China’s latest armed aggression in Ladakh has once again brought Tibet and it’s 14th Dalai Lama into focus. Since China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) occupied Tibet in 1951, the Dalai Lama’s status has remained limited to that of the supreme spiritual leader of an occupied nation. His original status as Head of State of Tibet has been pushed into near oblivion as Tibet does not even enjoy formal existence on the political map of the world, nor recognition from any country. But despite these disadvantages, he remains among the most respected leaders of the world and occupies top places in opinion polls across the globe.
Tibet’s colonisation was further sealed in 1959 when Tibetan people’s uprising for independence was crushed brutally by the PLA, and Dalai Lama had to escape to India to save his life and to seek asylum. In an era when violence has become the most prevalent currency in the world to settle scores among individuals, communities and nations, the Dalai Lama’s philosophy of non-violence, compassion and universal responsibility has placed him in the league of Lord Buddha, Lord Mahavir and Mahatma Gandhi. No surprise that this monk statesman has been honoured with so many international awards (154 to be exact) which include the biggest ones like the Templeton Award, Nobel Peace Prize, The Congressional Gold Medal (which happens to be America’s equivalent of ‘Bharat Ratna’), the Magsaysay Award.... and, you just name it.
More than 20 parliaments, including the US Congress, the European Parliament and German Bundestag have passed more than 50 resolutions in support of Dalai Lama and Tibet despite all opposition and tantrums from Beijing. It may sound unbelievable to many that mayors of more than two thousand cities in Europe, the USA and some other countries hoist the flag of Tibet on their municipal buildings on March 10 every year despite China’s diplomatic abuse and threats. Still, this is only Dalai Lama who, while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize could declare, “My enemy too has the right to my compassion”.
In the public forums too his popularity can be judged from the fact that most of human rights organisations, Hollywood stars and rock stars of pop music take pride in standing by his side and openly supporting him. Thanks to his popularity, more than 300 pro-Tibet organisations are active in more than a hundred countries to support the Tibetan struggle for freedom. The scale of the worldwide protests against assigning Beijing Olympics-2008 to China in almost every country where the Olympic Torch toured turned out be a universal endorsement of the Dalai Lama so vociferously that the Olympic committee was forced to give up the practice of public relay of the Olympic Torch in future. In March 2008, anti-China protests spilled over to all the five Chinese provinces where Tibetans live and shocked the Chinese Communist rulers to discover that the Dalai Lama still ruled the hearts of the Tibetans who had not even seen him for past three generations. In recent years self-immolation by over 150 Tibetans inside Chinese occupied Tibet demanding the return of Dalai Lama and freedom for Tibet has left the Chinese leaders puzzled about the hold of Dalai Lama on the heart of Tibetan masses.
This year on January 28, the House of Representatives the US Parliament brushed aside bipartisan differences between the Republicans and the Democrats and passed a bill directly warning the Chinese regime that only the current Dalai Lama and Tibetan institutions shall have the right to elect the next Dalai Lama and that the Chinese Government or Communist Party have no right to interfere in this process
In addition to his stature, Dalai Lama has also developed as a unique community leader and an international statesman. Thanks to the liberal help and freehand from the government of India in the rehabilitation of the Tibetan refugee community, the Dalai Lama has successfully revived Tibet’s cultural and national identity in exile on the strength of just 150 thousand fellow refugees.
Soon after coming to exile, the Dalai Lama initiated the historical process of shifting Tibet from its traditional theocratic system to modern democracy. Today the ‘Central Tibetan Administration’ (CTA), stationed in Dharamshala of Himachal Pradesh today runs through a Parliament and ‘Sikyong’ (an equivalent of ‘President’). The Tibetan Diaspora elects them through a secret ballot. In yet another revolutionary step in 2012, the Dalai Lama broke the five-century old tradition and handed over his political responsibilities and executive authority as the head of state of Tibet to the elected ‘Sikyong’ and the Parliament. This way he has limited the role of Dalai Lama title only to that of the supreme spiritual leader of Tibet. In the Tibetan system, the title of Dalai Lama and also of most other senior religious title holder lamas passes on through a unique system of reincarnation. After a Dalai Lama’s death, he is reborn as a child to takes over his predecessor’s position and powers after being identified as the new reincarnate through a typical religious procedure adopted by high ranking lamas. Present Dalai Lama, his original personal name being ‘Tenzin Gyatso’, was born in a poor farmer’s family in the eastern Amdo province of Tibet in 1935.
It may sound funny to some people, but the Beijing’s communist bosses made a special law, titled as ‘Order-5’, in 2007 which makes it obligatory for every reincarnates lama to seek formal and advance approval of the Communist Party of China before he can be declared the new incarnation of his predecessor
This political move of present Dalai Lama to bifurcate the political and spiritual authorities of the institution of Dalai Lama has put Beijing’s communist bosses’ pants on fire. Since decades they have been patiently waiting for the current Dalai Lama to pass away so that they could put the stamp of validity on their colonial occupation of Tibet by installing a Tibetan baby of their choice as the ‘real’ incarnation. It may sound funny to some people, but the Beijing’s communist bosses made a special law, titled as ‘Order-5’, in 2007 which makes it obligatory for every reincarnates lama to seek formal and advance approval of the Communist Party of China before he can be declared the new incarnation of his predecessor. Following Dalai Lama’s decision to hand over his political powers to an elected leader of Tibetan people, the Chinese government has openly declared it as ‘invalid’ with the argument that only CCP has the final authority to certify his reincarnation.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama and BJP leader Mahesh Sharma arriving at the Main Tibetan Temple courtyard for the Thank You India celebration in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India on March 31, 2018
China’s communist masters’ sudden love for Tibet’s religion and traditions has its roots in the failure of their earlier approach on religion and religious institutions. In the first four decades of Tibetan occupation, the CCP followed Mao’s dictum that “religion is the opium of masses”. It destroyed most of the monasteries, disrobed the monks and nuns and banned all religious practices among masses across Tibet on the premise that eliminating religion from the life of Tibetans will make them patriotic Chinese. But widespread anti-China and pro-Dalai Lama demonstrations in 1987 and 1989 forced the Chinese rulers to realise the power of faith. This lead to a new policy of occupying the religious apparatus of Tibet from within and using it as a tool to tame the Tibetan masses.
The first signs of this policy emerged in the early 1990s when Beijing appointed two special committees, each headed by a regional communist leader to search for the reincarnations of two high lamas namely the Karma Pa and the Panchen Lama who had died some years ago. In 1992 Beijing enthroned the 17th Karma Pa amidst an international fanfare and live telecast on the national CCTV. However, the enthronement of 11th Panchen Lama, the second most senior lama after the Dalai Lama, ran into controversy as China arrested the 6-year-old Gedhun Choeky Nyima, recognised by the Dalai Lama and installed another boy Gyaltsen Norbu of their choice as the new Panchen Lama. Leaving aside the controversy, both installations were handled by Beijing as full dress rehearsals of installing the Dalai Lama of their choice in the future.
If the ‘Order-5’ reflected the arrogance and anxiety of communist masters of Tibet, the United States too appears to ensure that enthronement of next Dalai Lama is no cakewalk for China. This year on January 28, the House of Representatives—the lower house of the US Parliament brushed aside bipartisan differences between the Republicans and the Democrats. It passed a bill HR-4331, with an overwhelming majority of 392-22 votes. This bill directly warns the Chinese regime that only the current Dalai Lama and Tibetan institutions shall have the right to elect the next Dalai Lama and that the Chinese Government or Communist Party have no right to interfere in this process. In the heat of currently raging international tension due to China’s COVID-19 virus, yet another bill was moved in the US Congress on May 26 asking the US Government to recognise Tibet Autonomous Region as an independent country.
On the heels of COVID-19, China’s latest aggression against India in the Sikkim and Ladakh sectors has brought world focus once again on Tibet and Dalai Lama. Nirupama Rao, India’s former foreign secretary and ambassador to China gave a new dimension to already popular demand for honouring the Dalai Lama with India’s highest civilian award the ‘Bharat Ratna’. Most observers feel that such a step is bound to open flood gates of support for Tibetan freedom in Europe, America and many other countries who have been eagerly waiting for India to take the lead.
(The writer is a senior journalist, veteran Tibet watcher and Chairman, Centre of Himalayan Asia Studies and Engagement)