On March 10, a bombshell made the headlines worldwide, “the Dalai Lama retires”. But retires from what?
In his Tibetan Uprising Day’ Statement, the Tibetan leader explained the background: "As early as the 1960s, I have repeatedly stressed that Tibetans need a leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I can devolve power. Now, we have clearly reached the time to put this into effect.”
In June 1991, the Tibetan Parliament in exile (also known as the Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies) had adopted a ‘Charter’, a sort of Constitution guarantying all Tibetans equality before the law without discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, language and social origin. While providing a separation of power between the judiciary, legislature and executive powers in the Central Tibetan Administration (or Government in exile), the Charter assigns specific functions to the Dalai Lama as the Head of the State.
With the recent announcement, the Assembly had no choice but to amend the Charter as the Tibetan leader’s functions will have to be allotted to other bodies or individuals.
A difficult task, though the Dalai Lama said: "It is to benefit Tibetans in the long run. It is not because I feel disheartened. Tibetans have placed such faith and trust in me that as one among them."
A five member 'Constitutional Amendment Drafting Committee' was formed, with representatives from the Kashag (Cabinet) and the Assembly to suggest a legal solution to the tricky situation.
Let us understand the issue.
In an interview in 2006, the Dalai Lama had told us:
"I have three commitments: promotion of human values, promotion of religious harmony and promotion of awareness of Tibetan cause."
He had further elaborated: "Out of three commitments, number one and two are mostly on volunteer basis. Till my death I committed myself to these causes. Regarding the third one (Tibet), in a way it not a voluntary commitment, it is due to past history and to the Dalai Lama institution. I am bound to this commitment and this responsibility, because I am the Dalai Lama who played a role in past history of Tibet.
The Dalai Lama had acknowledged his historical role as the Protector and Symbol of the Tibetan Nation.
The Drafting Committee has chosen the Middle Path, keeping into account both aspects of the issue: the past historical role of the Dalai Lamas and his 'divine' status vis-a-vis the Tibet Nation as well as his request to be relieved of all day-to-day responsibilities.
Having completed its job, the Committee will present the outcome of its deliberations to a National General Meeting scheduled to be held at Dharamsala from May 21 to 23. This enlarged consultative group comprises of a few hundred ‘senior’ Tibetans such as ‘former ‘prime ministers’, members of the Cabinet, former ministers, present and former members of Parliament, officials above joint secretary rankl, representatives from the local assemblies in the Tibetan settlements and eminent members of the civil society.
The 'draft' which will later need to be ratified by the Assembly, gives the legal background and the dual role of the Dalai Lama: “The Charter provided that the successive Dalai Lamas shall exercise their responsibilities as head of the Tibetan nation and as chief executive of the Tibetan administration.”
However, “in deference to His Holiness the Dalai Lama's irrevocable decision to relinquish his administrative and political roles and in the face of His Holiness' rejection of pleas to reconsider that decision”, the Assembly should adopt some amendments to separate the Dalai Lama’s two roles and take care of his recent request, while safeguarding the continuity of the Central Tibetan Administration as the legitimate governing body of the Tibetans in exile.
The proposal is as follows: “His Holiness the Dalai Lama fully vests the Central Tibetan Administration and in particular its democratic leadership organs with the powers and responsibilities formerly held jointly by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration to represent and serve the whole people of Tibet.”
However, a Preamble is added to the Charter the same way as the US Constitution is amended, adding amendments, instead of incorporating the amendments into the body of the Constitution as in the Indian case.
In a way, it is a legal Middle Path solution which should satisfy all the parties involved, except Beijing perhaps.
In the Article 1, the Dalai Lama is termed as the ‘Protector and the Symbol of the Tibetan Nation’: “[as] human manifestation of Avaloketeshvara, is the guardian and protector of the Tibetan nation. He is the guide illuminating the path, the supreme leader, the symbol of the Tibetan identity and unity, and the voice of the whole Tibetan people. His authority is derived from centuries old history and heritage and, above all, from the will of the people in whom sovereignty is vested and therefore comprises the following inherent rights and responsibilities.”
Though without day-to-day official function to perform the Dalai Lama should continue: “To provide advice and encouragement with respect to the protection and promotion of the physical, spiritual, ethical and cultural well being of the Tibetan people, to remain engaged in the efforts to reach a satisfactory solution to the question of Tibet and to accomplish the cherished goals of the Tibetan people.”
Apart from being the Protector, the Dalai Lama will also be a mentor and an advisor. This formulation takes care of one of the major legal hurdle. In any system of governance, a head of the State is required (he/she can be an elected leader in the case of a Republic, a King/Queen in a monarchy or a religious leader in a theocracy), there can’t be a constitutional vacuum.
The elected Prime Minister (such as the new Prime Minister whose name will be announced on April 27), is only the head of the Executive.
The Dalai Lama could continue to provide guidance in various forms “in matters of importance to the Tibetan people, including the community and its institutions in exile”, either on its own or at the request of the Administration.
The Dalai Lama could also be requested to continue to meet with world leaders and other important individuals and bodies to speak on behalf of the Tibetan people.
This clever formula takes care of several serious issues.
For example the Government in exile in Dharamsala is known as the ‘Central Tibetan Administration of HH the Dalai Lama’, his embassies in Delhi and abroad are ‘The Office of the Representatives of HH the Dalai Lama’, the officials conducting the talks with Beijing are the ‘Envoys of HH the Dalai Lama’, etc., the proposal of the Drafting Committee should solve these issues, the above institutions should be able to retain their respective names.
Vis-à-vis the Government of India who has a Liaison Office (Ministry of External Affairs) in Dharamsala, the trick should answer their queries, if any.
It solves also the problem of ‘succession’ as all the executive powers will be concentrated on the elected Prime Minister. Where is the question of a successor taking over the Dalai Lama’s responsibilities?
Regarding the relations with Beijing, it is more difficult. But it is perhaps because the situation has not gone anywhere for the past 30 years and that the future seems rather bleak that the Dalai Lama to withdraw at this point in time.
The Chinese have repeatedly said: “The Central Government will never discuss the future of Tibet with the Dalai Lama. What we can discuss with him is his [own] future and that of some of his supporters.”
The Dalai Lama has always stated that he was not bothered by his status, but was only interested in the welfare of the 6 million Tibetans in Tibet.
The present radical changes will not alter the respective positions of Beijing and Dharamsala, unless something drastic happened within China, for example a movement à la Tunisian, nothing can be expected on the negotiation front.
The Tibetan ‘democracy’ remains however very young and shaky: recently the results of the elections for the new Prime Minister were leaked one week before they were to be officially announced. Some solid home work still needs to be made by these institutions if they want to be truly representing the aspirations of the Tibetan people.