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Dalai Lama Averts Split Among Straining Tibetan Factions

December 5, 2008

Ravi R. Prasad
World Politics Review - USA
04 Dec 2008
The exiled spiritual and political leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, has managed to keep his fragmented flock united by averting a split by those in the movement seeking more autonomy for Tibet from China.
Some 600 participants -- who gathered in late November at Dharmasala in India, the capital of the Tibetan government-in-exile and the headquarters of the Dalai Lama -- unanimously endorsed the "middle path" followed by their leader for the past 30 years in his struggle against China's occupation of Tibet.
Addressing the historical gathering, the ever-smiling spiritual and political head of the government-in-exile cautioned the delegates from all over the world that Tibet is facing "grave danger."
"The next 20 years, if we are not careful, if we are not prudent in our plans, there is a great danger. It could lead to the danger of failure," the 73-year-old, saffron Buddhist monk told the delegates attending the six-day talks.
Aware of dissensions and divergent views in the community both within and outside of Tibet, the Dalai Lama set the tone for the deliberations just ahead of the conclave. "My trust in Chinese officials has become thinner and thinner," he had said just before the meeting, which was not attended by him or his key aides. "We have to find a way to sustain the people of Tibet."
To stem any crisis or split in the community, the Dalai Lama had quickly summoned the meeting of the representatives soon after the latest round of talks with Beijing on Nov. 5 failed. He also acknowledged during a recent trip to Japan that his approach had failed.
So far, five rounds of talks have been held between Chinese officials and the representatives of the Buddhist monk. China contends that the Dalai Lama will seek full independence and is not honest about his demand for greater autonomy for Tibet.
Although the unprecedented meeting was described by the Dalai Lama's confidants as an effort to let Tibetans decide their future "without the guidance of their spiritual leader," it was clearly an attempt to unify the community and bring the "conservatives" and "radicals" together.
The outcome of the meeting -- the endorsement of the Dalai Lama's "middle path" policy, which calls for working with China to secure greater autonomy for Tibet -- amply indicated that Tibetans are not yet prepared for a life without "His Holiness."
Most senior leaders -- including the prime minister of the exiled government, Samdhong Rinpoche; the Dalai Lama's Washington representative, Lodi Gyari; and several cabinet ministers -- are conservatives and advocate the middle path of non-violence and negotiations.
However, the younger generation represented by the Tibetan Youth Congress and numerous organizations of young Tibetans overseas are inclined towards direct action and seek "total independence" from China. Some have even voiced their disenchantment with the leadership, indicating the need for a change at the helm. They even want to see the mantle passed on to someone who is not a monk.
"The approach of dialogue has not produced results. China is not willing to change, so we have to push for it," said Tendon Dahortsang, president of the Tibetan Youth Association's European outfit. He was echoing the sentiments of many Tibetan youth.
The elders disagree with the radical youth. "These young people do not know the hardship our community will have to face in Tibet if we digress from the path of nonviolence. China will make life miserable in Tibet, like what happened before and during the Olympics," says Tashi Phunsok, a middle-aged Tibetan running his own business in the southern Indian city of Bangalore.
The Dalai Lama and his advisers, who have so far steered the movement, are also concerned that "direct action" advocated by radicals in the community would jeopardize their relationship with India, which has been playing host to Tibetans since they fled in 1959, and diminish the support of the international community, which they have so carefully mobilized over the past 30 years. The Indian government, for its part, would not tolerate any violent approach by Tibetans at the cost of its diplomatic relations with China, which are improving but still delicate.
The conference dominated by the conservatives and Dalai Lama loyalists overwhelmingly endorsed the strategy pursued so far, effectively silencing the dissidence within the community. But while the Nobel Peace laureate may have averted a split for now, the younger generation is intent on pressing for a change in the strategy and approach towards China.
Ravi R. Prasad is a political and strategic affairs analyst based in India. He has reported for United Press International, the BBC, the Christian Science Monitor, and ISN Security Watch from Sri Lanka, Kosovo and other conflict zones. He has also been published in Peace and Conflict Monitor, Journal for Humanitarian Assistance and other academic publications.
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