Among a vast gallery of internationally adored persons, Dalai Lama happens to hold a unique position. Over past many decades he has been occupying a place of honour in the list of most popular individuals in almost every international opinion poll for the longest period. On 6th July this year he celebrates his 87th birthday. As his admirers look at this ageing monk statesman with awe, some questions are bound to pop up in the minds of people who have watched him fighting one of the most difficult and ruthless power of the world – the communist regime of People’s Republic of China – without showing any sign of anger or disgust towards his enemy. Some of these question are: ”What has he achieved in his six decade long self-chosen exile?”; “Was his decision to escape from Tibet a right one?”; “What will happen to the cause of Tibet after him?” and; “What are the challenges he has to meet and settle before his next incarnation takes over the mantle?”
Having enjoyed the privilege of watching the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan issue from a close distance over past five decades, I have my own perspective on these questions. One of the most outstanding achievements of the current (14th) Dalai Lama is his success in organizing the Tibetan diaspora into one of the most organized and well-knit refugee communities of recent history and reviving his lost nation’s cultural and national identity in exile. In March 1959 when he escaped from Tibet, about 80 thousand desperate Tibetans joined him who were completely unfamiliar with the new world in terms of language, education and social, cultural and political skills. But it’s a miracle that on the strength of these people the Dalai Lama has revived innumerable national cultural institutions of Tibet which include some centres of highest learning like Drepung, Sera and Ganden. In sharp contrast to the traditional feudal and theocratic system of Tibet, he has also established a universal franchise-based democratic political system for his exile community which regularly elects its Parliament and the ‘Sikyong’ (an equivalent amalgam of President and Prime Minister) through secret vote by Tibetans living in over 70 countries today. This ‘Central Tibetan Administration’ (CTA), a clever misnomer for ‘Tibetan Government-in-Exile’, works from India’s Himalayan town of Dharamshala and has every branch of a government accept the departments of Rail, Mail and Jail.
As a shrewd political move to counter China’s attempts to occupy the institution of Dalai Lama after his demise, this monk statesman he has transferred his political powers as the ‘Head of State’ of Tibet to the collective conglomerate of the elected Sikyong, the ‘Chitue’ (Parlaiment) and the Judiciary of his ‘government-in-exile’. This single masterstroke of the Dalai Lama has given an infinite shelf life to Tibetan refugee community to take ahead the Tibetan freedom struggle far beyond the life span of the current and future Dalai Lamas. No wonder the Chinese leaders, especially current President Xi Jinping, frequently lose control over their mind and tongue even at the mention of words like ‘Dalai Lama’, ‘Dharamshala’ and ‘Sikyong’. These less than civilized utterances from Beijing have time and again proved that the Dharamshala establishment of the Dalai Lama has come to stay as the most potential challenge to China’s plans of installing a Chinese puppet as the 15th Dalai Lama after the demise of the current Dalai Lama.
Going by a very similar case of Puyi, the last and the 11th Manchurian emperor of China, one can say that the Dalai Lama’s decision to escape from Tibet to avoid arrest or bombing at the hands of the People’s Republic Army (PLA) was the best, rather the only, choice before him. Puyi (full name Aisin Gioro Puyi) was abducted and forced by the Hans to abdicate at the age of 6 when the Manchurian Empire was thrown out following the ‘Xinhai Revolution’ of the Han people in 1912 and the ‘Republic of China’ came into existence after 268 yearlong slavery under the Manchurians. Until his death in October 1967 Puyi lived through all humiliation and tortures for which the Sun Yatsen, Chiang Kaishek and the Communist government of Mao have been known for. Going by the Hollywood film ‘The Last Emperor’, Puyi was reduced to an anonymous commoner in the Mao era where he had to buy a ticket to enter his own palace as an ordinary visitor.
In sharp contrast to Puyi, regular public opinion polls across the world over past few decades have been placing the Dalai Lama among the most popular and respected leaders of the world. Over the years, his campaign for peace, non-violence and ‘Universal-Responsibility’ has won him more than 180 top ranking international awards and honours which include the Nobel Peace Prize, the Templeton Award, the ‘Congressional Gold Medal’ of the US and the Magsaysay Award. Despite all hullabaloos and tantrums from Beijing, he has been receiving standing ovations in dozens of Parliaments and universities across the globe.
If Dalai Lama’s achievements are a source of happiness and satisfaction among his supporters and well-wishers, the challenges he faces today too are a big reason of worry for them and Dalai Lama himself. The greatest source of worry and a challenge to the Dalai Lama and Tibet is China’s ongoing policy of cultural aggression which has taken the dimensions of a cultural genocide in the Xi Jinping era now. Interestingly, Beijing has successfully converted Tibet into a profit centre by developing a heavily militarized Tibet into a tourist destination and is raking in billions of tourism-dollars every year. It’s a different matter that the same monasteries today are known more for the communist brainwashing of the monks and nuns than for the study of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy. China’s new law on reincarnation of Tibetan monks put in force since 2007 has made it compulsory for every reincarnate Lama to have official stamp of approval of the Communist Party of China (CPC) before he is installed as the reincarnation of a deceased senior monk. The main target of this new law is to occupy the institution of Dalai Lama as the supreme political and spiritual leader of Tibet after present Dalai Lama passes away.
A complete ban on Tibetan language in Tibetan schools; compulsory education in Mandarin and; forcing the Tibetan parents to deposit their children, in many cases 4-5 year old kids too, into CPC-operated ‘residential’ schools, is now worrying the Dalai Lama of a scenario when coming generations of Tibetans will maintain their appearance as Tibetans but their minds and souls will be pure communist and ‘patriotic’ Hans. To make it further difficult for Dalai Lama and the CTA, China has effectively closed all escape routes of Tibetans through Nepal, thereby choking the only fountainhead of fresh manpower for the exiled Dalai Lama and his Tibetan establishment. This has severely impacted the functioning and survival of Tibetan cultural, educational and administrative institutions in exile.
Yet another worry of Dalai Lama is the ever-increasing financial and political influence of Beijing which can now force governments and parliaments to stop them even from inviting and listening to Dalai Lama. South African government’s decision to prefer a boycott by the conference of Nobel Peace Prize winners over facing China’s threats against issuing visa to the Dalai Lama is just one example. Spain’s government’s decision to call a special parliament session to change its constitution overnight only to save prominent Chinese leaders from imminent arrest by Interpol as a result of a forthcoming judgment of the Spanish Supreme Court over their crimes in Tibet is another.
The only hope for Tibet supporters now is the changing mood among a large number of world governments who are now, finally, appear to be waking up to the challenge which Beijing and its leaders like Xi Jinping have thrown at their sovereignty and existence. And as far as the Dalai Lama is concerned, he is still continuing his national struggle optimistically with his spiritual faith in popular Tibetan slogan : “Lha Gyalo !” which, said in simple language is “Truth Shall Prevail !”.