“Right” of Passage
Almost every society has a rite of passage, depending upon values and beliefs held by the said community, that marks an important transition for a person. Although it could be understood as any milestone in a person’s life, it is generally understood to mean the transition from childhood to adulthood. It could range in severity from getting your driver’s license or reaching the age to vote to some skin crawling ceremonies practiced in some ancient societies which involves torturous tattoo sessions that could last for ten painful days with the crudest instruments or even genital mutilation amongst some tribes of the Australian Aborigines. Although, the movie “300” glorified the rite of passage for young Spartans with a successful slaying of a demi-wolf, the truth was even more revolting; they will be sent out with only a knife to kill as many state-owned slaves without being detected and return in one piece. I could go on about this fascinating subject but that wasn’t the point of this article. Our own community had recently gone through a rite of sorts, albeit on a much grander stage, where the political power that was once vested in the office of the Dalai Lamas or Ganden Phodrang since 1642, have finally been entrusted in the hands of a lay person.
Although, the democratic process of electing our Prime Minister itself was thoroughly invigorating and enjoyed wide-spread support and appeal from all walks of life, even authenticated, as it were, by foreign observers no less, I felt no one expected or was prepared for Kundun’s decision to devolve his political office and the rather abrupt transition of power in the last couple of months. For an institution that had governed Tibet and Tibetan affairs for the past 369 years, the end was rather unceremonious and curt. One would have expected a more deliberate and studied approach to such an enormously critical step for a nation’s transformation into a fully functioning democracy, with each step well thought out and the subsequent steps readily available to be implemented. The sudden announcement by H.H. the Dalai Lama on March 10th, ten days before the onset of the critically important election, to publicly devolved his political powers to the next Kalon Tripa, was for the lack of a better term, a shocker. What followed next was even more bizarre what with the renaming of the “Shung” to “Diktsug” and the hastily organized re-drafting committee. Frankly, it all appeared as if the decisions were adopted in a haste. Let me elaborate on this. If such a critically important decision was to be made, it would seem prudent to at very least have the constitutional amendments already hashed out and drafted before the announcement. More importantly, enough time should have been allowed, especially given Tibetan people’s penchant for leaving everything in Kundun’s hands, to feel in control of their destiny by taking part in deliberations on how best to approach the new changes coming their way. Experts could have been called, both Tibetans and foreigners, series of public meeting organized to discuss different parts of the changes in the constitution, and issues should have been thoroughly debated in a public forum. The only public meeting organized to this effect bravely came out with recommendations that seemed reasonable, overwhelmingly affirming the proposal for Kundun to remain the head of state and rejection of the proposal to change the name of exile government. Well, you know what happened to those recommendations. I don’t begrudge Kundun for rejecting the head of State as it was truly his decision to make but I can’t say the same for the name change. There was really no need for it as it is simply self-destructive. It makes as much sense as drilling a hole in the middle of ship’s hull to help stop the flooding. The explanation provided by the then prime minister Samdhong Rinpoche and Envoy Kelsang Gyaltsen were frankly illogical and mostly evasive, failing to explain why such a change was needed when we did without it for the last fifty odd years. Is this name change supposed to fool anybody? If there was no exile government to be heading, then why the tedious title of Prime Minister? Why would Diktsug have members of parliament? It would only be logical, if your main concern is placating some opportunists in India stirring unnecessary problems, then to change every title that smacks of any relevance to an exile Government; Si-Kyong would be CEO, Member of parliament would be stake-holders or representatives of the branches. But I am sure it will surely fool the Indians and the Chinese counterparts. Nice going there.
What in the end happened was that Si-kyong Lobsang Sangay, who won a very deserving and hard fought battle in the election, discovered he was heading an NGO instead of a Government. As the newly minted first secular leader of the Tibetans, it must seem strange for him to head an office that does not exist — technically. It is probably why he expressed his opinion, during the recent DC Kalachakra, that he had a chat with the Penpa Tsering (Chair of the Parliament) and they were looking into a way to include Shung back into the designation. The examples he provided were somewhat strange, what with the conjoining of both Diktsug and Shung (must be in tune with his U-Rang designation a while back), but it still gave hope to a lot of concerned citizens that the issue will be treated with the seriousness it deserved. It naturally makes sense for Si-kyong Lobsang Sangay to assert his authority and claim what should be rightfully be his. If anything, this should really be his first priority in office. In reality, if he doesn’t, he is sabotaging his own legitimacy and the legitimacy of his office. Not to mention, he must be acutely aware of the general discontent with the name change even amongst middle path proponents, much less the uproar it caused with the Rangzen advocates — the showdown at DC between Kalden Lodoe and TYC president Tsewang Rinzin being a perfect example of it. Frankly, that is not even my main point. Personally, it seems almost nonsensical for us to even talk about this much less debate about it but here we are. Once again, we are forced to contend over something that was completely unnecessary and which is a major emotional drain for the public. I would rather we talk about his education policy and his mandate to produce 10,000 professionals by the end of his second term and how that is going to reconcile with the previous Katri’s emphasis on making Tibetan as the medium of education for all high schools. But times are such that if we could get what we had just few months ago, we can all claim it as a major victory for democracy and Tibetan people. I would not be averse to heaven opening up and Dakinis showering Si-Kyong Lobsang Sangay and the members of parliament with flowers. Like I said, times are hard.
My main point is that this is surely the first test for Tibetan democracy and for Si-Kyong Lobsang Sangay as a leader. He is the first truly elected Si-Kyong with the mandate of the majority of the Tibetan people 370 years. As such, he has every right to decide what happens to the political future of the Tibetan diaspora and in extension to the future of the Tibet Nation. Consequently, there have been much talk about whether the transfer of power actually happened or that it still remains embedded within the confines of H.H’s private office. A lot of people took the recent induction of Katri Surpa Samdhong Rinpoche to the private office of H.H as an indication that the power merely shifted to another location. Someone even quipped on Jamyang Norbu’s la website: “As long as Samdhong Rinpoche stays in Dhasa and peeks from the real station of power, Lobsang Sangye la is just a cheerleader….” I don’t know how serious he was but taking it at face value, it shows there is indication of doubt as to the authenticity of the powers vested in the office. Personally, I don’t believe it is of much import. I am sure Samdhong Rinpoche lak has every right to pursue whatever endeavor he wishes to pursue in his retirement. Ultimately, it is up to the Si-Kyong to flex his muscles and take the necessary risks and actually follow through with his earlier statement in DC, unless it was simply meant to diffuse public sentiments. So, not only is it a question of whether he is sensitive to the discontent of his own electorates and to do right by them, it is also about showcasing his own independence and to prove to the world, and more importantly to the Tibetan people that democracy is not just in name but that it exist as a fully functioning entity answerable only to the rule of the law and public mandate. I am fully aware the members of parliament are the ones who will actually vote on this issue and must have two-thirds majority for the bill to pass and land on Lobsang Sangay’s desk to be signed into law. I am also aware of the persuasive nature of the office he holds, especially since our democracy is devoid of the party system. Lets hope this issue will be resolved in the current ongoing parliament session. In theory, he has every right as the leader of the Tibetan people. It is time to put it to test.
In a remote Brazilian Jungle, the rite of passage involves getting intentional stung by bullet ants for ten minutes without crying or showing signs of weakness. A single bite is supposedly as painful as getting shot by a bullet which coincidentally helps to explain the honorary title. It has been said that the young men of the Satere-Mawe tribe, after putting their hands in a glove woven with bullet ants, undergo “waves of throbbing, all consuming pain,” for 24 hours and is seen shaking uncontrollably for days. If we observe our Si-Kyong looking dazed and shaking uncontrollably in the near future, we would at least know he was holding up under the pressure. Too soon?