The Kalon Tripa Prof Samdhong Rinpoche’s second tenure was to end in 2011. Even in 2009, the Tibetan exiles’ political base was shaking with anxiety about the election of next Kalon.
Many wondered hopefully if were there any possibilities that Prof Samdhong Rinpoche could be elected for a third time. The consideration in the Tibetan exile parliament was not very successful in allowing Rinpoche to be in the electoral race for a third time. Now, the challenge for Dharamshala and exile Tibetan communities was to elect a second Kalon Tripa, other than Rinpoche. From this time, the political landscape was changed forever.
Dr Lobsang Sangay, the charismatic Harvard academic known for organizing a series of conferences between Tibetan and Chinese people, came onto the scene. He was the first Tibetan to be awarded with Harvard’s SJD (PhD). He was also the recipient of 2004 Yong K Kim’s 95 Prize of Excellence for his dissertation “Democracy in Distress: Is Exile Policy a Remedy?” He was one of the twenty-four Young Leaders of Asia selected by the Asia Society in 2006.
Dr Sangay won the 2011 Kalon Tripa election with 27,051 (55%) votes on his side, over the Stanford scholar Trizur Tenzin Tethong who scored 18,405 (37.42%). Later, on His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s suggestion and exile Tibetan parliament’s resolution, the title Kalon Tripa was changed to Sikyong. Dr Sangay won the 2011 election on three main principles: Unity, Innovation, and Self Reliance.
Under Dr Sangay’s term, many things have been accomplished.
Annual renewal of RC (the Registration Certificate that is a Tibetan refugee’s certificate to live in India) was a bit inconvenient, as there is so much mobility in the Tibetan community for both livelihood and career opportunities. To renew, to transfer, or even to depart are a little complicated and also expensive. Now, the RC is renewed every five years, which for many Tibetans was an unprecedented liberty which has eased this headache for so many ordinary Tibetans.
The Sister Shichak Project was created to form a strong bond between Tibetans in India, Nepal, and Bhutan, and Tibetans who live in the west, so that each community learns from, assists, and gets help from the others. CTA has identified 10 Tibetan refugee settlements in which to implement such innovation. Under the Department of Home, this is being initiated in places such as Belgium-Ravangla; New York-Bandara; New Jersey-Hunsur; and so on.
Under the Government of India’s ‘Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy 2014’, Tibetans are now being facilitated to own the settlement land legally and do business as any Indian does. The fears of eviction previously faced by residents of Majnu Ka Tilla, Dharamshala, Tso-Pema, Shimla, etc, are resolved now. Acute problems for Tibetans living in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh areas are specifically assessed. Facilities are already under way in Ladakh, Jangthang areas. To rehabilitate recently arrived Tibetan refugees at Bir-Chuantra area, constructions are almost completed now. At Sherab Gatsel, the school for recently-arrived Tibetan youths, study years have increased from 5 to 8 years. Four students are being offered college scholarships. In 2016, 12 youths are expected to complete the 12th Grade from Sherab Gatsel. The Finance Kalon himself and his staff visited USA to solve the problems of the Green Book. Websites such as Tibet TV Online, Tibet.net, etc., were upgraded to connect anyone interested in Tibetan issues. Tibetan Medicare System has benefitted many Tibetans who have medical issues. 2016’s registration is under way from February onwards. Sikyong has obtained US$ three million in aid for Department of Health to finance various health projects. The TeachAIDS campaign is both innovative and timely.
Sikyong was invited to the inauguration ceremony of Indian Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi. He has met the Chief Ministers of Indian states like Arunachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Orissa, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, etc. He has met influential global leaders including ministers, parliamentarians, Nobel Laureates, Speakers and Tibet Support Groups. He has appeared in global news media such as New York Times, CNN, BBC, NDTV, Boston Globe, Washington Post, etc. He has made an undeniably impressive impact on BBC HardTalk, Oslo Freedom Forum, India Student Parliament, Paris Relay for Tibet, George W Bush Presidential Center, Freedom House, etc. On these and other stages, he discussed and enhanced support for Tibetan freedom issues and struggle the world over.
Tibet Corps is a platform for all Tibetan professionals and university graduates to volunteer at CTA’s offices. It is about giving back what you get from the community by providing expert services voluntarily. Since its inception in 2012, 53 volunteers have served the CTA in fields such as assistant construction supervisor, assistant news reporter, website developer, nurse, museum professional, etc. This year’s opening is for 80 services, and this project is supported by the Isdell Foundation. On this, CTA’s cabinet Secretary Ven Karma Gelek Yuthok said, “Our unity would be strengthened if we pool our talent and professionalism in the movement.”
US Congress has sanctioned CTA US$ six million in aid for the fiscal year 2016. In 2015, it was US$ three million. This is a 100% increase. In 1999-2000, the annual budget of the CTA was around 1000 million rupees; in 2015 it has been approved at over 2000 million rupees, again a 100% percent increase. The Office of Tibet, USA, was moved to Washington DC. The New Office building was purchased at US$ 2.7 million. The Office of Tibet, Japan, has purchased a new building for US$ 1 million. In 2010, the Department of Education provided scholarships to 130 students (for nine million rupees) and in 2015 it has increased to 600 students (forty million rupees) including 300 professional scholarships and special scholarships for the poverty affected. In both 2014 and 2015 there were recipients of the prestigious Sikyong scholarship; here a scholar needs to secure at least 95% in all India 12th grade board exams.
Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay, being a Harvard scholar, has regenerated or has brought the start of an educational renaissance in exile or in Tibet. There is popular adoration and admiration from Tibetan youths and children for him, and now Tibetan children in schools and college youngsters vie to do what he has done, like availing themselves of a Tibetan Fulbright scholarship, targeting admission into Ivy League colleges, and to come back to serve CTA or in any exile communities — or even in Tibet. There is some controversy about these Tibetan Fulbright scholars, as many of them did not return to India as agreed or promised, but one such scholar who later became the Tibetan Prime Minister (Sikyong) is both exemplary and face-saving for the whole phenomenal project.
Entrepreneurship in exile is encouraged at micro and macro levels through the Tibetan Entrepreneurship Development (TED) Initiative. Business project competitions are held. Winners are awarded with prize money. At schools, workshops and conferences are being organized. Two prominent students who won at such competitions went to Global Scholars Program (GSP) at African Leadership Academy (ALA) in South Africa, in both 2014 and 2015. Now, another round for the business ideas competition is declared open till 15 March 2016. This project offers all round help for start-up winners, so that the problems of unemployment and underemployment are alleviated to the best possible extent. The TED initiative receives support from the Social and Resource Development (SARD) Fund.
Sikyong started CTA’s think tank Tibet Policy Institute, immediately after taking the oath of office. The Middle Way Approach has been reiterated and re-launched at both local and international levels. The campaign has received huge publicity in international media. Tibetan settlements, schools and monasteries are re-introduced to CTA’s Middle Way Political Policy. On 25 August 2014, according to Indian daily The Hindu, Wu Yingjie, the deputy party secretary of TAR, has said that the Chinese government is ready for talks with the people of the Dalai Lama. Beijing’s Central Party School, Professor Jin Wei’s frank comments about the need for Sino-Tibetan dialogue appeared in various Chinese media outlets. High-ranking Chinese official Xiao Wunan’s visit to and his audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama was aired on BBC on 29 January 2015. EU President Donald Tusk at a press conference urged the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to resolve the Tibet issue through dialogue with Tibetan envoys at the end of June 2015. On her visit to China, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Ms Fedirica Mogherini was urged by 52 members of the European Parliament to raise the issue of human rights in Tibet and resumption of the Sino-Tibetan dialogue to the Chinese Foreign Minister on early May 2015.
In the 27 September 2015 Joint Press Conference, President Obama urged his counterpart President Xi Jinping in clear and concise terms: “… I again affirmed America’s unwavering support for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people, including freedom of assembly and expression, freedom of the press and freedom of religion. And I expressed in candid terms our strong view that preventing journalists, lawyers, NGOs and civil society groups from operating freely, or closing churches and denying ethnic minorities equal treatment are all problematic, in our view, and actually prevent China and its people from realizing its full potential. … we continue to encourage Chinese authorities to preserve the religious and cultural identity of the Tibetan people, and to engage the Dalai Lama or his representatives.”
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi led an historic US Congressional delegation to Tibet, Beijing, and Hong Kong: “We engaged in candid talks with the Secretary of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), Chen Quanguo; Vice Party Secretary of TAR, Baima Chilin; and Party Secretary of Lhasa, Qi Zhala regarding the importance of respecting Tibet’s autonomy, its ecology, and the human rights and religious freedom of its diverse people. … We expressed concerned regarding freedom of religion and expression for the Tibetan people; the preservation of Tibet’s unique cultural, religious and linguistic; and diplomatic and public access to Tibet. … We also conveyed to the Chinese government officials the strong, bipartisan support the Dalai Lama enjoys in the Congress of the United States and among the American people. …In Beijing, the delegation met with the Premier of the People’s Republic of China, Li Keqiang; National People’s Congress Chairman, Zhang Dejiang; and National People’s Congress Vice Chairman, Zhang Ping… . The delegation reiterated the imperative of respect for religious freedom and expression in Tibet; autonomy and democracy in Hong Kong; and respect for human and women’s rights across China. The delegation also expressed specific concerns related to the recent arrest and detention of human rights lawyers and activists.”
Sikyong has increased the members of the Task Force on Sino-Tibetan Negotiation to around 20. The Task Force has met several times with Prof Samdhong Rinpoche as its special advisor. Current status from the Tibetan side is ‘Anytime anywhere’ if the Chinese side reciprocates.
The stories which arose mainly around Sikyong’s house in Boston and the narratives were there since 2011. Maura Moynihan’s article was published both in the Washington Times and Asian Age. Both of these newspapers have millions of readers, so why is it that not a single soul could come up from millions to prove the said criticisms and confirm the doubts raised? This clearly depicts that these fanciful claims have no substance or proof.
The same topic was grilled on at least twice in the Tibetan exiled parliament. On the other hand, these controversies are checks and balances that prove in a democracy there is freedom of expression. It is in freedom in exile that everyone is accountable and answerable to the Tibetan public and governance: no one can have a free hand or will in the Tibetan administration. If a house in Boston drama and accusations could not be proven by anyone in over four years, yet the story continued, what should we expect in the near future about any conflict of ideas?
Another rumour circulating was that Sikyong has lost 2016 preliminary votes in Dharamshala and Boston. The claims are that Tibetans from these places know Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay the most. But, the actual hard fact is that he won both of these places with huge margins (Dharamshala, 2648:1816, Boston, 152:77) from the main rival. Choephel Thupten was never appointed the CRO of the south zone for Tibetan settlements; but the fuss goes on and on.
We must remember the trepidation Tibetans faced while His Holiness the Dalai Lama devolved all his political power to the current Sikyong, Dr Lobsang Sangay. The smooth transition which followed was the cause of much relief. On 13 October 2015, Sikyong was bestowed with the prestigious Presidential Medal by Salisbury University, USA, with Shri Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, in the audience. The citation reads, “In recognition of his esteemed political leadership and his work to seek a peaceful, non-violent resolution for Tibet.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu congratulated Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay for the same achievement with these fine words, “I am delighted to write this short note to congratulate you on receiving the President’s Medal for Promoting Peace and Understanding especially at this time when we see so much turmoil and suffering caused by violence and unrest. The world has been stunned by the number of refugees seeking to flee violence and unrest. Our world needs more champions of peace and goodwill of which you are one.”
Tibetans in Canada presented Sikyong with “CTAO Gyatoen Award” for his “strong leadership, unwavering support, and commitment to the vision of His Holiness the Dalai Lama”. Mungod Tibetan Settlement’s local assembly felicitated Sikyong a special “Thank you” award for his leadership. Tibetans in Tibet have poured their support and sentiments on him in tribute songs, letters, and prayers. All these have happened because of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s introduction of Sikyong to the world and at home. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has called his own political devolution one of his long cherished aspirations being fulfilled.
Tenzin Gesar, is a Tibetan freelance journalist and blogger from New Delhi, India. He writes at Gesar Times
The views expressed are those of the author (s), and do not necessarily represent the editorial views of the Tibet Digital News (TDN).