Tibet’s Future Scenario

So far, events have followed the script. On March 10, an emotional day for Tibetans in exile because it was the 52nd anniversary of a failed uprising in Lhasa, their head lama announced he would abdicate political responsibility. The announcement was followed by sentimental appeals for him to stay on as political leader.

Some supporters started a signature campaign to force him to change his mind. But the Dalai Lama appeared determined. He had firmly put the ball in the court of the Tibetan parliament in exile, which will start discussing his proposal tomorrow.

Events may run foul of the script from tomorrow. The situation might change completely after March 20, when Tibetans in exile elect their next kalon tripa or prime minister of their government in exile. What is likely to unfold?


Highly unlikely but the Tibetan parliament could reject the Dalai Lama’s proposal or ask him to reconsider it. A Tibetan MP, one of the 43 who will vote on the issue, admits “it’s a big dilemma for us. On one hand, we don’t want him to go and on the other hand, we can’t reject his offer. Maybe we will ask the next parliament to take the decision.”

The MPs will have to consider the negative fallout of putting the ball back in the Dalai Lama’s court or passing it on to the new parliament. It would give credence to China’s allegation that the Tibetan leader’s announcement was a “trick”. In the event of such high drama, leading Tibetan officials admit, the main issue – the Tibetan struggle – could become a casualty. This is why their current prime minister, Samdhong Rinpoche, made clear on Friday that the Tibetan movement would continue even after the Dalai Lama’s retirement from politics. “It is a struggle for a nation,” he said.

However long the Tibetan parliament and the new prime minister takes to write the rulebook that devolves the Dalai Lama’s powers, his political retirement is sure to mean a new set of worries. “Our government is not recognized by any nation in the world. So in what capacity the all powerful Kalon Tripa and other ministers meet the world leaders? Right now, the Dalai Lama performs this role because of his stature of being a Buddhist leader and a Nobel laureate. The prime minister will not have this privilege,” says a member of the kashag or cabinet in Dharamsala.


Whatever the Tibetan parliament’s decision on the Dalai Lama’s proposal, there are likely to be new headaches for Delhi. India is cautious about the Dalai Lama’s decision to become a simple spiritual refugee. An official of the ministry of external affairs said on condition of anonymity that “we would rather prefer no change in the present system. China has repeatedly asked us to shut down the Tibetan government in exile. Now, this pressure may increase”.

New Delhi is also thinking about other practical problems for when the Dalai Lama withdraws from the political scene. The Tibetan leader has representatives in 11 capitals, including Delhi. They serve as unofficial ambassadors of the government in exile. “If the kalon tripa is the new political head, will these representatives continue to represent the Dalai Lama or will they be called ambassadors. How will China react to it?” says an Indian official, suggesting the Tibetans move with caution.

However they move, the Tibetan parliament has a huge task on its hands. The MPs have to make laws for the appointment and dismissal of officials. Till now, the Dalai Lama was in charge. “This development will bring massive changes in our systemic changes. This will truly challenge the community,” says the kashag member.

It’s entirely possible that the government in exile may implement cosmetic change and the centre of power will continue to be the Dalai Lama. “Let one thing be clear, till he is around he will call the shots. The change he has proposed is his way of preparing us for the post-Dalai scenario,” says a Tibetan MP. Others agree that the planned change is part of a larger issue – who, if anyone, succeeds the 14th Dalai Lama (see accompanying story).

This is why, the process of transition may take a long time. In this fluid scenario, there are only three constants: the Tibetan movement will continue as before; China will continue to spit fire at the Dalai Lama and India will watch developments with anxiety.

This script is clearly work in progress.

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