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Where do we go from here?

posted Oct 26, 2011, 8:55 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Oct 27, 2011, 7:02 AM ]
 
By Sherab Gyatso (Chicago, IL)

Challenges before the new government.

The past three years have been exceptionally momentous times in our political history compared to events in the foregoing decades. A succession of extraordinary events, particularly this year, has awakened us to an unexpected turn of history. Such things, for good or bad, help keep our spirit alert and bouncing. To start with, the year 2008 saw China’s frenzied efforts to showcase their rise to superpower stardom through the Olympics Games, while at the same time it afforded the Tibetans in Tibet and the world over the opportunity to launch a massive uprising against them. The news of the events had captured the world attention for weeks.

Soon after that, another two significant events have followed suit – the breakdown of the Tibet China dialogue, and the convening of the Special Tibetan Meeting at Dharamsala. These two events were preludes to even bigger things to come. While China, still smarting from the huge embarrassment brought on by the Tibetan uprisings, turned to intensifying their campaign against them, Gangchenkyishong campaigned hard to sell the idea of “middle path” as the only viable political tool for any future dealings with the enemy. In the ensuing period the ninth round of talks with Chinese took place which ended unceremoniously in a deadlock. The disappointing news was soon overshadowed by yet another big event - the fervor of the general election in exile. Unprecedented as it was, candidates, for the first time in history, had campaigned for election to the highest post in our polity, and had debated about our future in public forums engaging people’s attention to the fullest. Just at the nick of time when the whole Tibetan diaspora was readying itself to go to the polls, the news of His Holiness’s decision to devolve his political power broke out. It was a shocker which had left most people saddened, confused and helpless.

The Dalai Lama’s wisdom in ending the vestiges of the old Tibetan theocracy may very well have been in line with the changing world trend and democracy, but for the general Tibetan populace it was something hard to fathom, or accept. Not only this, even the supplication to take on at least a ceremonial role by Holiness as the head of the state was categorically rejected. The news produced shock waves in Tibetan communities around the world. This tremor was followed yet by more news of equal seismic proportion -- the ending of the four century old Gaden Phodrang rule of the old Tibet.

With all these events, rushing on so suddenly, the Tibetan world and its psyche was left overwhelmed and deeply troubled. A sense of edginess was palpable everywhere, and people started getting the feeling of being left out in the cold without protection, vulnerable, and dangerously exposed to machinations of forces that would want them to fade into oblivion. 

Yet on the flip side of His Holiness’s sagacious decision lies the promise of a greater good to come for Tibet, and for our future. Although the devolution of his political power leaves us unprepared, it also leaves us with opportunities for growth, strength, and trust in our own future. We heaved a sigh of relief when Holiness reassured us that he will always be there for us, to see us walk successfully into the future. His words were full of weight, seriously reassuring and invigorating like the utterances of a loving mother encouraging her infant toddler to take the first step, walk on its own, for its own future.

For now, the good thing is that we have successfully transitioned to the new situation, and we have an elected political leader – a pure layman at the helm. It is difficult to fathom how history has changed so fast in so short a time. It was just a year or so, when Dr. Lobsang Sangay first burst onto the Tibetan political scene by launching a campaign for election to the highest post. Little was known about him. Some dismissed him as an inexperienced political upstart able to make some waves, while others liked his new ideas and admired him.  At the end, Lobsang Sangay swept the elections. His detractors credited the landslide victory not to his new ideas but to his youthful charm and Harvard credentials. But Dr. Sangay is out to prove them wrong. One can easily glean plentiful notes of determination, optimism, pragmatism, and innovative propositions from his speeches.  Even his inaugural speech as the new Kalon Tripa came as a breath of fresh air to listeners used to hearing long verbose literary compositions from politicians. Markedly different in tone and substance from his predecessor, the new Kalon’s speech was infused with clarity, purposefulness, and energy. Except for occasional bursts of rhetoric, the rousing speech successfully dragged our attention to a wide range of challenges we face today.  

Now with all the momentous history behind us, it is time to step back and reflect on our future course. Questions pop up one after another: What are our political leaders going to do? Where do we go from here? Will the new Kalon Tripa take us on a better path than his predecessor, or will all his offerings be the same old wine in a new bottle? Is our government in exile hastily being replaced by the concept of “Tibetan People’s Organization”? If so, then what next? The air is getting thick with expectations, doubts and apprehensions.

Let me be allowed to pen this write up keeping well in mind that we still have a government in exile, and that the ill-conceived idea of downgrading the sacred institution of the government to that of a club or an organization is simply a bad dream. What is the foremost thing on our collective mind should invariably go to define our will and our tryst with destiny. The single biggest thing where all our stakes lie, and where all our efforts should be targeted, is, without any doubt, the continuity and proliferation of the “Tibet movement”. No matter in how many different ways one might attempt to elucidate this point, nothing is further from the truth that without the “Tibet movement” our future has no future, and without it all our past and future endeavors will be reduced to meaningless exercise or at best a sad footnote in history. The Tibet movement is our soul. It has given shape and meaning to all our dreams and endeavors. Just as the last fifty years of our time in exile were consumed by it, our present and future time will be wedded to its realization. Without the “Tibet movement” everything we’ve built thus far will make no sense. Without it there is no future, and there is no Tibetan dream. In essence, the Tibet Movement is the epitome of our intrinsic psychological discernment which echoes deep within each of our heart that says - “Tibet is ours”.

Today our situation has undergone a big change and we are increasingly confronted by a multitude of new challenges. And answers to these challenges are contingent upon one critical factor – the ‘time’. But, unfortunately, there is a very little of it at our disposal. The generation that has carried on the struggle in the last fifty years will soon bow out of the scene all together in a matter of one or two decades. One can only speculate what will this mean for us, and what ramifications such change of guard will have on the future of our struggle. This is precisely the reason why our government and the political leadership need to make extraordinary efforts to draw the road map and put the Tibet Movement on a firm footing before it is too late.  

Let us take into account those dynamics that will play crucial roles in the survival and continuity of our struggle. There are six of them. They are (1) The Dalai Lama factor, (2) Unity, (3) Effectiveness of the Tibetan government in exile, (4) Tibet-China dialogue, (5) The Tibet connection, and (6) international support and advocacy. Let me elucidate them:

(1)  The Dalai Lama factor: It is needless for me to stress how important and indispensable His Holiness is to us since we all know it. He is the ubiquitous living embodiment of the Tibetan spirit and soul. The Tibet movement is dear to his heart which he had nurtured through thick and thin all these years. Even after devolution of his political powers, for the people, Holiness will continue to remain their guiding spirit, their mover and shaker. His very presence among us guarantees the survival of our spirit, and more importantly the continuity of the Tibet movement.

When talking of Holiness and his role in our future, there are two important things which our political leaders must keep in mind. First is the issue of the reincarnation. Fortunately, it has been made crystal clear with the recent statement coming from His Holiness that he will leave everything in writing regarding his future reincarnation. This timely statement leaves no space for any Chinese attempt to maneuver or derail the reincarnation process in future. What our government needs to do is to formulate its stand on the issue and then publicize everything including Holiness’ statement throughout the world, and explicitly in Tibet.  

The second point is the Kalon Tripa’s own relationship with the Dalai Lama. Though independent and mandated to pursue political directions on its own, it is of immense national interest that the Kalon Tripa keeps a close relationship with the Private Office. The unchartered waters of the new political situation formed out of Holiness’ exit from political power must be waded through with great care and tact. In a social situation like ours whose collective temperament is mostly shaped and colored by spiritualism, winning elections alone is not enough to sell your ideas. The leadership has to work extra hard to gain people’s trust and faith. He will have to learn to walk the tightrope between spiritualism and politics, balancing wisely the needs of the traditionalists and the progressives in meaningful measures. At this critical juncture, the political leadership cannot afford to blunder into any situation that will lead toward confrontation and misunderstandings between the spiritual and political forces. As far as possible the two (Private Office and Kalon Tripa) should always be on the same page in regard to all endeavors relating to the Tibet movement. Kalon Tripa’s independence and decisions must be respected. This will happen when the channel of communication between the two remains open, frank and helpful; leave nothing to misinformation apparatus of the Chinese, toadies and other divisive forces. 

(2) Unity is another important factor that has the power to make or break our dreams. With Holiness still among us, forces of disunity will dare not raise their ugly head. Religious sectarianism and regionalism are effectively kept at bay if not totally wiped out. We cannot forget those difficult situations when regionalism had seeped into politics and harmed our unity at one time, long ago. Tribute must be paid to Samdong Rinpoche for his handling of this issue right from the time when he had inherited a politics-ridden inept establishment. From the beginning of his political career, Rinpoche had viewed regionalism as something utterly meaningless and irrelevant pursuit. Unity was his goal. This act had earned him the people’s trust and respect. The new Kalon Tripa should take cue from his predecessor, and be always on guard against any forces that may attempt to entice him into the murky politics of regionalism. Unity is such an important issue and without it the Tibet movement will surely slide into cataclysmic collapse. 

(3) The role of Tibetan Government: With over fifty years of history to its credit, the Tibetan government in exile continues to represents itself as the de facto sovereign authority of the Tibetan state. It helps to keep people together, and galvanizing them for the struggle ahead.    However its competence has always remained a matter of concern to many people and its supporters. The government’s work culture, its direction and lack of efficiency have become a cause for concern.  Many believe that a time has come to overhaul and raise the standard of its work performance. The time worn emulation of “Kudak” ethos by staff and the lethargic work culture of yesteryears should not find place in a government that is supposed to lead a freedom struggle. Vestiges of old social system, too much officialdom, pomposity, bureaucracy, hierarchy, condescending attitudes, etc. are hindering its effectiveness.

It is a fact that attempts have been made in the past to bring improvements but they have remained mostly superficial affects lacking any meaningful change. If we look at the current trend of the conduct of official engagements, particularly in the Parliament, it is not difficult to see how much of the main thrust of its legislation is often taken up by endless debates on regulations, and technicalities forgetting the big picture of our struggle.  It is a big waste of time and energy trying to emulate the bureaucracy and governance style of the host country and use it as a model. Our situation is very different and so are the needs. Take cue if we must from those who are fighting for their country. We need a paradigm shift. We need a government ‘for the Tibet movement’, ‘by the Tibet movement’ and ‘of the Tibet movement’.

Today our society is in a much better position than yesterday, and we have quite a good pool of intellectuals and professionals living across the world. The government should tap into such resources. Create ‘think tanks’ to generate ideas, to seek consultative services, to form independent commission to review and evaluate the government work performance. All it takes is to step outside the box, look for new ways, and be receptive to new ideas and changes.  A cursory look at the works of some departments in the government will tell a lot of things how and where things are going. Some views:  

    (a)    The Department of Information and International Relations (DIIR) is an important organ of the government. Over the years it saw many changes in terms of physical expansions and institution of new programs. And yet it had remained woefully wanting especially in areas where it is supposed to focus more – the dissemination of news and advocacy. Of course, it cannot compete against the Chinese multi-billion dollar propaganda machine, but at least it can create a good publicity programs simply by resorting to available social networking tools and other information technology recourses. Its works should attract international and as well as domestic audience in Tibet.  The current low quality news services including web tv which focus mostly on government functions and speeches must undergo change with infusion of creative ideas.

    (b)    The Department of Religion and Culture shoulders an important responsibility in the promotion and preservation of our heritage. But in reality its focus has been confined mostly to ecclesiastical affairs. In the past, the department is known for sending circulars prescribing ludicrous number of manis or prayers to be performed by the public, and collecting prayer data.

The goals and the responsibilities of this department should be reevaluated and rewritten within the context of the promotion and preservation of Tibet’s spiritual and cultural heritage. Lack of vision and ideas has reduced its role to that of a mere organizer of grand prayer sessions, provider of financial support for monks and monasteries etc.  As such its role has been grossly misconceived in favor of promoting ecclesiastical matters at the cost of secular culture.

Given the vast domain of its responsibility, this department has great potential for achievement.  There is great scope in the realm of cultural preservation programs, and scope for achievement in the spiritual affairs. Just think of what the department can do. Many things; It can even galvanize the innumerable influential lamas and monasteries around the world to contribute their share for the Tibetan struggle, help promote culture and connect the Tibetans inside outside Tibet using visiting lamas and monks. 

    (c)    Education: The new Kalon Tripa, in his inaugural speech, had said emphatically that education would be given the top priority by the government. It is great news because education is one prime area where we must invest heavily for the sake of our future. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss in detail what is ailing our school system and what can be done to right it. We all know Sherig department’s past history and its misfortune of being managed by many Kalons and secretaries who have no connection with children’s education. Except for the last Kalon, it has been government bureaucrats who have been promoted to run the department. No wonder the main thrust of Sherig’s works have been confined mostly to expanding and improving infrastructure at the cost of quality education. The works of Sherig must be evaluated and efforts made to shift the priority from infrastructure development to academic and human resource development.

Broadly speaking, Tibetan children’s education falls under two categories – (a) modern education subjects (English, science, math, social studies etc.) and (b) Tibet studies program (Tibetan history, culture, religion and language). Sadly speaking, the latter has been the biggest weakness simply due to lack of attention, ideas and innovative curriculum.

Now the new Kalon Tripa with Sherig affairs under his wings has a great responsibility in bringing the much needed change. He has to look at the whole spectrum of our education system - its ills, its needs and its relevance, and prospects for improvement. He has to formulate a strategy that will lead toward change and development. He should appoint a commission of educationists and scholars to look into the matter and get their report, and then steer education policy in the right direction. The education policy should be so shaped that it benefits our future generation who will inherit the mantle of our struggle.  In doing so, Sherig will have to address a wide range of issues concerning the needs of children in Tibet, India and Nepal, plus the whole Himalayan region, and the growing number of Tibetan children in the west and other parts of the world.

    (d)   Department of Home affairs: Settlements spread across India, Nepal and Bhutan is home to the largest number of Tibetan people in exile. They have become the hub of cultural activities and revival. Over the years the demography of the settlements has been undergoing gradual change with the result that the younger generation form the larger segment of the population today. While the older generation continues to slog hard in the fields, the younger ones start to move out in search of greener pastures, threatening the future of the settlements. The government needs to address the issue, and initiate programs and attractions that will keep them in the settlements. What every settlement needs are things like agriculture resource centers, public libraries, information centers, community centers, youth programs etc. The spotlight should be on development of modern farming techniques, community and employment opportunities rather than on such programs as organic farming that has largely remained a non-starter.

(4) Tibet – China dialogue : To date as many as nine rounds of talks have taken place between us and the Chinese.  As we engage with them, we learn so many things about their politics, and about their cat and mouse game.  China’s past shilly-shally rapprochement with the Tibetan exiles, and their incoherent and preposterous approach, their belligerence all go to show what things are to be expected from them in any future dealings.  Despite the sacrifices and painful compromises we made, no Chinese leaders or any of their apparatchiks to date have come forward to reciprocate in the least, let alone in a similar vein. 

The current Chinese leadership, unlike their former leader Deng Xiaopeng and the likes, dare not show any kind of reconciliatory gestures to the “splittists”, fearing censures from the Party hardliners, who are seen gaining weight in the Chinese political tug-of-war. This is the reason the leadership is so eagerly bent on aligning and subscribing themselves ever closer to the hard line positions buttressed by party stalwarts. The recent upsurge in the repression of Tibetans, the vociferous vilification campaigns launched against the Dalai Lama, and failure of the talks all seem to show how desperately the leadership is bent on correcting themselves to placate the hardliners.   

But let us be reminded that things will never remain the same. With rapid development of economy comes rapid development of human psychology and hunger for freedom and democracy. Signs of change are on the horizon. In their next round of the Chinese Communist Party election due in 2012, it is expected that most of the current aging party leadership will be replaced by younger ones from the fifth generation. Though the obsession for maintaining control and perpetuation of the regime will remain in place, there is no way the leaders can muzzle people’s growing hunger for freedom and democracy. 

 Notwithstanding our misgivings, we should continue making efforts to promote the dialogues, and wait for a breakthrough that will ultimately usher the dawn of our return to our motherland Tibet.

(5) The Tibet Connection: One of the things we all fail to see is the importance of the connection existing between Tibetans inside and outside Tibet. The significance of this “connection” is never understood or even recognized by us. All we do is experience it, draw on it and take it for granted.  This “connection” between our two people and the land is far too important to be ignored or left to dry up. It is the very lifeline of our struggle. And its contribution is immense which can be judged from all aspects of the Tibet movement. 

It was in the 1980s when Tibet was opened to the outside world to showcase how it had prospered under China. Since then floods of refugees have escaped resulting in the formation of this vital link up that continues to these days, even under the harshest conditions.

Now the Chinese are trying their utmost to snap this “connection” with all their might, even to the point of buying the Nepalese Interior Ministry and the police force. Such desperation on the part of the Chinese underscores their trepidations on the matter. 

 Our government must do all whatever it takes to maintain the “connection” and bolster it - never letting the Chinese break our resolve.  In view of the fact that it plays such an important and invaluable role in our struggle, I would even put forward the idea of creating a separate ministerial department in the government for the purpose. 

 (6) Activism and advocacy: Political activism and advocacy are two imperative objectives of our endeavor on which the previous Kalons have earned very low scores. They may have a good reason (excuse?) for not encouraging strong political activism on the soil of the host country for fear of putting the host country in a difficult position; but this is no excuse for sleeping on the issue. In fact, advocacy for the cause can be done from anywhere and in every form. Going by the news of what is happening in Tibet (the repression, self-immolation by monks) and in Nepal (police brutality on our people) etc., and the government’s lackadaisical response to the events, it seems the new administration too has fallen victim to the same psychological affliction (inactivity and indifference) the previous administration suffered from. Let us hope the case is otherwise.

We must understand the fact that without international attention on us, and without their pressure on the Chinese, there is little hope of making them to sit down with us for a meaningful negotiation.  Thanks to the efforts of the Dalai Lama and the Tibet Support groups including SFT, ICT, Friends of Tibet, and all those in the International Tibet Network, our own TYC, TWA, Guchusum and others, the Tibet Movement has found a strong voice around the world.       

The government must shake off the pomposity and join hands with all forces that help our cause. It must learn to react fast to events as they happen rather than prefer to wait and give belated responses. It must work in coordination with Tibet support groups and the Offices of Tibet around the world. Such ways of working will add to the strength of our endeavor and help galvanize public support even further. We need to open more Offices of Tibet around the world and appoint competent people in-charge who can really do the job. And on top of this, we must join hands openly with all those anti-Chinese voices and movements around the world.  

Conclusion: The last fifty years of our life in exile was exhausted mainly trying to establish ourselves and garnering international help for our struggle. Now we are moving past this milestone well reminded of the fact that our times and experiences beyond this point will start to change. To say the least, it will never be the same again. The next twenty years will be the defining moment of our struggle - a real test of time. 

To narrow down everything, two important issues will dominate our future – the continuity of the Tibet movement and the outcome of the dialogues with China. To be successful in both, we have to unite and pull everything together to launch ourselves afresh. We have to change the status quo, and affect a paradigm shift in the way the government works and politicians leads. We need both brain power and patriotism to be able to face the challenges. We have to make wise decisions, overhaul ourselves, reinvent and reemerge with greater visibility and proactivity, pouncing upon every conceivable opportunity to project our case. Every action will count - may that be such supreme sacrifices as self-immolation, hunger strikes, or protest marches, bike rides for Tibet, music, films, writings and thousands of other actions we can think of. We should know that the last thing the Chinese want is a strong noisy Tibetan community making international news and bringing shame on them. They will never negotiate with us when we are weak, passive, harmless and invisible. They will take us seriously only when we act in concert and project our strength, make noise, band with anti-Chinese forces, muster international condemnation of their action in Tibet. Therefore let us not choose to remain silent invisible refugees waiting for miracles. Let us be a force to reckon with.  What happened in Libya is a case in point. The Chinese supported Muammar Gadaffi thinking that the insurgency will be crushed soon by the dictator. They did not side with people’s uprising even when it gained momentum and spread all over Libya. The Chinese changed positions and sided with interim government only when the rebels reached inside Gadaffi’s palace compound and ended his power.

Our struggle is like a raft on an open sea. Cloudless sky and calm sea does not mean smooth sailing all the way, and ominous clouds and choppy water do not mean danger all the way. What is important is to know how to weather the storm, and keep moving. What is important is to know what to expect and where to move. What is important is to know how to keep the spirit alive, how to sail in the right direction with foresight, wisdom and action.  We can trust in divine help as we have always done, and pray, but we must keep rowing to the shore.



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