Thursday, February 5, 2009

Tibetan Politicians- Could you grow up??

( Written sometime in 2007 for Tibetan World Magazine)

Like the rest of the world, I too had this romantic perception about everything related with Tibet. Whether it's the general public, our bureaucrats and our representatives at the ATPD (*Assembly of the Tibetan People's deputies), I always had this fascinating illusion of us having this higher level of moral consciousness and in recent times, the idea that our society has grown to be more liberal than it used to be. Perhaps, its because of the high standards of morality, tolerance and liberalism His Holiness The Dalai lama has set as anindividual, we somehow feel that we too are competent enough to be identified with the qualities he possesses. And it is here that we go wrong. This was very much obvious to me from the meeting I had with one of the Tibetan MPs who is currently the "Speaker of the House" of our ATPD.

As I entered the parliamentary secretariat, I was being directed to his office that is the office of the current Speaker. The first thing I noticed was a calendar of the year 2004 and not 2007. Insignificant in the beginning, but I realized later that this was perhaps the indication of the things I am going to experience during this day. Getting my mind away from the calendar, I took an interest in the conversation of our representatives. As a young Tibetan youth, it was a rare opportunity for me to be face to face with the people who are ordained with the power to decide our future. I thought it to be my responsibility to use this opportunity to the best of my capacity and express to them, the views, the confusions and the doubts of a common Tibetan youth. I was asked to express my views on education by the delegates I was accompanying, without any hesitation, I took the opportunity to express my grievances as to how the level of education is degrading in our schools, how religious teachings in our schools is not effective in accomplishing its goals of imbibing the young school graduates with a certain practical knowledge of Buddhist philosophy, how interested and amazed our Tibetan college graduates become when someone explains to them the basic fundamental principles of Buddhism in English, how I feel the level of Tibetan language in Tibetan schools has degraded. By doing all this, I didn't realize that somehow I was offending our speaker at a personal level. This I realized, when later at the dinner hosted by our speaker of the house, I was confronted with the most ugly and realistic picture of Tibetan politics that besides all the idealism and superficial morality attached with it, the fact remained that, "people are people, and our politicians were no different". The following experiences were no sweeter.

At the dinner table, right from the beginning, I had this impression that I am not supposed to talk tonight. I could see our speaker, with a stern face and he never actually even looked at us (two youths who were present there besides the delegates) for our views on what he was talking about. Perhaps, I am being too judgmental in saying that and I thought the same while listening to his judgmental view on almost everything, from weather, to western morals, to youths, to other democracies. And yet, I kept hope, I believed that our politicians are far more liberal, morally motivated individuals compared to the hypocrites of conventional politics. But this view of mine was to be shattered completely and to the bits, by the following experiences of that dinner.

Being completely aware about the sensitivities of the older Tibetan generation, I expressed my views in the courteous of the courteous possible manner and that too in a very non intrusive fashion, but surely without being too diplomatic. I felt a certain level of ownership on our leaders, because it was our future they were dealing with, it's after all the lives of the youth that will be most affected by the decisions they make. I was being too idealistic, as I came to know when our speaker of the house suddenly burst into a tirade of authoritative warnings in Tibetan, commanding me to shut my mouth. To him it seemed that I was touching on issues inconvenient to discuss in front of foreign observers. His words in Tibetan, "Don't talk about things you don't know?". Now my question is, "How are we supposed to learn then, when our leaders ask us to shut up? Could it be the reason why the participation of the youths in the election is the least? Are we all aware of such response from a senior politician that we have refrained from engaging in the political process?" This was the moment when reality crept into picture and I was introduced to the double standards and the superficiality that unlike my expectations has already entered the realm of Tibetan politics and our speaker was no different in adopting it. What shocked me even more is to realize that his behavior was the complete reflection of the manner in which China deals with issues related to Tibet. How it refers to Tibet as an internal affair and how embarrassed and angry China gets, when the CTA or any Tibetan acknowledges the wrong doings of China in front of other nations. It was hilarious in some manner and yet heart wrenching at the end. I thought it best to be silent, not because I was scared, but because of the respect I felt out of pity for this old, tired haggard man, who despite of having worked for so long, still seemed to be a bit outdated and stone walled, when it comes to facing criticisms and not being the archetypal "Frog in the well". Ironically, it was a parable he himself mentioned during the conversation. Even at the end, I thanked him for the opportunity to be there and also apologized if my views had offended him. But again, the man seems to have taken it completely personally and once again came with an outburst of warnings in Tibetan language. I was petrified from that instant. I have never in my dreams imagined such a response from a Tibetan politician.

Having said all this, I must also acknowledge that there were some very positive experiences too. I came across our Deputy speaker, a very fine lady with not only an open heart, but also a mind that was open to criticisms. I met the former secretary to His holiness, an open minded and liberal man with an open ear that in fact it was this meeting with him the previous day, which encouraged me to express my views without any fears. I met our prime minister, who despite what people believe, seemed to me to be someone who will never stop you from expressing yourself, no matter whether he agrees with you or not. My meeting with the secretary of the DIIR was also encouraging and positively influencing. Our foreign affairs minister represented another open minded Tibetan persona. So basically, Tibetan politics seemed to me to be a mixture of all kinds of people. But having said that, one thing that has dawned upon me as I reiterate, that the idealism attached with Tibetan politics and politicians, is a little too far fetched. And that we too have heavy headed and out of touch politicians like the rest of the world.

From this trip of Dharamsala, I came to learn a lot and experiencing first hand politics and politicians has given me a lot of positive motivation. Few essential though common questions that came to my mind, Is there a massive communication gap between the Tibetan Youths and our elected representatives? How many youths actually vote and try to influence the representation at the ATPD? Is regional politics a huge barrier for the election of popular and effective representation at our assembly? How much is the actual engagement of our elected representatives with the youths? And are they really in touch with the aspirations of a young Tibetan youth? Why can't we have an independent, non regional Youth representative at the ATPD? If the current framework does not allow it, then why not change it? What do we, the Tibetan Youths need to do about all this?

This whole episode started me off on a completely different journey. Infact an educative one too... I started researching about the Tibetan political system, the electoral system, its nitty gritties and am still a student. Over this time, I have come across many flaws in the current system of election in exile, not in its entirety but in some of its aspects. I will be writing about it soon.. but for now... thats the experience I wanted to sure many others youngsters have met the same kind of heavy headed people at respectable posts in our society.