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Tibetans in Dharamshala vote in the 2024 Indian general elections

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A Tibetan monk shows his inked finger after casting his vote in Dharamshala (Photo/ANI)

By Tsering Dhundup

DHARAMSHALA, June 1: Hundreds of Tibetans with voter ID voted at the Bhagsunath polling station in Dharamshala during the final phase of the 2024 Indian General Election, on Saturday. Tibetans all over India with voter ID have cast their votes in the Lok Sabha election over the course of the last few weeks. The Indian general elections, spread across seven phases took place from April 19 to June 1, 2024, to elect 543 members of the Lok Sabha of the Indian parliament. The counting of votes and the declaration of results will be done on June 4, 2024.

Himachal Pradesh, home to the second-largest population of Tibetan exiles after Karnataka, conducted its polling in the final phase on June 1. Many Tibetans holding voter ID cards, predominantly in the Kangra district, where the exile Tibetan government and Tibetan leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama are based, gave their mandate today.

The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) advised Tibetans to exercise personal discretion regarding their participation in the election. Earlier this month In an interview with Voice of Tibet, CTA spokesperson Tenzin Lekshay stated that the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) cannot dictate whether Tibetans in exile should acquire Indian voter ID cards and Indian passports or not, it can only offer guidance. Lekshay explained that the Indian government issues Registration Certificates (RC) and Identity Cards (IC) to Tibetans with refugee status. However, the government also provides Indian passports and voter ID cards, which confer Indian citizenship. He emphasised the need for caution in deciding whether to obtain these documents, as involvement in Indian politics could have implications for the Tibetan community. He further stated that Tibetans must carefully consider whether such participation is beneficial for the collective future or not. 

On May 27, the incumbent Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, visited Dharamshala to meet and appeal for votes from the local Tibetan community. The meeting took place at the Tibetan Settlement Office Hall in McLeod Ganj, where the Tibetan Settlement Officer presented a list of three pressing issues faced by the Tibetan community in Dharamshala. 

The first issue highlighted was the construction of proper roads in the area. The second problem raised was the need for permanent shops for Tibetan shop owners, who currently operate from temporary setups along the roadside. The third issue involved resolving the dispute concerning the old Tibetan Settlement Office. Chief Minister Sukhu acknowledged these concerns and assured the community that he would make efforts to address and resolve these problems.

Speaking to Phayul, a Tibetan who voted in Dharamshala today said, “It’s my fifth time voting. The reason for voting is the same as our Indian counterparts, like issues including inflation of daily needs products. It is our right to choose a representative who can work on these issues. The other advantage of having a voter card is the ease of travelling to other countries. I have relatives in Nepal, and a voter ID card, helps me to travel by flight without any difficulties. With other documents, it’s hard to travel there.”

Another voter stated, “The reason I made a voter ID card is because of the ease of travelling to other countries. Many countries have difficulty accepting the Identity Certificate (IC) provided to us. With a voter ID, the ease of travelling is the reason.”

Tibetans in Sarguja, Chhattisgarh, participated in the third phase of the elections on May 7, 2024. In the Phuntsokling settlement, Orissa, Tibetan voters were in a dilemma about whether to participate in the Indian election due to concerns about losing refugee status. In Himachal Pradesh, Tibetans with voter ID cards have been participating in Indian elections for some years.

In February 2014, India’s chief election body directed all states to include Tibetans and their offspring born in India in the electoral rolls. This followed a 2013 court order granting Indian citizenship to Tibetan refugees born in India between January 26, 1950, and July 1, 1987, and their children under the Indian Citizenship Act 1955.

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