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Opinion: The spirit of Tibet

October 13, 2010

Sunanda K Datta-Ray <sunandadr@yahoo.co.in>
The Daily Pioneer (India)
October 7, 2010

With or without a Dalai Lama and no matter what China says, the
Tibetan diaspora will evolve into a state without territory

Singapore's Foreign Minister, Mr George Yeo, was right in writing in
a syndicated article that "Tibet is part of a much larger Asian drama
that is changing the world." But he probably wasn't thinking of the
manifestations of an indomitable human spirit I witnessed in a
Brussels flat last Sunday evening. That true face of heroism makes
Tibet sui generis.

We were in Brussels under the aegis of the Asia-Europe Foundation to
discuss some of the issues that the leaders of Asia and Europe would
grapple with at the next day's summit at the Royal Palace. Once the
Editors Roundtable, as our group was called, ended, I walked down the
deserted road from my hotel to the Avenue des Arts where the Bureau
du Tibet functions modestly. Tashi Wangdi, an old friend from Delhi
who has spent the last few years in New York, and is regarded as one
of the most sagacious members of the Dalai Lama's administration, is
now in charge. I knew he would be working late. Why became clear when
the doorbell shrilled at 9.00 pm. "Another voter!" Tashi exclaimed,
and someone rushed to activate the door-opening mechanism downstairs
so that the caller could come up.

The drama was repeated twice more, the last time around 10 o' clock
at night. A cheerful Hindi-speaking middle-aged woman, a sturdy youth
and an older man in a responsible leadership position proposed a name
for Kalon Tripa or Prime Minister, and for Europe's two
representatives in the community's 46-member Parliament. Watching
them completing their forms, pale green for Parliament and the white
'Kalon Tripa's Primary Election Form', it occurred to me they were
performing a minuet in the elaborate dance of democracy to which the
1,50,000 Tibetan exiles are committed only because of the Dalai Lama.

For each it was an act of faith that puts to shame the calculations
of strategists who think of Tibet only in terms of 'wedge' or 'link'
in Sino-Indian relations. It might be either or both but stressing
that stunts the humanity of those three actors in what must be the
world's most extraordinary one-day global polls.

As Sunday evening's Internet news proclaimed, the process is not
without hazards. Armed police stormed at least three polling booths
in Nepal and seized the ballot boxes. Apparently, the Nepalese Home
Ministry sanctioned the raid. Why? I was reminded of the practical
and ideological compulsions of Nepal's Maoist politicians.

The visit to Kathmandu last month of Mr He Yong, secretary of the
17th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, with a
high-level 21-member delegation may have been significant as
indication of tightening screws. Kathmandu's reported earlier
acquiescence in Beijing's proposal for a joint mechanism to share
intelligence on "anti-China activities" was thought to mean ominously
that closer tabs would be kept on the 20,000 Tibetan refugees in
Nepal and the information collected forwarded to China. Mr He
complimented Kathmandu on diligently doing as it was told. He was
pleased with "Nepal's 'One China' policy and the alertness adopted by
the country over the Tibet issue."

The origins of the voting, which passed smoothly in Brussels where
more than 60 Tibetans exercised the franchise throughout the day but
was rudely disturbed in Nepal, go back to the Dalai Lama's political
realism that led to the first Tibetan Parliament in 1960.
Understanding long before Singapore's Foreign Minister pointed out
that "old Tibet" whose "political economy was based on the feudal
domination of monasteries over rural serfs" was not Shangri-La and
"should not be romanticised," the Dalai Lama invited suggestions from
all Tibetans in exile on a draft democratic Constitution. It's said
that India's first President, Rajendra Prasad, scrutinised and
approved the document which was announced in 1963.

Other consultations followed and, eventually, a draft Charter set up
three autonomous institutional bodies to democratise the polity in
exile. It's a system of great complexity with 65 local election
commissions in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Europe, North America, Taiwan,
Japan and Australia under the two-tier Central Election Commission in
a unique blend of Buddhist and United Nations principles that seems
to meet most expectations except, perhaps, those of groups like the
Tibetan Youth Congress which are impatient of the Dalai Lama's
conciliatory Middle Way approach. But even they are included in the
evolutionary process, and in the special conference the Dalai Lama
called in Dharamsala in November 2008. The legislative system under
India's arbitration procedure permits eventual recourse to the
mainstream courts.

The future prompts speculation as the Dalai Lama at 74 confesses to
intimations of mortality and suggests that his incarnation might be
born "outside China." However, loyal Tibetans do not take this to
mean -- as Mr Yeo assumes -- Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh where the
6th Dalai Lama came from, a Tibetan area controlled by India but
claimed by China." All of Tibet is "outside China" for anyone save
Chinese nationalists, whether at home in China or in the diaspora.

The three voters I watched until the six ballot boxes were sealed and
taken away were as unimpressed by Mao Tse-tung's "peaceful
liberation" and redistribution of monastic lands as they are
uninterested in Tawang's status which exercises many Indians who read
Mr Yeo's views. They are waiting now for the final voting on March 20
and the results that have been promised by the end of April. The
great hope is that the next Kalon Tripa will be as learned and wise
as Professor Samdhong Rimpoche, head of the Institute of Higher
Tibetan Studies at Sarnath and sometime chairman of India's society
of vice-chancellors, who cannot stand for a third term.

Beyond that, last Sunday's election promises that with or without a
Dalai Lama whom the world recognises, and no matter what China says,
the Tibetan diaspora will evolve into a state without territory.
Westphalian theory is not Asian reality.

Meanwhile, Tibetans even here in Brussels wonder why the soft-spoken
devoutly Catholic Mr Yeo should hob-nob with the controversial
Chinese-nominated Panchen Lama when the youth they regard as the true
holder of the title has disappeared in the maws of the Chinese state.
His action is contrasted with the impartiality displayed by
Singapore's veteran creator, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who snubbed Premier Hua
Guo Feng by refusing to accept his gift of Neville Maxwell's
controversial book, India's China War.
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