The little democratic world of the Dalai Lama

March 8th, 2009 - 1:03 pm ICT by IANS  

By Jaideep Sarin
Dharamsala (Himachal Pradesh), March 8 (IANS) The aura around him mesmerizes you. He mingles with the high and mighty and the world’s most populous nation China sees him as an enemy. Yet, he is able to floor anyone with his child-like smile and warmth.

This is the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso - a man who has perhaps lived the longest time in exile. This year, the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner, who will turn 74 on July 6, completes 50 years of living in exile outside Tibet.

And the Tibetans have reasons to organise a special programme in New Delhi on March 31 to say ‘Thank you India’ for hosting the Dalai Lama and over 100,000 Tibetan refugees who reside in various parts of India.

Officially the head of state and the spiritual leader of over six million Tibetans worldwide, the Dalai Lama has been conducting his peaceful struggle for Tibet’s meaningful freedom against the Chinese rule. In doing so, the Dalai Lama has evolved his own democratic world around him even in his abode-in-exile.

The Tibetan government-in-exile (TGIE), based at the Dalai Lama’s headquarters at Mcleodganj adjoining this hill town of Himachal Pradesh, has been operating ever since it was first set up in Mussourie town in April 1959. The ‘kashag’ (cabinet) is headed by the ‘Kalon Tripa’ (Prime Minister) Samdhong Rinpoche. He is assisted by ministers and officers. The Tibetan government-in-exile is not recognised by any country in the world.

The Chinese and the Tibetans have their own versions of Tibet’s history and have failed to come on a common platform to discuss the vexed Tibet issue despite eight rounds of talks between envoys of the Dalai Lama and officials of the Communist government in China.

“China wants to see Tibet’s history from its perspective. They don’t understand that giving meaningful autonomy to Tibetans could solve the problem. We are not seeking independence from China,” the 14th Dalai Lama recently told a group of visitors during an informal meeting.

The Dalai Lama’s ‘middle-way approach’ of seeking genuine autonomy under Chinese rule for Tibet instead of complete independence is perhaps his last ditch effort to take the 140,000 Tibetans living in exile in India and other countries back into their homeland. But that seems like a distinct possibility, given China’s stubborn attitude in even discussing the issue and calling him a ’splittist’.

The Dalai Lama had made a dramatic escape from his Norbulingka Palace in Lhasa March 1959 after the Chinese forces entered the Tibetan city and crushed an uprising by Tibetans. Since then, he has been living in exile in India even though his schedule takes him all over the world every year.

“The Dalai Lama has set up a completely democratic system even in exile. The uprising inside Tibet March last year clearly shows that Tibetans see him as their only leader and want him back. But the Chinese are suppressing the Tibetans with brute force,” the TGIE’s secretary for international relations Sonam S. Dagpo told IANS.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at

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