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There is no middle without the ends

posted Mar 15, 2015, 5:48 PM by The Tibetan Political Review

By Tenzin Gelek

There is little doubt that what happened in NY on March 10 2015 was unpleasant to witness and certainly condemnable. But whatever be the immediate cause of that incident and however we try to justify it, I take consolation in the fact that it brought some deeply dissenting issues to the surface.  This is the beauty of democracy and the function of free society; that there is a perpetual friction caused by differing views, which then lends space for dialogue and discussion.  Although, like many others, I would have preferred that this heated debate took place in the halls of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile rather than the streets of New York.  But it happened and we need to deal with it instead of sweeping it under the rug. 

 Without going into the details of what happened or who caused it, when I analyze this incident, I see two underlying issues – the divide between the advocates of Middle-way and Rangzen leading to the somewhat ostracization of the latter and the definition of March 10 in the light of this divide going forward.  Before I elaborate my views on these, let me unequivocally state, so as to remove any indication of bias, that I support the Middle-way and have done so since its inception.  In my recent past, I have involved myself in some activities that aim to advance the cause of Middle Way.  

One such event was a discussion with Chinese students and one of the key speakers was Sikyong Lobsang Sangay la.  At the time, he was speaking in his capacity as a Harvard legal scholar and therefore, I will refer to him as Dr. Lobsang Sangay la in this account.  He was presenting the legal view on the case for Tibetan Independence.  At the end of the talk, I recollect a Chinese student walking up to him and asking him and I am paraphrasing, “This conference is about dialogue and understanding and yet in your presentation, you talk about Tibetan Independence?”.  To which, Dr. Lobsang Sangay la responded, “It is important to remember what the Tibetan people have the right to and only then will there be substantial dialogue.”  Of course, I am recollecting this from a distant memory and I may have taken some literary liberties with it.  However, the content is relevant to the discussion of the aforementioned issues.

The next generation of Tibetan and Chinese population needs to be reminded.  And most of all, the Chinese government needs to be reminded.  No other day is as symbolic as March 10 to serve as that reminder. It is an important landmark in the history of Tibetan people’s struggle.  If we look at the events leading to M10, there is no doubt that there was a deep resentment against the Chinese policies in Tibet and a fierce longing for freedom from the oppressive rule.  As far as I can see, both the conditions still exist today. 

The watershed moment on March 10, 1959 when thousands of Tibetans surrounded the Norbulingka Palace to protect His Holiness the Dalai Lama is also important to remember.  For the Tibetan people, His Holiness is not just a religious leader but our idea of Freedom, Nation and Identity is intertwined with him. This also remains true even today.  Since the conditions that led to M10 still exists, our collective voice should also resonate with the deafening cries heard on the streets of Lhasa.  And I believe that M10 should be commemorated with same fervor as that fateful day in Lhasa.

With regards to the issue of MW v/s Rangzen, I think that this is an unnecessary divide created only due to our limited perception and the lack of political imagination.  Let me try to articulate the reasoning for both the voices to co-exist in our community.  The Middle-way is a practical solution proposed to the ongoing conflict between the Tibetan administration representing the Tibetan people and the Chinese government. In the most simplistic form, it is aimed at striking a balance between the Chinese government’s current policies of reckless assimilation of Tibetans and the state-sponsored sinicization of Tibet and the Tibetan people’s claim for an Independent Tibet.  I am of the opinion that until both the parties meet in the middle and that agreement is ratified, we should not give up our hand just yet.  For the Middle-way to make sense and for it have any weight at the negotiation table, the Rangzen faction has to exist.  The Chinese government has to be reminded of the stake they have in the Middle-way being successful.  As such, it behooves us not shut out the Rangzen supporters for that reason and many others – namely – Freedom of speech, choice etc guaranteed under a democratic establishment.

Having said that, I do want to speak to my own rationale to support the Middle-way policy and it has nothing to do with my devotion to His Holiness.  Well, that is partly untrue because my undying devotion and faith stems from witnessing in person the relentless hard work of the Great 14th Dalai Lama.  And that being in the center of everything related to Tibet for over 60 years and having dealt with all the Chinese leaders from Mao to Xi, and countless heads of states have accorded His Holiness with the breadth of political and diplomatic experience that should be respected.    But for this discussion, I do want to separate the Middle-way policy from His Holiness and examine it purely on its own merits.

I am a pragmatist and the current situation inside Tibet, the geopolitical and the economic reality of the world compel me to compromise and prioritize.  If the circumstances were different, we can of course revisit this discussion, but based on the current realities, it is hard to entertain this romanticized notion of Independence.  In my mind, there are two Tibets that need to be freed– a Tibet of the hearts and minds consisting of the Tibetan language, religion, culture and customs.  And another, a landlocked geographical region that is nestled between China and India.  The former is able to survive without the latter, as is evident from the Tibetan diaspora but the latter is irrelevant without the former.

In a perfect world, both the Tibets converge into an Independent Tibet.  However, in the real world, we all know that the first Tibet is under persistent threat and it is this Tibet that the Middle-way strives to protect and preserve.  It is this Tibet that is not only important to us Tibetans but crucial for millions of Chinese seeking spiritual solace and for the world in general.  This is why I support the Middle-way, not because I want to sell-out Independence; not because I want to kowtow to the Chinese communist regime.  But because I am a pragmatist who recognizes that we live in a globalized, interdependent world where peaceful co-existence is paramount.

In conclusion, I know that my fellow Tibetans who support Rangzen will not agree with some of what I have said but please know that these words come from the same place as yours – a deep love for Tibet and a categorical opposition to the present situation in Tibet.  The Middle-way is a policy adopted by our democratic parliament to provide a diplomatic solution to what is a deadlock currently.  Rangzen, at present, is an aspirational concept but if you could lay out in detail the vision, the strategy, the tactical approach and what the future of an Independent Tibet would look like in the face of a Nuclear China, please publish those.  I cannot guarantee that I will change my mind but I will absolutely read it and debate its merits with you.  For I am willing to risk offending the empty chairs across the negotiation table than to face the dangers of a divided movement.

The author is a concerned Tibetan professional living in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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