Dalai Lama weighs all options, including democracy

Dalai Lama weighs all options, including democracy

A successor may be announced in Dalais lifetime to pre-empt Chinese attempts at foisting its candidate


For, they realise that absence of the ageing 14th Dalai Lama’s charismatic persona from their midst in foreseeable future could deny the Tibetan movement of all oxygen and may render it rudderless. The movement has thrived on the internationalisation of the Tibetan issue through the efforts of the globe-trotting, high profile Nobel laureate who meets heads of states on an equal keel much to the chagrin of the Chinese.

It is true that except for empathy from world leaders, no tangible benefits have accrued for the Tibetan cause – no country recognises the Tibetan government-in-exile. However, to keep the Tibet issue – which involves the fate of about six million people tucked away in rugged mountains beyond Himalayas – alive in international consciousness for the past 50 years is no mean achievement. The Dalai Lama is largely responsible for this which regularly embarrasses China, as arc lights often get focused on its questionable human rights record in Tibet.

The Tibetan ‘god-king,’ who straddles the temporal and spiritual domains of Tibetan life, is conscious that he has become sine qua non of the Tibetan movement ever since his flight to India in 1959. He is also acutely aware about the deliberate Chinese dithering on thrashing out any solution to the issue. Eight rounds of talks between the Chinese and Tibetan delegations since 2002 have borne little fruit. The Dalai Lama became so disenchanted with the Chinese stone-walling of any attempt to break the impasse on Tibet that he declared last October that he had “given up” on attempts to convince China that all that the Tibetans wanted was more autonomy for Tibet and that he was not a “splittist” as portrayed by the Chinese. He also admitted failure of his ‘middle way’ approach that eschews demand for independence in favour of limited autonomy for Tibet within China.

A visibly disillusioned Tibetan Lama also hinted at his desire for taking “complete retirement.” But then an international conclave of Tibetan refugees collected from all parts of the world at Dharamshala in November last year, again resolved to authorise the Dalai Lama to lead the Tibetan movement and stamped its approval for his middle way approach. Some younger Tibetans, though, wanted him to return to the demand of complete independence from China.

The Tibetan spiritual leader had convened the conclave of Tibetan intellectuals, NGOs, Tibetan officials, social and political activists and people from all walks of life to review the course of Tibetan movement and devise new strategies, if any, to take the movement forward.

Tibetan mandarins are aware that the Chinese could be playing the waiting game for maintaining the status quo on Tibet till the death of His Holiness in the hope that Tibetan struggle would lose impetus in the absence of a unifying spiritual and political force.

China hopes to control the Tibetan affairs and indigenous Tibetan unrests which erupt from time to time, like the one witnessed in 2008, by searching for and installing an incarnation of the 14th Dalai Lama as per traditions of Tibetan Buddhism once the present incumbent dies. It has already enacted a law in 2007 making the Chinese government’s approval mandatory for any of the reincarnated lamas. So far, only the Dalai Lama was approving reincarnating lamas.

Succession issue

In the emerging scenario, the Tibetan administration has been mulling over ways to deal with the situation in the aftermath of the Dalai Lama. The Tibetan spiritual leader has himself been suggesting several ways to deal with the succession issue. In June, the Dalai Lama significantly called upon the Tibetan community to embrace democratic traditions and stop banking on one political leader (alluding to the institution of the Dalai Lama) who in any case has been picked randomly. Like other high lamas in Tibetan Buddhism, the reincarnation of 14th Dalai Lama was also discovered through elaborate process of Buddhist rituals, divination and tests.

He said the institution of the Dalai Lama who held temporal and spiritual leadership of Tibet over the last four or five centuries might have been quite useful in earlier times. “Today it is clear to the whole world that democracy is the best system despite its minor negatives. That is why it is important that Tibetans also move with the larger world community.”

 The Tibetan government-in-exile has introduced democratic process among exiles since 2001 and has an elected prime minister. However, the incumbent prime minister, Prof Samdhong Rinpoche, a Hindi scholar, has always deferred to the wishes of the Dalai Lama in chalking out policy.

It is a clear sign that the Dalai Lama is preparing the Tibetan community for future by urging it to tide over its huge reverence for the institution and person of the Dalai Lama, whom they consider as their god, in favour of an elected Tibetan leadership. He also hinted that all options for choosing his succession were open.

Tibetan sources say this could include the Dalai Lama announcing his own incarnation during his life time only. This would pre-empt Chinese attempts at foisting its candidate in the seat of the Dalai Lama as it had done in the case of Panchen Lama, the second most important spiritual leader in the Gelugpa sect after the Dalai Lama.

The Chinese had put in jail the boy Panchen Lama whose reincarnation was approved by the Dalai Lama. China also delved in the Tibetan religious affairs when it recognised the reincarnation of Karmapa, head of the Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism. However, the 14-year old boy Karmapa, Ugyen Thinley Dorje fled from the Chinese security in Tibet and took refuge at Dharmashala in 2000.

The Dalai Lama has also stamped his approval for his reincarnation leading to another speculation that the revered Karmapa could, in future, become the rallying point for the struggling Tibetans within and outside Tibet.

In the past few years, the Dalai Lama had said that the institution of the Dalai Lama would continue after his death only if the Tibetan people wanted so. In 2007, he had hinted at conducting a referendum among the Tibetan community before his death as how to pick the next living Buddha of the Tibetans.

However, the Tibetans would hope and pray that the Dalai Lama goes on to live for at least 100 years as he jocularly wished during his birthday celebrations at Delhi on July 6.

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