Sitting down with the Tibetan Prime Minister-in-exile 22 February 2011
Lesser known by his original name Lobsang Tenzin, the fifth Samdhong Rinpoche is the incumbent Prime Minister - officially known as the Kalon Tripa - of the Tibetan government-in-exile. Elected twice to the post, Tibetans regard Prof Rinpoche as a high Lama and one of the leading scholars of Buddhism.
|Prof Samdhong Rinpoche (Photos: Saransh Sehgal)|
Since 2001, Prof Rinpoche has travelled extensively to raise awareness and gain support for the cause of Tibetan autonomy in the People's Republic of China. A close associate of the 14th Dalai Lama, Prof Tenzin ends his tenure this March as the exiled community votes for their future Kalon Tripa amidst uncertainty about their fight for homeland Tibet.
Saransh Sehgal: Since your term ends this March 2011, the entire handover will be given to a new leadership in exile…
Prof: It is just a usual handover, nothing special, merely a change of government. A new leadership will take oath. A briefing by the outgoing person on the handling of current and ongoing affairs, soon to be presumed by the new person, is expected.
Will the new leadership face more challenges than you have?
I don’t think the future leadership will face any new challenges, whatever challenges we have been facing will continue. The greatest challenge will still be dealing with the PRC [People’s Republic of China] to find a solution to the Tibet issue. This is neither an easy task, nor will it be accomplished in a short spell of time. It will need a lot of patience and a lot of perseverance.
In my view, there are basically three challenges not related to the political settlement with PRC for the diaspora community in exile.
- Standard of education: We have facilities to educate everyone, not just Tibetans but the entire Indian himalayan region. What we lack are good teachers and quality education. The universalisation of education does not bring with it quality. Improving the quality of education is not a one-man job; the entire community has to work together. We need a similarity in attitude between the parents, teachers and students, which is very difficult to achieve. We have been struggling on this for the last ten years. I could not leave any satisfactory achievement in this regard. If the quality of education is not improved, the life of the new generation may not be as good as we expect it to be.
- Our settlements: His Holiness and the then Indian Prime Minster Pt Jawaharlal Nehru both had a long term vision and placed the Tibetan people in exile in communities within India. They created these communities because India is so vast and so heavily populated that one hundred thousand Tibetan people can easily disappear among its vastness. These settlements are, by and large, based on agriculture and a few are based on small-scale industries. The new generation though is not interested in agriculture or industry-based production. They want white-colored jobs. If we integrate these settlements, the Tibetans can very easily assimilate with the vast majority of Indian people and our identity, culture will be preserved. Moreover, the new generation is now looking towards the West. They are not willing to remain in India, Bhutan or Nepal. It could be because of the higher standard of living and an easier life in the West.
- Tibetan moral character: This worries His Holiness the Dalai Lama very much. Tibetans are considered religious-minded people who are highly moral, do not speak big lies, and do not harm other people unless compelled to. Today, however, this kind of good conduct appears to be in deterioration. If this is lost, the value of our struggle for independence will also be lost with it.
What is the political message that you are getting from inside Tibet?
The majority of the Tibetans living inside Tibet consider His Holiness’s approach of the middle path the best and the only practical way to achieve freedom for the Tibetan people. They sincerely support the process of negotiations, but people inside Tibet are under great repression and cannot express their views clearly to the outside world. One message is clear though: they all are with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
What is your view on the current Tibet talks between the representatives of the Dalai Lama and Beijing?
There are two different angles from which people evaluate it. One angle is the earlier contact [the Sino-Tibetan dialogue that took place in 1978–1993] between the Dharamsala and Beijing but nothing came out of it, no tangible results were achieved. From this angle, the talks are a complete failure.
|On 8 February, Saransh Sehgal interviewed Prof Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India.|
The other angle is that the objective of dialogue is to have contact and exchange views. In this regard, we have achieved quite a lot during the last nine rounds of talks. For example, India and China have had 15 rounds of talk on border issues but they are not able to agree on any one agenda. We, on the other hand, by the sixth round of talks, had made China understand what His Holiness was asking for. We had also understood their way of thinking and what their doubts and suspicions were. During the seventh round, they were compelled to say that His Holiness should come out with what he was looking for. They complained that they did not get it when the Dalai Lama sometimes asked for a genuine autonomy, sometimes for a higher degree of autonomy, and at other times for a meaningful autonomy. That gave us an opportunity to explain the kind of autonomy the Dalai Lama is looking for, which is within the constitutional framework of the People’s Republic of China and is detailed in our memorandum for genuine autonomy. The memorandum, which was made public later, was handed to China during the eighth round of talks as a logical conclusion to the past seven rounds.
Beijing chose to advertise the memorandum and it worked in our favor until they misprinted it and in 2010, we submitted a note, which is also in public domain, making it clear that we are not seeking independence or a Greater Tibet. We are only seeking constitutional provision of autonomy for the entire region of Tibet. So, from this angle, the nine [including the time when the note was submitted] rounds of talks have come to a logical conclusion. Now, the ball is in their court. It is up to China to respond and we are waiting.
On future talks, we have not yet made any special efforts. To our usual contacts, we always tell them that we are ready for a round of dialogue at any time convenient to them. The Dalai Lama’s envoys are in regular contacts with Beijing. Hopefully, after April, we might have another round of dialogue. We, however, don’t have much hope of a result from this present Chinese leadership under Hu Jintao.
What is your view on the recent Karmapa cash controversy?
A major disproportionate boil-up of things which I do not appreciate, but as far as the Karmapa management is concerned, they have made a great mistake and that mistake has to be acknowledged. It is a financial crime and mismanagement, and for that, the law should take its own course. But it should not be mixed up with the integrity of the Karmapa or with its political aspect. He was not knowledgeable of the money and had nothing to do with it or donations since his arrival in India.
The Karmapa administration was very weak. So, things have to be cleaned up and a system of accountability has to be established. But this should be completely disassociated from the Karmapa as a person.
Do you expect the new Prime Minister to put forward new strategies or will s/he continue with your administrative policies?
|The Kashag, office of the Tibetan government-in-exile, Dharamsala, India.|
I have no wishes. People ask me what my wish for the future leadership is. Some ask me what my advice or suggestion would be. I say I have nothing of the kind. I do not want to influence in any way the mind of the new leadership. A new leadership must be fresh. He or she [now it’s a he] should be influenced by no one and must have an original thinking of his/her own. Let him/her do what s/he sees is right. The most important thing is people’s mandate, and I am asking people to support whoever they vote till s/he completes his/her tenure so that s/he completes his/her vision or policies. A freedom of mind is the most important thing to have and it can only be weakened if other people encroach.
What do you think has changed in today’s exiled Tibetan community?
Fifty-one years it has been and during these 51 years, one thing that has changed is the generation. Sixty percent of the people who came in exile in 1959, people who lived in Tibet and had the past Tibet experience, people of my age or much older, have now passed away. People below the age of fifty are either born and brought up in India or are the new arrivals after 1980 when Tibetan refugees started crossing the border once again.
Tibetans born and brought up in diaspora are more or less all educated or at the least, they have passed through the basic school system. The new Tibetan generation is literate and a majority of them go for higher education to a BA, MA or some other programme. Therefore, certain fundamental differences remain between the old and the new generation who has not seen the past Tibet.
The cultural heritage is very much alive though. The older generations were able to disseminate and hand down the culture to the new generation. The new generation has a new way of looking at things and the interests are a little different, of course. They are modern, educated people. They have their own lifestyle. Nevertheless, third and fourth generation Tibetans even today know the Tibetan language and lead a Tibetan style of life. Therefore, I am inclined to say that there has not been a great change in the cultural spectrum, but some of the values of life has changed. For example, I say the new generation is more after money and easier lifestyle than the older generation is. But this is quite natural. And many are inclined to go to the West to developed countries. So this, I may say are a few viewable changes. Otherwise, we are still the same.
What do you think about the future of the Tibetan cause without the Dalai Lama? Will there be a void when he dies?
Yes and no both. His Holiness’s dynamic leadership is unparalleled. When he is no more, there will be a great vacuum and more psychological setback. There is a danger that people might be disheartened and lose their self-confidence. But in spite of this, His Holiness is cautious and is preparing for that time. He has democratized the Tibetan community and now, there are procedures to elect a new leader. So, there won’t be a dislocation. He is now in a process of withdrawing from much of his roles. After March, he will retire completely as he says. He is not shrinking from his responsibilities; he is preparing the people for the worst time ahead.
How do you see the future path for Tibet?
It is very clear. We are looking for a complete implementation of the national regional autonomy provision enshrined in the present constitution of the People’s Republic of China. If this is sincerely implemented, it is good enough for the preservation of the Tibetan culture, religion and identity.
What is your future role in the exile community?
As a citizen of Tibet, my role is the same as of every other Tibetan: the struggle for Tibet’s autonomy.
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