Prof P. Stobdan (Senior Fellow, IDSA)’s reading of history fails to predict Tibet’s future from the beginning. The Dalai Lama has informed the Tibetan people about his thinking on the succession issue since as early as 1969. Later on September 24, 2011, the Dalai Lama took a definite position on the succession issue, where the Dalai Lama made it very clear that the decision to continue or not continue with the institution of the Dalai Lama lies with the Tibetan people. The real reason for ‘Younghusband’s visit’ to Tibet was not to lay a telegraph line. Because, to lay a telegraph line from Kalimpong to Lhasa, one doesn’t need 1,000 armed soldiers. Instead, an army of coolies, accompanied by engineers, supervisors and dozens of linemen could have done the job. In fact, it was an imperialist venture of the British Empire, to extend its imperial reach in Tibet. While making haste in predicting about the Dalai Lama and Tibet’s future, P. Stobdan let his opinions overtake his rationality, thus leading to his flimsy conclusion.
At the beginning of his writing, Prof P. Stobdan began with his own version of ominousness, without relying much either on facts or on figures. Intentionally or unintentionally, he mixed the spiritual and political positions inherited by the 14th Dalai Lama. It was during the time of Sonam Gyatso, the Third Dalai Lama (1574) that the Mongolian chief Altan Khan offered him the title of the Dalai Lama, which literally means ocean of wisdom, and in return, the Dalai Lama conferred on Altan Khan the title of Brahma, the king of religion. Accordingly, the title of the Dalai Lama started with the Sonam Gyatso, the Third Dalai Lama. However, the political lineage of the Dalai Lama started with the Fifth Dalai Lama. The Fifth Dalai Lama was recognized at a time when Tibet was in political turmoil. However, all this uncertainty was laid to rest by Gushri Khan, the chief of the Qoshot Mongols, and in 1642, the Dalai Lama was enthroned in the main hall of Shigatse as both the spiritual and political leader of Tibet. In short, the institution of the Dalai Lama is around 437 years old, and the political position inherited by succeeding Dalai Lamas is around 369 years old after the enthronement of the Fifth Dalai Lama as the ruler of all Tibet.
The question of the Dalai Lama’s succession issue
In the beginning of his commentary, P. Stobdan said, ‘In an ominous way the Dalai Lama recently threatened to terminate the over 400-year-old spiritual lineage of his position, saying that Tibetans no longer require the authority of the Dalai Lama and it would be a shame if a “weak” person succeeded him’ and further added, ‘leaving the Chinese response aside, the Dalai Lama’s decision to end succession hits at the core of Tibetan belief and is a blow to the very cause for which he fled his homeland 57 years ago.’ On March 10, 1969, the Dalai Lama said:
‘When the day comes for Tibet to be governed by its own people, it will be for the people to decide as to what form of government they will have. The system of governance by the line of the Dalai Lamas may or may not be there. It is the will of the people that will ultimately determine the future of Tibet. In particular, the opinion of the forward-looking younger generation will be an influential factor.’
Similarly on March 10, 2001, the Dalai Lama said:
‘The Tibet struggle is not about my personal position or wellbeing, but about freedom, basic human rights and the cultural preservation of six million Tibetans, as well as the protection of Tibetan environment. As early as in 1969, I have made clear that it is up to the people of Tibet to decide whether the very institution of the Dalai Lama which is over three hundred years old should continue or not. More recently, in a formal policy announcement in 1992 regarding the future polity of Tibet, I stated clearly that when we return to Tibet with a certain degree of freedom I would not hold any position in the Tibet government. I have always believed that in the future Tibet should follow a secular and democratic system of governance. I am certain that no Tibetan, whether in exile or in Tibet, has no desire to restore past Tibet’s social order.’
The Dalai Lama thus informed the Tibetan people about his thinking on the succession issue as early as 1969. In these words, the Dalai Lama has made it very clear that the decision to continue or not continue with the institution of the Dalai Lama lies with the Tibetan people. P. Stobdan further added that, ‘Possibly, the future of the Dalai Lama and his succession question could cause further emotional and psychosomatic distress among millions of believers.’ He even said:
‘what has really worsened the case is the Dalai Lama not sticking to a definite position on the succession issue. He has been making numerous and conflicting statements, i.e. he will not be reborn; he will only reincarnate in a free country; the reincarnate might be a female; he could ‘emanate’ in someone else during his own lifetime; and so on and so forth.’
In fact, on September 24, 2011, the Dalai Lama issued a statement about the process for finding his reincarnation. Below are the relevant excerpts:
‘When I am about ninety I will consult the high Lamas of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, the Tibetan public, and other concerned people who follow Tibetan Buddhism, and re-evaluate whether the institution of the Dalai Lama should continue or not. On that basis we will take a decision. If it is decided that the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama should continue and there is a need for the Fifteenth Dalai Lama to be recognized, responsibility for doing so will primarily rest on the concerned officers of the Dalai Lama’s Gaden Phodrang Trust (Office of the Dalai Lama). They should consult the various heads of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions and the reliable oath bound Dharma Protectors who are linked inseparably to the lineage of the Dalai Lamas. They should seek advice and direction from these concerned beings and carry out the procedures of search and recognition in accordance with past tradition. I shall leave clear written instructions about this. Bear in mind that, apart from the reincarnation recognized through such legitimate methods, no recognition or acceptance should be given to a candidate chosen for political ends by anyone, including those in the People’s Republic of China.’
From the above statement, one may easily figure out that the Dalai Lama had made very clear his position on the succession issue. Hence, there is no question of the Dalai Lama not sticking to a definite position on the issue.
Self-immolation in Tibet
While touching on the self-immolation issue in Tibet, P. Stobdan said, ‘China accused the Dalai Lama of orchestrating self-immolation incidents inside Tibet which Beijing is unable to substantiate. According to the International Campaign for Tibet (ITC) [sic], 143[sic] Tibetans have burnt themselves since February 27, 2009.’ However, P. Stobdan has not reflected on what the Dalai Lama had to say on the issue of self-immolations in Tibet. In an interview on July 9, 2012 with The Hindu, a national newspaper published out of Chennai, the Dalai Lama made clear responses to the Chinese allegations:
‘… After the 2008 crisis, even Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who is usually considered more moderate, blamed all these crises as being instigated from Dharamsala. Then I immediately responded, saying please send some Chinese officials and check all of our records. But there was no response. When the first self-immolation happened, again I expressed that. The Chinese still blame everything on us. If the Chinese have the confidence, they must allow the international community to see the truth. That is very important. If they do not allow, it is an indication that they have the feeling of guilt, that they have something to hide.’
The Dalai Lama said:
‘This is a very, very delicate political issue. Now, the reality is that if I say something positive, then the Chinese immediately blame me. If I say something negative, then the family members of those people feel very sad. They sacrificed their own life. It is not easy. So I do not want to create some kind of impression that this is wrong. So the best thing is to remain neutral. Right from the beginning, when this sort of event happened, what I said, and still I am insisting, is this is not happening due to alcohol or family quarrels. Now the Chinese government must carry thorough research, what is the cause of this, and not pretend that nothing is wrong. Like [former Chinese leader] Hu Yaobang said in the early 1980s when he came to Lhasa, he publicly apologized about what they had done, the past mistakes. He promised they would follow a more realistic policy. Now for that kind of courage, that kind of spirit, the time has come.’
Thus, the above interview clarifies the real situation in Tibet and Chinese leaders’ desperate attempts to wash their hands of the self-immolation issue. Prof Stobdan’s opinionated feelings have been smeared all over the pages, suggesting many scenarios, one after another. He even said:
‘In the years ahead, internal crises would intensify over the Dalai Lama’s succession. The crisis period would start within the immediate gestation period, normally the first five years, to locate and authenticate the reincarnate boy. Creating the Regency Council itself would not be without controversy given the problems with Beijing, besides a deep divide among the major Tibetan sects, the feudal elite, family clans and coteries that impact the process.’
He further said, ‘A critical issue also remains whether the Geluk sect could retain its supreme role over the Dalai Lama’s selection process this time. The conflict would intensify if there will be a dual Dalai Lama.’ To dispel Prof Stobdan’s doom and gloom scenarios for the succession issue, on September 24, 2011, the Dalai Lama said:
‘If it is decided that the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama should continue and there is a need for the Fifteenth Dalai Lama to be recognized, responsibility for doing so will primarily rest on the concerned officers of the Dalai Lama’s Gaden Phodrang Trust. They should consult the various heads of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions and the reliable oath-bound Dharma Protectors who are linked inseparably to the lineage of the Dalai Lamas. They should seek advice and direction from these concerned beings and carry out the procedures of search and recognition in accordance with past tradition. I shall leave clear written instructions about this. Bear in mind that, apart from the reincarnation recognized through such legitimate methods, no recognition or acceptance should be given to a candidate chosen for political ends by anyone, including those in the People’s Republic of China.’
Being the Supreme spiritual leader of Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama had already clarified the need and his wishes to seek the cooperation of various heads of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions during the selection process in the future.
Col. Younghusband’s visit to Tibet?
Apart from predicting doom and gloom for the Dalai Lama succession, Prof Stobdan’s reinterpretation of aspects of Tibetan history is fascinating. He said, ‘In 1904, the 13th Dalai Lama fled to Mongolia and later to China when British Commissioner Col. Sir Francis Edward Younghusband visited Tibet to lay a telegraph line from Kalimpong to Lhasa.’ In fact, during that period, Tibet became a stage for an enactment of drama called the Great Game―a geo-strategic rivalry between the British Empire and the Russian Empire for supremacy in Central Asia:
‘… Britain was aware of China’s internal weakness and was concerned with the prospect of Russia extending her influence in Tibet. The Tibetans had no intention of being influenced by any outside force; but the British did not know this as the Tibetans refused to make contact with them. The British were concerned with stabilizing the frontiers of India, and when they heard that the Tibetans were in contact with the Russians, it was considered more in the British interest if Tibet were kept under the Manchu influence …’
January 1904 saw a British expedition, led again by Francis Younghusband with 5,000 Sikh and Gurkha soldiers beginning their march to Gyantse. They had brought with them rifles, machine guns and artillery. Even while crossing Jelep la, a pass linking India and Tibet (Lhasa), Younghusband was accompanied by thousands of soldiers, carrying the most advanced weapons of the time. The force then assembled, consisted of two guns, No. 7 Mountain Battery, Royal Artillery; a Maxim gun detachment of the Norfolk Regiment; two guns, seven-pounders, 8th Gurkhas; half-company 2nd Sappers; eight companies 23rd Sikh Pioneers; six companies 8th Gurkhas; with field hospitals, engineer field park, ammunition column, telegraph, postal, and survey department detachments. In spite of the foot-and-mouth disease prevalent among the pack-bullocks, sickness and desertion amongst the Nepalese Coolie Corps, and of rinderpest, Major Bretherton had succeeded in accumulating a month’s supply for the troops and 10 days’ fodder for the animals, and General Macdonald was able to make a short march on the 11th to the foot of Jelap-la (pass) with the first column, consisting of 1,150 fighting men, four guns, and four Maxims.
From the above accounts, it is quite obvious what the real reason was for ‘Younghusband’s visit’ to Tibet. To lay a telegraph line from Kalimpong to Lhasa, one doesn’t need 1,000 armed soldiers. Instead, an army of coolies, accompanied by engineers, supervisors and dozens of linemen could have done the job. In fact, it was an imperialist venture of the British Empire, to extend its imperial reach in Tibet. If Prof Stobdan may take a look at the Convention signed between the Governments of Great Britain and Tibet at Lhasa in 1904,  the URL of which is given in an endnote, he may get some idea about the intention of Younghusband’s expedition to Tibet. On November 17, 1959, while delivering a speech to the exiled Tibetan civil servants at their fourth audience in Mussoorie, the Dalai Lama said, ‘We cannot retain all the ancient systems of Tibet; we must have change in the future. As the world is changing rapidly, we should also move together with the rest of the world.’
The Dalai Lama’s words soon turned into reality. In September 1960, the Dalai Lama bestowed on the Tibetan people his gift of democracy. With this:
‘The Tibetan democratic system formally came into existence with the first directly elected representatives taking oath of office in accordance with the advice and wishes of Tibetan people’s supreme leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who believed that Tibet should follow the democratic system which was congruent with the general trend of the modern world.’
The idea behind the democratisation was that the struggle of Tibet is not a struggle of an individual, but a struggle of six million Tibetan people. By bestowing democracy, the Dalai Lama has further strengthened the importance of the Tibetan people’s decisions on the future of Tibet and on the relevance of the institution of the Dalai Lama. While making haste in predicting about the Dalai Lama and Tibet’s future, Prof Stobdan lets his opinions overtake his rationality, thus leading to his flimsy conclusions.
* “This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis Group in Strategic Analysis Journal (A Peer Reviewed Journal) on 07/08/2016, available online at : http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09700161.2016.1209914?journalCode=rsan20
*Tenzin Tsultrim is a Visiting Fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute.
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