By Vijay Kranti
In each society there are very few leaders who become synonym of their respective era. Their influence on their era is so outstanding and remarkable that writing history of that era without mention of that individual's contributions and influence on that period would render it incomplete, rather meaningless. As a relentless fighter for Tibetan case, Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari belonged to this category. As an incarnate lama by birth he was respectfully addressed as 'Gyari Rinpoche' among the Tibetan community. But as my longest and closest Tibetan friend, he always remained to me and each member of my family as our darling 'Lodi'.
As I look through my 46 year long association with Tibet and Tibetan exile community, I find quite a few individual Tibetans who played very effective role and dedicated their lives in creating and nurturing one or other institution which today proudly represents the rebirth of Tibetan national identity in India. But without meaning any disrespect to others, I have enough reasons to say that Lodi belonged to a different class. He was born to create institutions. And each of these institutions became and is going to stay as a legend in the post occupation history of Tibet.
Lodi Gyari with Uyghur cap -right- with Erkin Alptekin prominent Uyghur leader -centre -and author Vijay Kranti -left-at International Tibet Conference in Brussels in 2007
He was just 20 years old when he and three other friends Tenzin Geyche, (late) Sonam Topgyal and Tenzin Namgyal Tethong founded Tibetan Youth Congress. Today, besides being the biggest organization among the Tibetan Diaspora today, TYC has earned the distinction of being the main Tibetan nursery of social and political leaders of the refugee community. Around same time he started 'Sheja', the first Tibetan language newspaper of the refugee community as its founding editor and also 'Voice of Tibet' in English which, over the period, evolved into 'Tibetan Review' and has come to stay as the most outstanding international mouthpiece of Tibetan community and its aspirations today. In later years when HH the Dalai Lama sent him to USA to lobby for the Tibetan cause, he spent second half of his life with International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) which he had jointly founded in 1988 with Tenzin N. Tethong in Washington DC. And there are few more institutions in this list too. There are quite a few other organizations like Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) in Brussels and the International Network of Engaged Buddhists, based in Bangkok which were founded with active support of Lodi and have played significant role in their respective fields.
It was in November 1972 when I first came in touch with Lodi during my first ever visit to Dharamsala for an interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. As a freelance journalist, I was on an assignment from a prominent Hindi news weekly Saptahik Hindustan of Hindustan Times group. Lodi was among that small group of young Tibetans who were my first intimate interface with Tibet and the Tibetan community. The gang included Jamyang Norbu, Ngari Rinpoche (Tenzin Choegyal), Tenzin Geyche, (late) Sonam Tobgyal, Lhasang Tsering and, of course, (late) K. Wangchuk the legendary 'Screw Driver' who made the humble screw driver popular because of his ability to handle anything and everything technical in McLeodganj. Right from playing the role of official photographer of HH the Dalai Lama, Wangchuk operated public address systems at all official functions; handled electricity emergencies at Theckchen Choeling, the private residence of HH Dalai Lama; ran Tibet Photo Studio in McLeod and; later became the Director of Tibetan Drama School 'Dhogar' the original incarnation of present day TIPA. Luckily all of them emerged as doyens of their respective fields and remain my personal friends till this day.
Among this group Lodi was the most mobile and most visible Tibetan among Indian political leaders, bureaucrats and media community. Traveling frequently between Dharamsala and New Delhi, he virtually operated as the public relations officer of Tibetan establishment. He was hardly 25 years old when he was picked up by HH Dalai Lama for the post that was equivalent to the Cabinet Secretary in the Indian system.
It was this period when Lodi's inner diplomatic skills found expression and brought out the real diplomat in him. In 1970s, I was impressed by the ease with which Lodi would mix up and rub shoulders with senior Indian stalwarts like Jai Prakash Narayan, Acharya Krpalani, Morarji Desai, George Fernandes, Madhu Limaye, Balraj Madhok, Ashok Mehta, ML Sondhi, PN Lekhi, Rabi Ray, Major General SS Uban, TN Kaw ..... You name a leader or senior Indian bureaucrat and good chances were that Lodi could call at his home within next one hour. It was he who personally introduced me to Acharya Kripalani, Rabi Ray, PN Lekhi and Gen. Uban.
This 46 year long relationship with Lodi gives me the privilege of being a firsthand witness to the phenomenal growth of Lodi from a young enthusiastic Tibetan youth leader to a youthful Member of exile Parliament; its youngest Speaker; the youngest minister in the Tibetan Kashag (Cabinet); a senior bureaucrat in the Tibetan establishment and; as the Special Envoy of HH the Dalai Lama who made an indelible mark on the struggle history of Tibet in exile.
On many occasions I witnessed his personal influence at work beyond visible limits. I remember one such event when the winner candidate of Himachal Pradesh Assembly from Lower Dharamsala walked up all the way along with his victory procession comprising of drummers and dancing supporters, to Lodi's house at 'Library' (popular name for Tibetan secretariat complex among local Indian community). Reason? It was on Lodi's recommendations to his party high command in State capital Shimla that the guy was allotted election ticket of his party amidst fierce competition among his peers.
Looking back to those days I must acknowledge that had Lodi not been keeping in touch with me and working on me with fresh information and analysis about the Tibetan situation, my maiden Tibet assignment might have ended up as yet another among my other numerous assignments which we journalists complete and forget. It was because of his well planned efforts on me that I kept my interest in Tibet alive and perpetually ignited as a journalist. Thank you Lodi for keeping me connected to Tibet.
My respect for him as a friend and diplomat took new dimensions in later years when he emerged and asserted himself as the first ranking representative of Middle Way Approach in dealing with China whereas I had dug my feet deep into the Rangzen ideology. While some of senior Tibetan leaders, claiming to be staunch supporters of Dalai Lama's MWA won't take my opinion kindly, it was Lodi who always stood by me despite our apparent political differences. It was his magnanimity in handling contradictions which finally made me realize that despite the apparent MWA-Rangzen divide there is still a huge meeting ground for Tibetans and its supporters to sit and work together, and that this divide is meaningless in the larger and wider perspective of Tibet's ongoing struggle.
In the history of modern diplomacy there are very few diplomats like Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari who delivered stunning results despite most limiting and unfavorable situations. As a Tibetan he belonged to one of the smallest refugee Diasporas (total population less than 150 thousand across the globe) and represented a 'government-in-exile' which does not enjoy recognition from even a single government in the list of nations. Yet, he was able to push UN to shun its inertia on Tibet; influenced US policies like no non-American could ever do and; enjoyed more personal access to such a wide range of policy makers on both sides of US Congress and the White House than the best of international career diplomats could hope for themselves.
During past three decades, Lodi worked from Washington (DC) through International Campaign for Tibet. As the President of ICT between 1991 and 1999 and later as the Chairman of its Executive Board in Washington DC until 2014, Lodi successfully won active support from and influenced innumerable statesmen, Heads of States, policy makers, think tanks and advocacy groups from across the world for the Tibetan cause, especially for the human rights of Tibetan people living under Chinese occupation since 1951.
It was Lodi Gyari's team at ICT, that included famous Hollywood star Richard Gere and Matteo Mecacci, which was able to institutionalize the issue of Tibet in the US political system. So much so that he could successfully mobilize Congressmen from opposing sides of the US Congress to adopt the famous 'Tibet Policy Act (2002)'. This Act mandated the US government to appoint a 'Special Coordinator for Tibet" which provoked Beijing leaders to cross limits of accepted diplomatic norms.
Thanks to Lodi and his team's meticulous home work in 1991 that the UN Sub Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities passed a resolution on Tibet despite all threats and pressures from China. It was no less than a diplomatic coup for Tibet and Dalai Lama because Beijing had been successfully stopping every single attempt at UN over even mention of word 'Tibet' since UN had passed its last resolution 25 years ago supporting Tibet in 1965.
Going beyond USA, Lodi expanded his diplomatic activities to Europe through ICT offices in Berlin, Brussels and Amsterdam. His work and reputation grew beyond Tibet as he was trusted and consulted by many world leaders, think tanks and policy makers on issues as wide as US-China, India-China and India-US relations. Many career diplomats and heads of diplomatic missions in the US and UN would certify that there have been very few individual career diplomats who have had as clear understanding of the functioning of Capitol Hill or had as much personal access to its functionaries, including the White House, as Lodi commanded as an individual 'representative' of 'no government'.
No surprise, Lodi won the extraordinary distinction of a foreign diplomat who was formally praised by the US Senate. In a special resolution in 2012 (S. Res. 557) the US Senate admired Lodi Gyari's personal contributions by stating that it "honors the services of Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari as Special Envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama; commends the achievements of Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari in building an international coalition of support for Tibet........".
Besides Tibet, Lodi played positive role in winning friends and support for many other suffering societies and occupied countries like the Uyghurs of East Turkistan (China's 'Xinjiang'), South Mongolia (Ch: 'Inner Mongolia') and democratic movements of Burma, East Timor and some East European nations who had little access to the UN or the US system. There were many occasions when he made positive contributions to India-US relations and lobbied for Indian interests through direct personal interaction with senior policy makers in the US Congress and White House. Lodi had his own logic behind this pro-India attitude. "As Tibetan refugees who received so much of love and support from India, it's our duty to stand for India and support her whenever the situation demands", he told me on many occasions.
As I proceed for Clement Town in Dehradun along with my wife to express our love and respect for our dear friend Lodi at his funeral on Sunday, I am carrying with me the affection of hundreds of Indian admirers of Lodi who was a great son of Tibet and a darling friend of India. We all will miss you dear Lodi.The views expressed in this piece are that of the author and the publication of the piece on this website does not necessarily reflect their endorsement by the website.