Why the Dalai Lama is not relevant to India anymore

After 60 years of abject failure, many Tibetan refugees like Kunsang, 33 have given up hope in the CTA. In the past few years, the number of Tibetan refugees living in the Indian settlements have dropped very sharply.

The opinion piece below was sent to dorjeshugden.com for publication. We accept submissions from the public, please send in your articles to [email protected].



By: Shashi Kei

In March 2019, the Tibetan government-in-exile, commonly known as the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), celebrated the 60th anniversary of its uprising against China’s occupation of Tibet. These annual celebrations are part of the CTA’s efforts to keep the Tibetan struggle alive in the minds of people around the world. However, this year’s affair showed just how much ground the Tibetan cause has lost in recent times. Neither India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi nor any of his senior cabinet were present. The only foreign dignitary of any import was a former President of a small African nation. The CTA made every effort to keep itself and its cause relevant but this year’s celebrations confirm that the Tibetan Cause commands but a shadow of its former importance and attention.

Perhaps the most obvious sign of this decline is that the CTA’s biggest supporter and ally, India has officially stopped acknowledging the Dalai Lama. This is a massive blow. The Dalai Lama has single-handedly represented the Tibetan struggle since its inception. His presence and, often, even the mere mention of his name has kept the world aware of the Tibetan struggle.

The Dalai Lama’s well-practised charisma has for decades successfully evoked strong pro-Tibetan sentiments. That he was able to keep the world enamoured all this time has been due in large part to India. The host country of the CTA created the necessary space for the Tibetan cause to bear on the world’s conscience.

India even took the unprecedented step of allowing the Dalai Lama to form and operate an exile government on its soil. Its chief objective here was to disrupt and oppose Chinese rule of Tibet, even though India has always acknowledged China’s sovereignty over the region, a contradiction that did not escape China’s attention.

Without India, it would have been difficult for the Dalai Lama and, hence, the Tibetan cause to be as pronounced as it has been. But now, the Indian media is reporting that there has been an “invisibilisation of the Dalai Lama” and that it will soon render the Tibetan people’s dream of regaining their homeland inconsequential in the global scheme of things.

Prime Minister Modi’s silence over the Tibetan issue and the Dalai Lama is undoubtedly due to pressure from China. This, in turn, is China’s response to the Tibetan leadership’s long term campaign to demonise the Asian juggernaut because it regards the Dalai Lama as a dangerous separatist.

History will record that one of the CTA’s biggest failures was to not recognise that its old approach to China which was to attack and defame the rising Dragon, and to provoke anti-Chinese sentiments at every opportunity possible, stopped yielding results some time ago.

The main thrust of the CTA’s formula was to harness the West’s distrust of Communism against China in the forlorn hope that someone would go to war on their behalf and free Tibet. India did go to war with China in 1962 and was soundly defeated.

Night scene of the newly built Chama Square in Chamdo City of southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). China seems to have closed to door to any dialogue with the Dalai Lama and have instead focussed heavily on developing the economy of the TAR and improve the Tibetan people’s livelihood.

In the meantime, whatever secret plans the United States had of snatching the Tibetan plateau out of China’s clutches ended with the 1972 visit of President Richard Nixon to China. That diplomatic overture sought to normalise relations between the two superpowers and ended the Tibetan leadership’s hopes that their homeland would be regained by a US-sponsored military coup.

China has grown by leaps and bounds over the last 60 years. It has transformed itself from an impoverished country that could hardly feed its citizens into a global superpower. On the other hand, the Tibetan leadership remained as they had been before 1959 – obstinate, retrogressive and medieval in its mindset and this played out in the way it disregarded its own people. Its persistence in an ineffectual campaign to antagonise China only strengthened China’s resolve.

China today is able to dictate terms and has made rejection of the CTA’s cause a condition for strategic alliances and lucrative partnerships with countries across the globe. In effect, it gives nations a choice: economic progress or support for a feudal theocrat seeking to regain his fiefdom. Due to China’s rise and its significance to the world economy, even the United States, the European Union and India have come to see the wisdom of maintaining friendly ties with her.

Still, the old Tibetan habit of refusing to acknowledge reality persists. It was due to the same short-sightedness of its leaders that Tibet was lost in the first place. The feudal lords had thought little of the world beyond the Himalayan plateau and had refused to participate in the United Nations. So, when Mao’s troops marched into Lhasa, no one came to help.

The same obstinacy and rigidity persist in the Tibetan leaders of today. This goes a long way towards explaining why the Tibetan cause has regressed over the years when other similar struggles for independence have succeeded, even without the financial and moral support Tibetans have received.

To his credit, the Dalai Lama did come to the conclusion last year that it was “stupid” to confront China as an enemy. That was a reversal of the stance he has maintained for almost six decades, criticising China with condemnations deftly infused into his spiritual talks and teachings.

The CTA Sikyong (President) has openly opposed the Dalai Lama’s instructions not to regard China as an enemy.

However, in what is a classic example of Tibetan infighting, the President of the CTA, Sikyong Lobsang Sangay continues to refer to China as the enemy. To emphasise his view that the Dalai Lama was wrong, Sangay stated recently that, “…China as enemy occupied our country, as enemy killed Tibetans, and as enemy destroyed monasteries…”

Sangay’s stance will not help to build a bridge between Tibetans and the Chinese government. This brand of hostility is counterproductive but it does benefit Sangay personally.

Firstly, such provocations feed the collective Tibetan resentment towards China, reinforcing the image of China as a brutal aggressor and the CTA as its innocent victim. It does ensure that funds from the various international ‘Tibetan Aid’ campaigns continue to flow. It does make Sangay appear as a heroic David to China’s Goliath which is what Sangay needs to stay elected since there is no other accomplishments to speak of.

The very existence of the CTA is brazen opposition to China’s rule of Tibet. If there is a reconciliation between China and the Dalai Lama, the CTA would lose its only justification to exist and Sangay would be out of a job and he knows that.

Sangay’s agitations and sabre rattling come at a very high cost, the penalties of which are borne by the host nations that provide the space for such attacks to take place. This is why leaders of erstwhile friendly nations like India’s Modi have stopped speaking about the Dalai Lama.

The burden is also ultimately borne by the Tibetan people in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), who face stringent regulation by a Chinese government wary of the Tibetan leadership’s motives to use the populace in TAR to stir dissension. The price of provocations by politicians like Sangay is also exacted on the Tibetan refugees who followed the Dalai Lama into exile three generations ago, believing he would deliver them home by some divine and supernatural feat.

Increasingly CTA-issued travel papers are being rejected as valid official document in what is an erosion of the CTA’s legitimacy.

As long as their leaders fail to build a bridge to Beijing, Tibetan refugees will continue to live life in limbo. Their identity is being eroded away as they are neither able to return to their own country nor carve a new life in another one. In recent years, countries like Sweden, Switzerland and Italy have stopped acknowledging Tibetans-in-exile in their country as Tibetan refugees and instead refer to them as ‘Chinese nationals’.

The narrative of the CTA and its President that the Tibetan cause is still receiving firm global support flies in the face of reality. Seeing how the Prime Minister of the CTA’s host nation instructed his officials to avoid the CTA’s ‘Thank You India’ celebrations; how the President of the US has bucked convention and so far refused to meet with the Dalai Lama; and how the CTA only managed to attract a former President of a small African nation as the VVIP of an important event to commemorate the Tibetan people’s 60th anniversary of struggle, it is clear something has gone awry for the CTA.

Sangay continues to travel the world to peddle the relevance of the Tibetan issue as a humanitarian, moral, environmental and spiritual struggle. What Sangay has not been able to address is how helping his administration benefits his audience. His speeches and messages rarely differ in delivery and intention and they continue to widen the gulf between China and the CTA, in opposition to the Dalai Lama’s advice.

However, observers have noted that Sangay’s audiences consist mainly of opposition leaders using the Tibetan issue as a platform to criticise sitting governments on their supposed lack of attention to global humanitarian issues. The same politicians quickly switch to a pro-China stance when they assume office.

It is the simple economics of befriending the world’s largest consumer market and a global superpower. China is the new America – a world where opportunities abound; national progress is found in strategic partnerships with China, not in going against her. No country would have opposed the United States at its peak. It was simply not logical. Similarly, it is illogical to oppose China today and everyone except the Tibetan leadership has acknowledged that.

As India continues to provide asylum to the Dalai Lama, the Modi administration has made it clear that India’s relationship with China is far more important. India is not alone on this as the Tibetan leadership’s agitations continue to push allies and friends towards China.

Their refusal to be pragmatic and their continued condemnation of China will see to the complete destruction of the Tibetan people’s dreams. In China’s most recent white paper outlining its plans to develop Tibet, Beijing seems to have closed the door to any dialogue with the Dalai Lama. This, in effect, ends all hopes of the Tibetan returning home. It is the bitter fruit of the Tibetan leadership’s agitations and wrong approach towards China.

In the final analysis, it would seem that the Tibetan leadership itself lost the Tibetan cause. This acknowledgement does not deny the grievances that Tibetans have suffered. The simple reality is that virtually all the hegemonies of the world have conquered and taken over smaller and weaker nations, forcibly annexed lands which belonged to natives and flown their flags over what was once sacred ground. They have toppled governments and supplanted authorities when it was deemed necessary for ‘state security’.

That the CTA has refused to see this fact reflects the immaturity and unpreparedness of its leaders. Some, like Sangay, may argue that it is the moral duty of the Tibetan people and the nations of the world to oppose China’s violent invasion and occupation of Tibet. But the same Sangay has been silent on Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. Instead, he praised Israel’s defence of its promised land.

How can the Tibetan leader explain the difference between his endorsement of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and his condemnation of China’s occupation of Tibet? Such double standards do not bode well for the CTA.

Whether the Tibetan leadership can change its approach to China is speculation. It may perhaps already be too late in the game for this to have any significant impact. The Tibetan leadership should, however, take steps to preserve Tibetan culture and do what is necessary so that the Tibetan diaspora live harmoniously. If they cannot regain their homeland, the Tibetan people must at least be allowed to retain their culture and religious traditions. But herein lies the Tibetan leadership’s biggest failure – even something as vital as unity has been torn asunder through a series of ‘divide and rule’ policies. This includes the campaign to split the Karma Kagyu and the unconstitutional religious ban on the popular ancient practice of Dorje Shugden prevalent amongst the Gelug and Sakya schools. These schemes as well as the confusion between rangzen and umaylam were all spawned by the CTA and allowed to fester to keep the Tibetan people distracted from the CTA’s failures. As a recent news report published in The Print noted, the invisibilization of the Dalai Lama is almost complete and when that happens the most famous group of refugees in the world will become forgotten.


[The Print] Why Modi doesn’t mention the Dalai Lama anymore, while he rages against
‘enemy Pakistan’

Source: https://theprint.in/opinion/modi-monitor/why-modi-doesnt-mention-the-dalai-lama-anymore-while-he-rages-against-enemy-pakistan/215845/. Click to enlarge.

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3 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Since the year 2003, when India officially recognized Tibet as a part of China, and in return, Beijing agreed to begin trade with India’s northeastern state of Sikkim, the Tibetans in exile should have foreseen this.

    They should have known that if India was willing to sell them off in order to begin trade with China, India is ready to sacrifice them one day for the benefit of the whole Indian population. No one will condemn India for saving their own nation and people.

    If the Tibetans are smart, they should have realized that they are just refugees who contributed almost nothing back to India. When you contribute nothing, it automatically equivalent to worthlessness. If you are worthless, you are replaceable anytime.

    However, the Tibetans are still living in denial until today. They seem to be ignorant of this fact and continue to act arrogantly against China in the land of India as if they are VIP of the country. Since India has already recognized Tibet as part of China since 16 years ago, any protest and speech against China that’s happening in India by the Tibetans would have put India into a very difficult situation. And India will lose it’s patience one day. And the day has come.

    It’s time for Tibetans to grow up and help themselves already. They should stop creating any disharmony and separation among the Tibetans and be united again. The Karmapa issue, Dorje Shugden ban and the disagreement between Rangzen and Umaylam are key factors that separated Tibetans. They should be resolved as soon as possible before it’s too late.

  2. It is so sad that after the great length that the Dalai Lama went to become the world’s much loved personal and wherever he went, doors just opened, the Dalai Lama is now sinking in irrelevance. The failure can be blamed on the CTA. For more than 20 years the Dalai Lama had declared himself withdrawn from politics and ceded the position. Lobsang Sangay failed miserably to carry the mantle and the Dalai Lama can never retire from politics. And now without the Dalai Lama, Lobsang Sangay is in the quire mine because he simply does not have the caliber to hold up CTA. Caring only for his own pocket he continues to misappropriate the sponsored funds that run into hundreds of millions USD annually. Even now with the Dalai Lama’s pronouncement of wishing to go home to Tibet for many years, CTA is still sabotaging the opportunities to return cos many of CTA have passports to the Western country. Poor Dalai Lama! His dreams are being shattered more and more as the days go by.

  3. This year marks the 60th year of the Tibetan Uprising but planned demonstrations were held in only 23 locations worldwide — a far cry from the 336 cities in 2008. The biggest event took place in New Delhi, the capital city of India. As a country, India, which hosts the most Tibetans in-exile — now estimated to be 85,000 — could only produce barely 1,000 demonstrators. In Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) are based, the official event to observe Tibetan Uprising Day took place with only a few hundred people attending.

    The above numbers of people reducing given a clear picture to CTA that the Tibetans are not going to place hope on them already. After 60 years which CTA just keeps taking advantage of their people and nothing has been done for them. CTA needs to wake up and look into the matters seriously! Tibetans would just act on their own for their future. CTA fails big time to protect its people and after 60 years we don’t see much of improvement but just scandals after scandals.

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.…Instead of turning away people who practise Dorje Shugden, we should be kind to them. Give them logic and wisdom without fear, then in time they give up the ‘wrong’ practice. Actually Shugden practitioners are not doing anything wrong. But hypothetically, if they are, wouldn’t it be more Buddhistic to be accepting? So those who have views against Dorje Shugden should contemplate this. Those practicing Dorje Shugden should forbear with extreme patience, fortitude and keep your commitments. The time will come as predicted that Dorje Shugden’s practice and it’s terrific quick benefits will be embraced by the world and it will be a practice of many beings.

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