New Delhi-based Non-profit foundation for liberal politics held a virtual discussion titled ‘Tibetan Democracy in Exile’- on International Day for Democracy.
“We have vibrant democracy but there may be many areas where we need improvement” Sikyong Penpa Tsering remarked during his keynote address on webinar titled “Tibetan Democracy in Exile” held on the occasion of International Day of Democracy.
New Delhi based Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom South Asia organized the webinar to highlight progress made by Tibetans in embracing democratic systems while navigating hardships and new home in exile. Sikyong underscores how democracy has endured in Dharamshala under the visionary leadership of the Dalai Lama, “ His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a true democrat. It was at his insistence, at his guidance, and because of his visionary leadership that we have democracy today. Even though His Holiness have to face lots of challenges during his initial years in the democratic process”
Even as a young man and leader in Tibet. The Dalai Lama sought to implement significant democratic reforms. For reasons beyond his control, he was unable to carry out these reforms in Tibet. Coming into exile, he immediately began democratic reform by promulgating the constitution in 1963. In his foreword to the Constitutional draft for Tibet in 1963, he wrote “in the changing circumstances of the modern world the system of governance in Tibet must be so modified and amended as to allow the elected representatives of the people to play a more effective role in guiding and shaping the social and economic policies of the state”.
Sikyong was among the panel of Tibetan youth leaders, Indian politician and office bearer to speak on evolution and impending challenges in sustaining democratic system in exile.
With growing exodus of Tibetans from India to west and considerable drop of arrival new Tibetans from Tibet, Sikyong said “ in times to come, we will be able to adapt according to the reality of the situation, (with) change in demographic and social change, that are happening within Tibetan community if we are not able to change according to times and reality. There might be serious question about the relevance of The Central Tibetan Administration and the legitimacy of CTA in future”
Dr.Jurgen Martens, German politician with Free Democratic Party shared a pre-recorded message on webinar. He recounts his time in Dharamshala (2023) and acknowledges efforts made by the Dalai Lama and Tibetans in preserving culture and heritage. He shares his concern about the mass migration of Han Chinese into Tibet, “it (migration) can change the face of Tibet” he said.
While there is growing interest in Tibet’s issue in the face of Chinese hegemony and environmental concerns. Dr. Jurgen believes the Tibetan issue cannot be understood without “reflecting the role of the Dalai Lama”. In his concluding remarks, he said the future of Tibet can only be democratic society and “there will be no other future” and emphasized the role of exile Tibetan in realizing his vision.
Indian Government Stance on Tibet
Rajya Sabha MP and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leader Sujeet Kumar, who was one of the panelists, thinks the Indian Government is not doing enough on Tibet. He believes lack of coherent support for Tibet among Indian MPs is due to their large constituencies and lack of awareness about Tibet among his colleagues.
Sujeet Kumar who is also a Convener All-party Indian Parliamentary Forum for Tibet is optimistic about the support in future and there will be less ambiguity, “i hope it will change in future” he said.
While the Chinese have been repeating Tibet’s issue as an internal matter of China, Sujeet thinks otherwise. He calls it an “unresolved political dispute which needs to be resolved”. The BJD MP praised Tibetan democracy in exile for its uniqueness, inclusivity, and representation.
Youdon Aukatsang, who was the lone Tibetan MP in the panel, spoke on the evolution of democratic system in exile. She argued that democratic system in exile is a ‘democratic movement’,which is a constant “work in progress”. Only way forward, she laments, is through “commitment, dedication and resilience”.
She also highlighted the role of Tibetan women in sustaining Tibetan’s culture, identity and language. “Women’s role in shaping Tibet’s future has been really immense, but it's been understated and maybe not recognised,” Tibetan MP said.
Going forward, Youdon Aukatsang believes there is a need for the engagement of Tibetan women in different spheres of society. And with large emigration of Tibetan to the west, she thinks there should be discussion in parliament to increase representation of the Tibetan from the west.
China has in recent years heightened its effort to manipulate electoral results around the world. They have spent huge financial resources to influence policies and electoral results. Sujeet Kumar and Youdon Aukatsang agree that the impending danger of China is creating internal dissent in both Indian and Tibetan society.
Another structural shortfall that's distinctive to Tibetan is ‘over dependence’ on the Dalai Lama. Youdon Aukutsang expects the Tibetan to take responsibility when problems arise in democratic systems. Recent consultation with the Dalai Lama during the constitutional crisis is one such instance.
Sujeet Kumar shed his concerns with the role of Tibetan youth in highlighting Tibetan issues through social media. “The Tibetan need to do more on social media, look at our Uyghur brothers on social media. They are doing much more to highlight their issues than Tibetan”. He believes social media is powerful to challenge China’s false narrative.
Gonpo Dhondup, who is the youngest ever Tibetan Youth Congress President in history, spoke on the role of Tibetan youth in bringing “vital change” in the functioning of The Central Tibetan Administration. He says Tibetan democracy in exile is a “test model” for the world. Growing fake news and trojan malware is another major challenge that he thinks will test our times.
Envisioning Tibet Without Dalai Lama
Geshe Lhakdor, who is director at the library of Tibetan works and archives emphasized the need to accept reality, in view of the Dalai Lama’s demise. He said we need to prepare in the absence of the Dalai Lama. In view of how imbibing democratic consciousness, Geshe la said “freedom and education is most important”.
Geshe la also highlighted similarities between Buddhism and democratic ideals. “If you are a true practitioner of Buddhism, the democratic ideals like equality, human rights, cultural values, high level of freedom, lack of discrimination are the same”.
He also underscored how Buddha was an advocate of democracy, where he led the community to take decisions instead of a single person.
Webinar concluded with the panelist agreeing with the need to have patience in terms of decision making in democratic systems compared to autocratic and totalitarian states. They also underline that even with limitations within the Tibetan democratic system, CTA has remained corruption free for most part.
The Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom is the foundation for liberal politics in the Federal Republic of Germany. It aims to promote the goal of making the principle of freedom valid for the dignity of all people and in all areas of society, both in Germany and abroad.