Dr Lobsang Sangay, President of the Tibetan government-in-exile, sat down with Shri Ram Shaw last month to discuss the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation, Hong Kong and the human rights challenges in China.
How do you view Beijing’s current treatment of the Tibet issue?
[I]t has failed, because the policy that they use is repression, assimilation, discrimination and marginalisation. So, if you do that then it will not help Tibetans gain trust in the system and then follow the system.
For the last 60 years, there have been uninterrupted protests. There has been a clampdown, but the protests have continued for the last six decades. That shows that Tibetans are not happy with the present Chinese Communist system.
In May, US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad urged China to hold talks with the Dalai Lama, criticising Beijing’s interference in Tibetan Buddhists’ religious freedom. What is your reaction to this proposal?
Yes, His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a very revered person. He wants to have a very moderate, win-win solution based on a middle way approach. But the Chinese government is not listening to the US ambassador and other leaders who keep urging the Chinese leadership to solve the issue of Tibet.
[A]t the moment there is the occupation of Tibet and repression of Tibetans. So what we would say is: end this repression and give genuine autonomy to Tibetans as per the Chinese Constitution. That is the solution.
It has been reported that China wants to control who the next Dalai Lama will be. Are you concerned about Beijing’s reach into Buddhist communities?
India is also a land of Buddhism. But, in reality, the Chinese communist government has taken over the lead on the Buddhists long ago. If you look at all the neighbouring Buddhist countries, and Buddhist communities, Buddhist leaders, many of them align more with Communist China than with India.
They have been working for the last two decades to win the soft power of Buddhism. So, they are way ahead of India and they want to change through that the Buddhist leadership and the image of His Holiness Dalai Lama.
They will not succeed in changing his image because he is well known around the world. But, on Buddhism – the soft power, they are already at the forefront.
The Dalai Lama himself has made it quite clear that the decision about his reincarnation solely lies on him. Who will decide on a successor to the Dalai Lama after his eventual death?
I think this one we have to clarify. It’s not His Holiness. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that it is for the Tibetan people to decide. And, just recently we had a special General Body meeting of Tibetan Community leaders from 24 countries, around 315 of them came and passed a unanimous resolution saying that we want that incarnation of Tibetan people.
So it is for the Tibetan people to decide, not the Communist Party of China because when you are communist you are atheist… you believe that religion is poison.
And all the Chinese government has done in Tibet is that they have destroyed 98 per cent of Tibetan monasteries and memorials, and 99 per cent of monks and nuns were disrobed and were not allowed to practice Buddhism after the occupation of Tibet.
Still, they are destroying and demolishing a lot of monasteries and memorials. This is their track record. They criticise His Holiness Dalai Lama throughout his life. Now, they say, [they’ll] decide his incarnation. So, it’s illogical. Once you destroy things, once you vilify someone, why do you want incarnation of that person?
If Buddhists won’t accept a Chinese Dalai Lama, can there be two Dalai Lamas?
Buddhists won’t accept a Chinese Dalai Lama mainly because of this reason. For example, Sitaram Yechury is the general secretary of the Communist Party of India. He is a very respectable person. Nice guy. I met him.
But, if he appoints a Shankaracharya [head of a Hindu monastery] and tells the followers that I have appointed this guy as Shankaracharya, now all the Hindu people should follow him. How many people will follow that Shankaracharya? Even though Sitaram Yechury is a nice guy.
But the Communist Party of China… what they have done is destroyed monasteries, demolished memorials. Monks and nuns have committed suicide, they are burning themselves. So much protest is happening.
How will they follow the Dalai Lama appointed by the Chinese government? No chance. They will try to appoint one. But, it’s a fake one, you know… but the fake is the fake.
On September 22, you said in a TV programme that Buddhism came to Tibet from India, but Tibetan democracy is adopted from Indian democracy. What is the road ahead for Tibet in light of Delhi’s ‘Made in India’ economic drive?
India and Tibet are like the head and the body. Literally, we are the head because we are on top of North India and we are also the roof of the world. All the 90-plus highest mountains of the world are in Tibet. Mount Kailash is in Tibet, Mansarovar is in Tibet. Lord Shiva has been taking refuge in Tibet for thousands of years.
So, we are the head and India is the body… physically also. We are the original made in India. Indian people should support the Tibetan cause because we are spiritually connected, geographically connected from Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh,
The Tibetan border is connected with India. And, culturally, we are connected – and even scripture wise… our scriptures are also connected. We are connected in so many ways. Several rivers are also coming to India from Tibet.
The Sutlej river comes from Tibet, Indus comes from Tibet. Brahmaputra river comes from Tibet. We are physically, spiritually and historically connected with India. If Made-in-India is to succeed, the original Made-in-India has to succeed first.
What is your take on China’s treatment of human rights and democracy in Hong Kong?
All people in Hong Kong are asking for their human rights and their democracy which was promised… We are in solidarity with people in Hong Kong because they deserve their democracy, they deserve their human rights.
What is your take on the Jammu and Kashmir conflict – China appears to be siding with Pakistan.
We don’t comment on the internal affairs of India. At the same time, we don’t support what China is doing in Hong Kong. We don’t support that. It’s the double standard for the Chinese government.
What they are doing in Tibet, what they are doing in Hong Kong – and still they are supporting Pakistan. That’s the double standard.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama calls himself “a son of India.” Indian supporters for a free Tibet have urged the Central government in New Delhi to confer Bharat Ratna – the country’s highest civilian honour – on the Dalai Lama for his contributions in creating goodwill for India in the last six decades. Do you support the idea?
His Holiness Dalai Lama has been honoured with all the major awards across the globe – Nobel Peace Prize, the Templeton Prize on religious harmony, the United Nations award on environmental issues and so many reputed universities have also awarded him degrees including Harvard where he studied.
So India has to think whether this Son of India deserves the award or not. I think he is not just a Son of India, he is a great Son of India. Maybe perhaps he is one of the best sons of India who carries the message of Indian Nalanda tradition around the world.
The Dalai Lama singlehandedly makes India look very good, spreading the wisdom of Nalanda University [established to emulate the revered Nalanda Buddhist monastery] around the world. He has been the best messenger on that.
So Indian people should think when the whole world has given him so many awards, why not India? But, it is for the Indian people and the government to decide. And, as an Administration we don’t demand [it]. We can only create awareness.
Do you think in our lifetime will we be able to see a free, fearless, autonomous and sovereign Tibet?
Yes, why not? One should always remain hopeful. Life without hope is often useless. One should always remain hopeful. I’m hopeful, and definitely, during my lifetime we will see an autonomous Tibet with basic human rights for Tibetan people.
The Tibetan population is only half a percent of the China population… [and] the Communist Party of China is the largest political party in the world. I think, China has the largest military in the world. But, they are afraid of one man – the Dalai Lama. That’s the power of truth.
What is your message to Tibetans?
Be strong. Be proud of what we are. If you look at our history – there have been great kings, great dynasties, great empires. The most ancient and rich tradition of Nalanda University is kept in the Tibetan language and no other language – including in India or any Buddhist country.
If you look at our history, what we have achieved, we are a great civilisation and a great people. We should be proud of ourselves and we shall succeed.
We believe that Chinese President Xi Jinping should often come to India… He should have a good relationship with India. China says that Tibet is one of their core issues. India should also recognise Tibet as one of their core issues, because from Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh [we have] the Tibetan border with India.
[T]he Indian government should take the initiative to resolve the issue of Tibet peacefully with the Chinese government.
Shri Ram Shaw is a New Delhi, India based senior journalist.