Deity Goes into Retirement: Tibetans Face Uncertainty in Post-Dalai Lama Era


But who are the two men who, in the wake of the Dalai Lama's decision to retire, will soon wield so much influence? How could a Harvard-educated scholar and a young monk change Tibet's fate, and how will they be able to make their views heard in the shadow of the Dalai Lama and under the watchful and hostile gaze of the powerful Chinese Communist Party?

A Tibetan with No Experience of Tibet In the eyes of many of his fellow Tibetans, the new Kalon Tripa, the official title of the prime minister of the government-in-exile, already has two strikes against him. First, Lobsang Sangay has no religious education. And second, he only knows the country which he is fighting for from second-hand accounts. He is a Tibetan with no direct experience of Tibet.

This is probably the reason that there was some tension between him and his rivals near the end of the election campaign. "But I did capture 55 percent of the votes in the end," Sangay, who is married with one daughter, says proudly. He rejects the criticism that someone in his position should wear a robe instead of tailored suits, calling it a cliché. His father was a monk whose monastery was completely destroyed in the Cultural Revolution. His uncle, says Sangay, went underground and was presumably arrested or killed, and then disappeared without a trace. "One can be devout without spending one's life behind monastery walls," he adds.

His parents fled to India in 1959, the year of the failed popular uprising. They married there and their son was born in India. They did everything they could to make sure that he had access to a good education, even selling a cow, one of their most valuable possessions, so that Sangay could attend an advanced school.

A gifted student, he seized the opportunity and earned a degree in English literature from the University of Delhi. He won a scholarship to Harvard, where he eventually earned a doctorate in law, writing his dissertation on the history of the Tibetan government-in-exile. He has been at Harvard for 16 years and has consistently worked on behalf of the Tibetan cause. In 2008, he testified as an East Asia expert before a US Senate committee, and on two occasions he arranged for secret meetings between the Dalai Lama and academics and artists from the People's Republic.

In 1992, he became the youngest member of the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) in Dharamsala. Despite its respect for the Dalai Lama, the TYC has always called for a tougher approach to China, and has demanded Tibetan independence instead of merely "true" autonomy. Some of its members dreamed -- and probably still dream -- of armed resistance against the Chinese occupiers.

During the 2008 popular uprising in Lhasa and other regions in the Chinese-controlled territory, many Tibetans died at the hands of brutal police officers and plainclothes security forces. But the violence was not one-sided. Tibetans, apparently encouraged by fellow Tibetans in exile, destroyed Chinese businesses. And the recent self-immolations of Tibetan monks in China are also not without precedent. As an act of protest, a member of the TYC set himself on fire in India a few years ago. And the TYC leadership is currently staging a hunger strike in New Delhi in protest against the siege of the Kirti monastery.

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