By Tenzin Tsundue*
Tibetan Review September 2004
It's again the torture period for our four chosen Kalons as our parliament meets in September; MPs who are largely anonymous to the general public, have made it a culture to barbeque the administration, question their decisions, raise allegations, check accounts and so forth in the bi-annual parliamentary sessions, with nobody questioning them for what they do or do not do.
Last year, during the September session of the parliament, I applied for a pass to witness the parliamentary proceedings. It was my first time. In its modest ground floor hall in Dharamsala, the parliament was in session when I entered. The few seats for observers and press were taken, so I sat on the floor and craning my neck, I tried to listen to the MPs speak in the most literary language.
I regularly read the parliamentary proceeding documents. Almost 90% of it is about allegations, funds, laws and byelaws; very seldom are there discussions on the freedom struggle or in the language of the exile government "to find a solution to our struggle."
This year, on 2nd September, we will mark the 44th anniversary of the Tibetan Democracy. I felt it is pertinent to reflect on our perception of the blessed democracy, the culture of democracy in our community or the lack of it, its effects and the future prospects of both in our struggle for a free Tibet and its role in strengthening our community in the long run.
In the past two months, I have met many Tibetan youth in Delhi, Dharamsala, Madras, Pune and Bombay. As always I felt a very strong aversion among them towards our regional and sectarian politics. I wrote about this in my previous column. Tibetan youth do not wish to carry the baggage of regional and sectarian identities. It is seen as a source of communal discontent. However, I believe it is important we know our parentage and cultural roots.
Our MPs, once elected, comfortably hold their seats for five years and the public remains far, far from their domain to hold them accountable. There are legislative provisions, but our community has yet to develop the culture of democracy to exercise the legislations.
If electing an MP is like flying a kite, you need to have the thread in your hand. Since our MPs are elected on the superficial and unfounded bases: regional and sectarian affiliations, what exactly do they do at the parliament as representatives of Kham, Amdo or Utsang or for that matter any religious sect?
For many years, opinions have poured in from different quarters of the community to change the basis of the candidature to regions of exiled Tibetan settlements.
This can be a real training ground. Once a healthy democratic culture develops within the community, it will prove useful in future Tibet.
From the land reforms, legal reforms and modernisation by the great thirteenth Dalai Lama, later resumed by the young fourteenth while in independent Tibet, to the adoption of Democracy as the Tibetan polity in 1960, Tibetans have metamorphosed from a feudal theocracy run by power hungry aristocrats to a democratic, forward-looking community. This has been our biggest achievement in the last one hundred years.
No people in the world are fortunate as us, to have a living Buddha to guide and parent them. But have we lived up to his guidance? No. We handicapped ourselves, falling dependent on His Holiness.
In 1991 at the special Kashag and the Parliament joint assembly, His Holiness said: "I will do whatever is possible, but it is important that people are able to act on their own through democratic processes without relying on the Dalai Lama."
From 1960, the formation of the first assembly, till 1991 can be seen as stage one the growth of our democracy. In 1991, both the Kashag and the Parliament were dissolved, and re-election happened. But this time the responsibility was taken up completely by the people. Earlier when people voted, they knew the Buddha would make the final decision. This time, His Holiness withdrew from the 31-year-old practice of making the final selection.
From 1991, the electorate made the final decision.
Democracy is not a tseril, the sweet tsampa ball, on eating, which it is believed that a new lease of life is added. Even for Tseril to work, spiritual duties have to be performed. Although we received our democracy as a blessing, we must endeavour to make it work. And we have been most unwilling to do just that; take up democratic responsibilities. A recent example is the resolution passed by the 13th parliament in the March session of the assembly "to review the Middle Way Approach as government policy," giving China one year to respond to our gesture to find a negotiated solution to the Tibetan cause. Now the resolution passed by a majority in the parliament, received censure from two regional groups, which issued press releases protesting the resolution. One group went to the extent of saying that if the resolution passed by the parliament is not withdrawn during the September session, then all the ten MPs of that regional group would withdraw their membership. If this happens, more that 20 percent of the existing MPs would be resigning, leaving the parliament badly handicapped.
This attempt of holding the whole parliament hostage had one reason- "reviewing the Middle Way Approach as a policy would undermine the power of the Dalai Lama." This is precisely the kind of small mind His Holiness wouldn't want in our community; stopping the community from moving forward in the name of Kundun, this is neither patriotism, nor faith. It's a typically Tibetan small mindedness, to put it naively.
By a resolution in the 12th parliament, it has been adopted as the policy of the exile government in 1997, and the parliament has the responsibility to recheck the effectiveness of its policies from time to time. This is the duty of the parliament, and it does not amount to undermining the power of his Holiness.
Infact His Holiness would be the first person to welcome such initiative from the people.
His Holiness shows us the way, in his 1996 March 10 statement he said - "[It is] my conviction that democracy is the best guarantee for the survival and future of the Tibetan people. Democracy entails responsibilities as well as rights. The success of our struggle for freedom will therefore depend directly on our ability to shoulder these collectively."
Our History shows that for the past 600 years of the Dalai lama, there were political crises every time a Dalai Lama passes away, the country moved into chaos, anarchy marked by internal feuds, and even civil war. Can't we now learn from history and strengthen our community, while there is still daylight? How insecure we feel about even thinking of a time without the present Dalai Lama? We can't talk about it. It is considered ill omen.
Democracy is sharing responsibility, and for us it's all about taking back our responsibility from the shoulders of one man, who has worked enough for us, who we have taken for granted, while we were busy building our houses, and heating our hearth.
Imagine the strength of 1,50,000 exile Tibetans taking personal initiative for the cause, doing everything in their capacity, supported by the Tibet lovers across the globe. This will reinvigorate individuals, organisations and perhaps governments to the cause. This kind of coordinated world-wide campaign can free Tibet.
* Tenzin Tsundue is a writer and activist for free Tibet. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org