A Report on Seminar: ‘Tibet in the Aftermath of Devolution of Political Authority’
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VIF Director Ajit Doval, KC

On 6 & 7 September 2011, the Vivekanada International Foundation (VIF) organised a conference on ‘Tibet in the Aftermath of Devolution of Political Authority’. The conference was designed to address topics like Tibetan politics and new leadership, Chinese and Indian perceptions of Tibet problem, Chinese policy in Tibet and strategic implications for India and other related themes. The VIF put together an array of eminent strategic experts, including Tibetan stakeholders for the conference who deliberated upon a range of complex issues in a very frank and candid atmosphere. The high-point of the event however was the presence of His Excellency Dr. Lobsan Sangay, the Kalon Tripa of the Central Tibetan Administration (CAT) who delivered the key note address at the conference – his first formal interaction in public since he assumed the high office on August 8, 2011.

Dr. Lobsang Sangay was accompanied by Mr. Penpa Tsering, Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament and other distinguished functionaries of the CAT, whose deliberations upon the political and other related developments inside Tibet made significant contributions to the conference. The Tibetan interlocutors at the conference gave a first-hand account of developments inside Tibet based on their personal experiences, a rare experience for many present among the audience. In addition, a few of the prominent voices on Tibet which were heard at the conference were those of Ambassador TCA Rangachari, Ambassador Rajiv Sikri, Prof Sujit Dutta, Mr. Claude Arpi, Mr Vijay Kranti and Mr Naresh Mathur among others. The conference opened with the Mr Manash Bhattacharjee, Asst. Secretary VIF, quoting verses from the holy Bhagwad Gita which almost immediately put the entire struggle of Tibetans for independence as also the underlying theme of the conference in a right perspective. The Bhagwad Gita explicitly affirms that fighting against injustice is a sacred duty for every individual.

In the inaugural session, Mr Ajit Doval, KC, Director VIF, welcomed HE Dr. Lobsang Sangay and other distinguished attendees. Mr. Doval complimented Dr. Sangay on his appointment as the Kalon Tripa of the Central Tibetan Administration, lauding, in particular, his political sagacity and a strong commitment to the cause of Tibetan people. Mr. Doval said His Holiness Dalai Lama’s decision to devolve his political authority to an elected Kalon Tripa has three important dimensions: firstly, hereafter the entire political establishment of Tibetan people outside Tibet is going to be run by a democratic process; secondly, it brings about separation of religious and political authority from a single entity, and lastly; it also brings to an end reliance of a movement on a single individual. HH Dalai Lama long had cherished for the complete devolution of his political and administrative responsibilities to a democratically elected authority, but he accomplished it in a quite and phased manner. Mr Doval’s speech however also pointed to the Tibetan’s long traditions which have elements of democracy deeply embedded in them. Pointing to the plight of Tibetan refugees, he said that the international community, including India has an obligation to ensure that conditions are created for the safe return of Tibetan refugees to their homeland in a dignified manner. Highlighting the centrality of Tibet in the relationship between India and China, Mr. Doval called Tibet as a core issue between the two countries.

In his keynote address, Dr. Sangay drew a cultural, political and environmental map of Tibet. He spoke passionately about challenges that the new responsibility has bestowed upon him. Dr. Sangay elucidated what the devolution of power means in general and to him in person. Defining the geographical setting of Tibet, he said that Tibet’s area comprises parts of Chinese province of Yunnan, Sichuan, Qinghai, and small parts of Gansu. Talking about Tibet’s geographical significance, Dr. Sangay said it is a major source of fresh water for a number of countries in Asia, especially for countries in Southeast and South Asia. Dr. Sangay expressed his deep anguish at China’s continuing dam construction activities over Tibet’s major rivers. The ecological balance which the Tibetans have so assiduously preserved through the centuries stands threatened due to China’s dam constructions activities on such a massive scale.

Giving a historical perspective of Tibet state, Dr. Sangay asserted that Tibet had remained a sovereign entity for most parts of its history, but it lost its sovereignty in 1951 through a seventeen point agreement which the Chinese authorities had imposed on the Tibetan representatives through an act of coercion. The presentation by Dr. Sangay also clearly brought out the fact that Chinese model of economic development as practiced inside Tibet is a farce. He was particularly miffed by the discrimination meted out to the Tibetans at the hands of Han Chinese even in the capital city of Lhasa. The general discontentment among the Tibetans is leading them to desperate situations, evidenced by a growing number of protests all over Tibet. Dr. Sangay’s presentation also pointed to the Chinese subterfuge of bringing foreign journalists to Tibet in the aftermath of 2008 protests so as to manipulate global public opinion about the prevailing conditions in Tibet.

On the issue of devolution of political authority, the Kalon Tripa said it is a serious issue with major implications. The Kalon Tripa also made it amply clear that His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama is not setting a new precedent by handing over his political authority to a new incumbent. Devolution of political authority of Dalai Lama is in fact the continuation of a political process which was established a long time ago, precisely with the Fifth Dalai Lama in the seventeenth century. The March 2011 declaration of the Dalai Lama however signifies the separation of political and spiritual authority of the institution of Dalai Lama. His Holiness was keen to shed his political authority to a new leadership so that he could devout more time for global peace and harmony. Defining his own role as the Kalon Tripa of the Tibetan Government in Exile, Dr. Lobsang Sangay mentioned that he would energize his effort to ensure that Tibetan people are able to stand on their own feet and take the movement forward. He would also strive to fulfill the vision of His Holiness of creating a secular democratic society.

The inaugural session was followed by five other sessions through which a highly distinguished panel of speakers discussed in each session a range of related issues - Devolution of Political Authority by Dalai Lama; Rationale, Impact and Import; looking Back: Six Decades of Socio-Political Developments in Tibet; Tibet Issue in India-China Relations; China in Tibet and its Implications for India, and; Significance of Tibet to Asia: Environment and Water Security.

In the valedictory session, Mr. Lalit Mansingh, former Foreign Secretary and India’s Ambassador to US, reflected on the need to revisit India’s foreign policy, especially against the backdrop of past achievements and failures. An erudite diplomat, Mr. Lalit Mansingh not only recounted India’s consistent failures on Tibet front, but he also spelt out a series of measures which are needed to recover lost ground. Suggesting a new policy approach towards Tibet, Mr. Lalit Mansingh said that India should look for a reciprocity-based approach towards China and remove restrictions on activities and movements of Dalai Lama and the Karmapa. He also urged that India should completely identify itself with Tibetan culture and Tibetan Buddhism and associate the Dalai Lama with the Nalanda University Project. He stressed that “friendship with China is a desirable goal, but it can not be allowed to override our concerns for Indian security or Tibetan autonomy.”

Event Date 
September 6, 2011
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