Without His Holiness: Tibet’s Future Polity

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By: Tenzin Lekshay

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, during the 52nd Anniversary of Tibetan National Uprising Day on March 10, 2011, declares that he will devolve political leadership and put the matter for the Tibetan Parliament in exile to decide the fate of the future Tibetan polity. Subsequently, on March 14, 2011, when the parliament started its 11th session, His Holiness gave his message stressing on ceding his political leadership.

The parliament since then discussed on the issue and even Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche, the incumbent prime minister of exile Tibetan, stressed on the status quo of His Holiness current position, beholding the political and spiritual head of the Tibetans. When I listened to all the views of Tibetan parliamentarians in the session, it is obvious that all of them shun the decisions made by His Holiness and pleaded him to retain the political leadership. As Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche, the prime minister earlier mentioned that it is important to separate the church and state but to separate dharma with polity is not possible. Even amongst the Tibetan decision makers, views of temporal and spiritual leadership goes parallel and can not be detached, considering the composition of Tibetan polity in exile as well as of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s role in Tibet’s past history.

Last year, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, during an interview with Karan Thapar of CNN, proposed such reforms of relinquishing political leadership, though His Holiness always claims to be semi retired from the political spectrum. Many people conveyed their concerns to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, even from Tibet.

Within a short span of time, His Holiness has put forward his message in urgency, viewing the necessary for the Tibetan administration to exercise more democratic reforms as was done earlier in our exile set up. His Holiness the Dalai Lama in his message to the Tibetan parliament clearly expressed his wishes to give the power to the people. Such democratic reforms had succeeded over the years under the clear visions and understanding of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The complete transfer of power to the people will certainly takes time as the people are not ready to take such lofty task in their hand, which fears of loosening the internal integrity within Tibetans. Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche expressed that he is not capable of taking the responsibility. His Holiness being the champion of the world peace and harmony, carries the message of Tibet wherever he visits, as implies in his life long three commitments. The survival of Tibetan administration in exile is also a cause of concerns as India always has a soft corner with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, since his arrival in 1959.


Taking the historical and spiritual background of the establishment of Gaden Podrang (Tibetan Administration under the Dalai Lama), it is certainly difficult for the Tibetan people to evolve themselves in the political leadership, by keeping His Holiness the Dalai Lama at side. Under any circumstances, it is somewhat impossible at current scenario that His Holiness will be able to devolve the political leadership. Such are Tibetans totally relied upon him as faithfully on the future course of Tibetan struggle. But His Holiness fear that his absence in the future will cause instability in our establishment. It is undoubtedly a serious cause of concerns for all the Tibetans that the absence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama will bear huge hardship and difficulties from within and outside Tibet. Knowingly, though, we are not ready to take the responsibility of political leadership, which is in fact our weakness. Because we know that nobody will ever substitute the leadership of His Holiness, whether it be temporal or spiritual. After all, we believe His Holiness is the avatar of Lord of Compassion and we consider ourselves as simply his devotees and followers leading towards the right path. But we have not reached the right path yet to take over the political responsibility.

His Holiness visions: Sustainability and stability

The fear of His Holiness’ demise is aggravated loomingly in every breathes of Tibetans. The fear is gruesome and painfully even before it actually happens. When we look at the medieval and post medieval Tibet, the darkest days of Tibet falls during the absence of the Dalai Lama, whether it be the Chinese involvement in the Tibet’s polity or the clashes within the various political domains of Aristocratic Tibet. Those unfortunate historical blunders might soon arise when the present Dalai Lama passes away.

In order to spare the glooming picture of Tibetan political struggle in the future, as well as of the surviving the exile Tibetan establishment, His Holiness envisage such reforms to transfer the political leadership to the elected leaders. Over the years, the democratic reforms recommended by His Holiness the Dalai Lama so far succeeded and within a due course of time, his vision of transferring political leadership will also be fulfilled, taking into consideration of the growing age of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the political turmoil of Tibet. Tibetans will later understand and pay gratitude to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for passing the responsibility to the Tibetans. But, some who know less about the bond of His Holiness the Dalai Lama with Tibetans might presume that the faith of Tibetans to His Holiness has diminished. Unlikely as they thought, the faith of Tibetans will ever be stronger.

Prospects and Complications: Future Tibet

Taking note of the His Holiness’ decision on retiring from Political leadership, many fears that without His Holiness on the top, the Tibetan issues will get diluted and dissolved without much recognitions and progress.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama clearly mentioned that ultimately the Tibetan people has to decide on whether the Dalai Lama institution should stay or not. Historically, the Dalai Lama institution composes of both temporal and spiritual leadership and it is a historical fact that Tibetans will not undermine the responsibility of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Yet, it is lesson to be learnt by the fellow Tibetans to subdue and follow the lines of His Holiness in transferring the political leadership in the future. Earlier, the semi-retirement issues crop up a much discussions within Tibetan community over the years, and it will certainly take some years to fill in the ultimate wish of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

One needs to understand why His Holiness undertakes such steps to relinquish the political power. If one understands, it is for the sake of the survival and the sustainability of the Tibetan cause that matters the most in the mind of His Holiness. The possible claims of the next Dalai Lama by China in the future might be a challenge for the Tibetans, as was happened to the Panchen Lama. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the benevolent leader foresees such unprecedented catastrophes in the future, that he bestows more powers for the Tibetan Government in Exile to draw more recognition within Tibetans and outside world. If the Tibetans learn to exercise their political role within the lifetime of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, it will survive the trauma of His Holiness absence in the future.

Challenges: Down the lines

1) Unity of Tibetans:

His Holiness the Dalai Lama remains the source of unity within Tibetan people, whether it be of regions or religions. People from all the three traditional provinces and the four sects of Buddhism along with Bon and Tibetan Muslims believes that His Holiness is their binding bond. In the absence of His Holiness, there are tendencies of defragmenting the bonding knots. The direct execution of His Holiness’ political leadership draws more positive impacts in keeping the unity of Tibetans in exile and Tibetans in Tibet intact. Since the regionalism is keeping a low profile drama in the exile Tibetan polities, but may somehow grows in the future. We need to instal and train a charismatic and respected leader to follow the guidelines of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, so that future disturbances be avoided.

It is incorrect to misinterpret His Holiness message of political retirement by strictly believing absolute devolving of political leadership. In 2010, during the special convention in Bylakuppe, His Holiness assures that he will give advices to correct the mistake and blunders made by the elected leaders when it is necessary.

2) International Recognitions on Tibet issues:

Over the last few decades, many international communities gave huge recognition to His Holiness the Dalai Lama as both spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet. But, such recognition was limited to the elected leader of exile Tibetans in any parts of the world. Wherever His Holiness goes, the Tibet issues get utmost highlights, drawing politicians, intellectuals and common masses in supporting the Tibet issues. Like Tibetans, International communities recognise His Holiness as synonymous to Tibet and Tibetan struggles. But the question remains, whether His Holiness be bestowed with equal recognition in the international communities and will the future Tibetan political leader be also recognised by the International Communities in the future. Will the international communities continue to support the Tibet issues after the demise of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

3) China: Whom should they talk

Since the start of dialogue between China and Tibet in 1979, Chinese government talked to the representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Even though, China demeans His Holiness as ‘wolf in monk’s robe’, but still rely on His Holiness to resolve the Tibet issues. The Chinese government did not recognise the existence of Tibetan Government in Exile till now. So, in the future when His Holiness delegates his political position to the exile government, will China be courageous enough to talk to the exile Tibetan government. If so, it is pleasantly understandable that China recognises exile government as the legitimate government of Tibet, which will fearfully be a problematic for China. So, within the lifetime of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, if the Tibetan issues didn’t resolve, it is important to shift and gain recognition from the Chinese government so that dailogue continues between China and Tibet.

4) India: Dalai Lama as a Honourable guest

When His Holiness the Dalai Lama arrived Tawang in 1959, escaping from Tibet, Indian Government and public gave a grand welcome with open arms as a honourable guest. Soon after, the exile government was established. The followers were later treated as guest of India. But however, with the vacuum of honourable guest in the future, will the Indian government treat the Tibetans like they did for over five decades. It is somehow likely that Tibetans will face hardships in not only survival but also sustaining the government in exile, though India has a high stake in Tibetan freedom movement. So, the role in which India plays in the future will also determine the progress of Tibetan government in exile.


Tibetan people need His Holiness the Dalai Lama more than ever, during the darkest age of Tibetan history. The fear of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s absence in the future is obvious in every Tibetans mind. Knowingly though, all Tibetans pray His Holiness the Dalai Lama to live thousands of years, and we pray to be born again in his service in our future life.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama is determined to pursue the change and reforms in our democratic setup. His Holiness knows too well of the need of such changs for the future stability and sustainability of Tibetan struggle. I doubt, the change will not come soon but it will certainly happen over the due course of time. Tibetans must think rationally to see if this vision of His Holiness be succeed within his lifetime, so that we will survive the yet hardest moment to come in the future. I quote here my favorite quote of President Kennedy, ‘Ask what you can do for your country, ask not, what your country can do for you’. With this, I think, every Tibetans need to be responsible enough to take thier own decisions for the sake of our cause and let the freedom be our ultimate goal.

(Author is born and raised in India as a political refugee. Graduated in M.A. International Relations from New York University in 2008. Tenzin is a vivid blogger. Currently he is working as the Coordinator of India-Tibet Coordination Office, based in New Delhi.)

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