Chinese people in China who desire democracy and reject Chinese Communist Party rule. In addition, Sikyong’s stance on China’s full discretion on militarization of Tibet has serious implications for India’s national security. As guests of the Indian government and the Indian people, since 1959, we must, at the very least, have some obligation and concerns for India’s national security. Yes, at the dawn of the Chinese Communist invasion of Tibet in 1950, Prime Minister Nehru unwittingly compromised India’s national security with his pro-China policy and jeopardized Tibet’s future. This mistaken Indian policy has been continued, with the exception of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, who succeeded Nehru in 1964. Prime Minster Shastri told the late Tsepon W.D. Shakabpa, the 1st Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in New Delhi, that he would consider recognizing the Tibetan government in Exile upon his return from Tashkent after meeting with Ayub Khan of Pakistan to resolve Indo-Pakistan border issues. Shastri died in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on January 11, 1966 and with it our hopes for recognition of Tibetan government in Exile by the Indian Government. The subsequent Indian Governments continued Nehru’s pro-China policy with regards to Tibet. Still, we must realize that the autonomy defined in the new MWA will one day require Tibetans in Tibet to fight India on behalf of China in a border conflict between the two nations. This inevitability, will be an unconscionable ‘thank you’ to India’s decades of help for our people through education, resettlement and freedom to preserve our faith, language and culture. No other nation has been more generous to us than India and we owe India and the Indian people our deepest gratitude.
I am not convinced that the MWA has a wide level of support. First, a nation's sovereignty is very precious and worth struggling for. This is not to suggest that we take up arms against the occupiers but merely to make the point how sacred freedom is. Second, a friend supports his friend’s rights as his own. Therefore no true Tibet supporters will support a concession that they will not accept for themselves. Third, I beg to defer CTA’s claim that MWA is ‘reasonable.’ There is nothing ‘reasonable’ about conceding the rights of a sovereign nation. Therefore, whatever support we think we have is not for the revised MWA policy, it is for His Holiness the Dalai Lama's warm personality and His tireless work to promote compassion and world peace.
His Holiness has no political role, but He still has every right to inject His opinion -but the decision to implement or revoke the revised MWA policy rests with the Kashag and the Assembly of the Tibetan People's Deputies,. Therefore using His Holiness the Dalai Lama's name to buttress their decision is wrong. Let the policy stand on its own merit; defend it if it is defensible, but allow different opinions and perspectives to stand in order to select the best ideas instead of limiting freedom of speech. CTA must have the confidence and the imagination to come up with a new approach instead of clinging on to a failed policy. Even the Chinese leaders in Beijing will respect our courage to stand alone in the defense of the truth of Tibet as an independent nation state.
The reason why the Chinese leaders are not paying any attention to CTA’s pleas for talks is because CTA makes more and more concessions while Beijing holds to its position of no talks, much less negotiate.
At a meeting in New York City on 23 May 2010, Kalon Tripa Samdhong Rinpoche described Tibetans advocating independence or genuine democracy in exile were more dangerous than Shugden followers or the Chinese Communists. In September 2013 when Chitue Karma Choephel was criticized for his comments about His Holiness, the members of the Parliament launched a denunciation of Tibetans who spoke up for independence as malefactors who should not only be exposed but also banished from Tibetan society. These public pronouncements by Tibetan officials help to divide our people into Rangzen vs Ume Lam camps. It is certainly ironic that these divisive, stigmatizing public comments are made by Tibetan government officials living in a country that is the largest democracy in the world. It just shows that after fifty-five years in exile in India, we have not learned the values of democracy. We should respect each other's views & be united behind the goal of Tibetan freedom even if we disagree on what path we should take.
The supporters for Tibetan independence are branded unpatriotic and worse yet, anti-Dalai Lama. The self-immolators’ call for unity, freedom and the return of His Holiness go ignored or misrepresented. It seems clear that the 'freedom' they call out for at the moment of their sacrifice is for the sovereignty of Tibet. If they are satisfied being under Chinese rule they would not burn themselves to death. Their call for the ‘return of His Holiness' cannot mean anything less than their yearning for His Holiness to return as the head of the Tibetan people in an independent Tibet. It is obvious they do not want Him to return just to be made a prisoner of the People's Republic of China like the Panchen Rinpoche. We must give more credit to those men, women and teenagers who have self-immolated for the cause of Tibet and their fellowmen who continue to defy Chinese rule. I think we should question why these self -mmolations are taking place. This is a recent development. The first self-immolation by Tapey took place on February 27, 2009 and then this action exploded in 2011, 2012 and 2013, resulting in over 130 self-immolations to date. Are they losing faith in the ability of exiled Tibetans to accurately represent them and so they are taking the matter into their own hands? Or is it a sign of their despair that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is no longer at the helm of the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala?
The shunning of Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) at the Kalachakra Initiation in Leh, Ladakh in July from providing a vital social service to the Tibetan people who come from all corners of Tibet, at great personal risk, in order to receive His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Kalachakra initiation and blessing is shameful and divisive at its core. I am sure that the Private Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama was not involved in this decision. I also believe that CTA was not involved in the decision making process but it would have been absolutely appropriate for CTA officials to step in and stop the divisiveness and let TYC conduct their compassionate social work which they have done very well many times before. It is interesting to note that RTYC Ladakh was allowed to conduct its charitable work at the Kalachakra in Leh while TYC Central was barred. RTYC Ladakh was one of 8 chapters out of 87 who proposed TYC to change its political stand for Tibetan independence to MWA, which was later defeated. The simple question then arises, was this a pay back?
In this context, I know the newly founded Tibetan National Congress (TNC) stands firmly for restoring Tibet’s independence. It has no agenda to overthrow the CTA. CTA is the only government we have and we want it to succeed. TNC's purpose is to encourage greater participation by the Tibetan people in their government; attract good people to serve and represent them. It is to make democracy work for the Tibetan people and to allow the freedom of speech to prevail so we have an intellectually vibrant society without fear of being branded or put on the ‘unpatriotic’ list. We do not need this kind of divisive methods to control our people. We must be respectful of each other, and most importantly, we must keep alive our goal to restore our nation’s sovereignty.