News and Views on Tibet

Interview: Tibetan Prime Minister-in-Exile Sandhong Rinpoche

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Tibetan Prime Minister-in-Exile Sandhong Rinpoche

Sandhong Rinpoche is the Prime Minister-in Exile (Kalon-Tripa) of the Tibetan Government. He was born in 1939 in Tibet and recognised at the age of five as a reincarnation of Samdhong Rinpoche and enthroned in Gaden Dechenling monastery. He fled from Tibet and came to India in 1959 after the Chinese takeover of Tibet. He was the vice-chancellor of the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies at Varanasi before his election as prime minister-in-exile in 2001. He spoke to DAYAFTER Correspondent in Dharmashala in an exclusive interview.

Asked about his election by an overwhelming majority, Rinpoche said his was the “first experiment to elect someone to the Diaspora. People do not know my political ideas but have trust in me. I am a staunch follower of Mahatma Gandhi. It might have been difficult to work in any other country but not in India. Our charter is drafted in such a way as not to clash with Indian laws.”

Referring to the culture and tradition of Tibet being passed down to the younger generation he expressed his satisfaction that the younger generation was assimilating it. Our children live in the 21st century and look towards the West. I have been working for 30 years to make children differentiate between modern and traditional. Accepting a thing is not the same as practising it; there is no clash with tradition.

Asked whether there had been a paradigm shift in the attitude of the Indian leadership in the wake of the recent bilateral talks with China, the Tibetan Prime Minister- in-Exile said he did not feel that there had been any change. Vajpayee cannot commit any mistake in regard to the Tibetans as he has been very sensitive to the issue for long and knows the issue in depth. In fact it is a victory for we Tibetans that the Indian Prime Minister did not utter the words that the Chinese wanted to hear. The Chinese fed the Prime Minister with the phrase that Tibet is an ‘inalienable part of China’, but it did not have any effect on the Prime Minister.

Q: Did the Joint Declaration not weaken your stand on Tibet?

Ans: The Prime Minister has only reiterated what India has been stating for the last few decades. That there is a change in the statement is mere speculation aimed at weakening our stand on Tibet.

Q: It is difficult working in India and not hurting the government of India. Is it because of that you have chosen not to react negatively to the Indian Prime Minister’s statement?

Ans: I have always opposed decisions by the Indian government which I did not like. I had protested the Pokhran experiment and also the opening up of Indian market for globalisation.

Q: What do you think of the faction of the new generation that is committed to the demand for complete independence?

Ans: They have all the right to demand complete independence. In a democratic society every one has the right to present his views. Even the elder brother of His Holiness disapproves his middle path.

He added: His Holiness the Dalai Lama has encouraged the democratic system and inspires people to speak out. There is definitely no rift in our society.

Asked about future plans, the Tibetan Prime Minister-in-Exile said: “We have to raise the mutual confidence level between His Holiness and the Chinese leadership. We have to resume dialogue and start negotiating with them.

We are ready to adjust our demands but we have two conditions. First, the whole of Tibet should be considered as one and second, the political system for Tibet should be a democratic one.”

We asked whether delegations were being sent to China and what was the response. He answered: “A team of Tibetan delegates visited China this year from May 25 to June 8. The recent response from the Chinese side has been warm. In many ways, I feel that the present Chinese leadership is better than the one earlier because it has been educated abroad and received some exposure to the world. Besides, one of the present Chinese leaders, Hu Chin Thao, has worked in Tibet for three years.

Q: What about the Panchen Lama? Does the Dalai Lama trust the Chinese government?

Ans: No one knows what the Chinese have done with the Panchen Lama. They showed photographs of him but they were fake; it is difficult to trust the Chinese. His Holiness trusts humanity and the Chinese are, after all, human beings. We can trust them till they prove themselves unworthy of our trust.

Q: Do you face any hindrances, being a democratically elected head, having to work under the Dalai Lama?

Ans: I have never faced any kind of difficulty working under His Holiness. I have never seen a person with such moral and spiritual powers and with such democratic views and a rational mindset.

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