By Pema Norbu, Earlham College, U.S.A.
Over the last few months, the issue of the Kalon Trip election has captured the attention of all Tibetan people scattered around different parts of the globe and has generated some intense debates. The public discussions and debates on the Kalon Tripa election were further intensified by the campaigning groups and supporters of each candidate, dedicated to promote their own candidate. I have been following the events and processes of the Kalon Tripa election since the beginning of its campaign. I was bit concerned about how the public would react to this event given the relatively short history of Kalon Tripa directly elected by people through the ballot system. The primary election result speaks more in depth about how well we are prepared and educated on politics of democracy. However, I was overwhelmed by the number of Tibetans who took the initiative in the process of the election campaign through news media, social networks and public gatherings. If we choose to live by democratic principles, this marks the begging of our movement towards democracy and what we do today will define the course of our political future.
Therefore, understanding the implications of this election is helpful in choosing a right person. I urge Tibetans of all walks of life to choose the right candidate who has the courage to take responsibility as well as the wisdom to guide our struggle for freedom, justice and human dignity. In this critical juncture of our history, we cannot afford to deceive ourselves by short sighted views of regionalism, emotional attachments and power struggle. Every single Tibetan shares this responsibility and must execute the duty of democracy by faithfully caste one’s vote to a person who deserves it.
If we give a thoughtful look at His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s historic statement on the 10th of March and his message to the Fourteenth Assembly of the Tibetan People’s Deputies, His Holiness’s vision is clear; the modernization of Tibetan political system must reach its full bloom. His Holiness’s vision to modernize the Tibetan political system is not unknown to our history but unfortunately, it is becoming a stranger to many Tibetans today. The modernization reform was first introduced by 13th Dalai Lama in 1913 to preserve Tibet’s sovereignty and put Tibet into the global orbit of modern civilization. However, much needed reform failed to occur due to internal resistances from both monastic and civilian bureaucrats and looming external occupying pressures from outsiders, particularly the British and the Chinese.
This unfinished task has been the main concern of the His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama since he assumed Tibetan spiritual and temporal role at the tender age of sixteen. When Dalai Lama escaped Tibet in 1959, he sought guidance from the then Indian Prime minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and was allowed to establish the Tibetan community in India. With Dalai Lama’s unflinching determination and the Indian government’s supports, the Tibetan community in exile has become a fully functioning society with a democratic government at its heart and schools to impart modern education to young Tibetans. I am one of those young Tibetans who grew up in India and received a modern education in Tibetan schools in India. Like me every year, thousands of Tibetans receive education comparable to the 21st century global educational standards. According to the Tibetan Government in exile’s second demographic survey conducted by its Planning Commission in 2009, the literacy rate of Tibetans in exile above age 6 is 82.4 percent higher than many countries around the world. This is a millstone achievement in education comparing to pre-1959 Tibet.
Given the rapidly shifting global political climate and current situation of Tibet, the time has come to put the His Holiness’s reform into practice. The careful reading of our exile history clearly suggests that His Holiness has been preparing for this critical political transition since the reestablishment of Ganden Phodrang Government on the charter of modern democracy in 1960s. His Holiness clearly asserted in his message to the Tibetan People’s Deputies, “Since I was young, I have been aware of an urgent need to modernize the Tibetan political system. However, I had a strong wish to introduce appropriate reforms in accordance with the changing times and was able to effect some fundamental changes. Unfortunately, I was unable to carry these reforms any further due to circumstances beyond my control”. His Holiness expressed his vision for political transition in many occasions and both Tibetan government officials and people remained deft or unwilling to answer his calls.
Over the years, His Holiness’s statements on this issue have been growing more and more assertive and on his speech given on the 10th of March 2011, His Holiness finally set a time line for this transition. However, government officials are still living in self-doubt and seem unwilling to take the political responsibility their offices demand of them. We should seriously consider His Holiness’s proposal and need to take necessary reform measures while the Dalai Lama is with us. Dissolving the political role does not mean that His Holiness evades his responsibility of a respected spiritual leader and simply as a Tibetan citizen. Therefore, His Holiness’s guidance and advices on important political matters will always be available to Tibetans regardless of His Holiness political power such as signing bills to pass legislation. In reality, this change in roles does not affect His Holiness’s guidance role to Tibetans, but it alters Tibetan people’s degree of commitment and responsibility. We have been regretting our failure to pursue His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama’s much anticipated modernization reforms in Tibet. The time will come when we are blaming ourselves again if we choose to walk away from this critical responsibility.
The implications of this political transition are something many people don’t take adequately into consideration. Firstly, the smooth political transition will slowly make our government self-reliant and less dependent on one man. Sooner or later, we have to face this political vacuum and we must prepare to face such a circumstance without losing hope.
Secondly, a successful political transition will force Beijing to rethink its ad-hoc policy on Tibet; reducing issue of six million Tibetans as a private matter of the Dalai Lam. It further weakens Beijing’s much politicized campaign to intervene in Tibetan spiritual matters, particularly the disputed matter of reincarnation of Tibetan Lamas.
Thirdly, it helps us to create a more secular society, where the flower of Dharma will blossom with its full fragrance of love and compassion without being tainted by cynicism politics. The purity of the Dharma teaching will be preserved when doctrine of faith does not dilute with affair of politics. Moving towards secularism is a trend where contemporary world is aggressively heading with chaos and violence. We have to transform ourselves with the constantly shifting global order and continuous evolution of human civilization. Our inability to adapt to such changes in the past resulted in my opinion in the loss of our sovereignty and we became victims of modern politics.
Fourthly, it reduces the burden on His Holiness and will help him to realize his vision to promote religious harmony and world peace which are also foundational interests of Tibetan people. Given His Holiness’s role as a global spiritual leader, his popularity and message of peace and harmony will continue to reach further across this shadowed world. Unlike other countries, dispute between politics and religion is not an issue in our community, however the current condition of global political climate induces grave misunderstandings of the role of the Dalai Lama in Tibetan politics. China’s aggressive campaigns on old Tibet as a “fiefdom state” under the leadership of the Dalai Lama further cloud people’s vision to see His Holiness clearly.
Finally, if we are true follower of Buddha; we need willingness to serve in the realm of politics in order to give His Holiness a break from worldly issues so tainted with grime of politics. His Holiness is about to cross the age of seventy five and on the occasion of his seventy sixth birthday, we have to offer our best prayer (Chopha) by fulfilling his wish; a smooth transition of political power. Our centuries of old Lama- follower sacred relation with His Holiness will never cease to be end until the day when we lose our faith.