Tough tasks

Few will disagree that Lobsang Sangay, the new prime minister of Tibet’s government-in-exile, has the toughest job in the world. He has taken over the political role of the Dalai Lama, who will continue as spiritual leader of the Tibetans. Sangay is the Tibetan government-in-exile’s first elected leader and thus represents a break from its feudal past. Not only will he one day become the face of the Tibetan movement but also, he will need to convince young and increasingly militant Tibetans worldwide that the path of moderation in dealing with the Chinese government is the best option available to the Tibetan people. The Dalai Lama is among the world’s most popular and a widely respected leader. Sangay is unknown outside the Tibetan community, but he has his task cut out by connecting with the Tibetan people.

Soon after his election in May, Sangay announced that he is willing to talk to the Chinese government ‘anytime and anywhere.’ Beijing’s response was on expected lines. It described the government-in-exile as a ‘separatist political clique’ with ‘no legitimacy at all.’ Sangay must persist with his offer of negotiations for a political settlement of the problem. More importantly, he will need to show Tibetans that negotiating with Beijing is rewarding. Else the Tibetan movement, which has been showing signs of radicalism, will turn violent post-Dalai Lama. Sangay has publicly expressed support for the Dalai Lama’s policy of seeking ‘meaningful autonomy’ for Tibet under Chinese rule. Still, there is some scepticism over his position, which is fuelled by the fact that he was a member of the pro-independence Tibetan Youth Congress. More worrying, however, are his reported pro-American leanings. There is concern in some quarters that he might take on board the American agenda. Hopefully, he will not as that will deal a death blow to the Tibetan cause. Tibetans deserve a fair settlement. That will not come through confronting China or acting as a pawn of the Americans.

As for China, if it is planning to ignore Sangay in the hope that post-Dalai Lama the Tibetan movement will fizzle out, it is treading a perilous path. Ignoring Sangay’s offer for talks will encourage radical Tibetans to take up arms. Sangay represents China’s last chance to make peace with the Tibetans. 

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