Monday, July 6, 2015

Sikyong 2016: Challenges and the road ahead

One of the candidates for 2016. photo by: Tibet Sun/ Lobsang Wangyal

     Election for the Tibetan Prime Minister in exile or Sikyong (Tibetan) in 2011 were widely publicized and enthusiastically contested. Debates, talks and visits by the nominees held across the world from Asia, Europe and North America infused a sense of new energy in this facet of the Tibet movement. We saw many Tibetan candidates, young and old, standing up, ready to share the reins of responsibility for the Tibet movement with His Holiness the Dalai lama. The 2011 election results brought Dr. Lobsang Sangay, a young and fresh face,  at the helm of a generational change of leadership. He won not only widespread adulation and support from Tibetans across the globe, but also inherited a myriad of challenges to tackle and solve. (A review of current Sikyong's policy initiatives over the last 4-5 years will be a part of another write up in future.)

              With another election at the horizon and many candidates already warming up for the preliminary elections for nomination, it would make sense to point out a few of the challenges that the Tibet movement today faces. This would perhaps help to shape the dialogue over issues, that could highlight the respective campaigns of candidates in this new election cycle.

India's foreign policy and Asia pacific in general

  No doubt, there is a tremendous amount of sympathy for the Tibet cause across the globe and an unprecedented amount of love and respected for The Dalai Lama. Yes, there are bills passed, days named in honor of Tibet, petitions signed etc. The Tibet movement in the west has definitely raised the status of Tibet relatively above many other movements in terms of perception. But how much direct effect and influence has this had on China's policy on Tibet or the prospects of our dialogue with the Chinese. 

  Despite having a central tibetan organization located in India, it is my personal opinion, that a concerted effort towards shaping and influencing India's foreign policy to help Tibet has been minimal . However, the current kashag's efforts have been much better compared to earlier efforts. 

With a new prime minister (Narendra Modi) in office who has a great deal of public support and an administration style that is forward looking, I see a lot of opportunity for Tibetans to engage India at an unprecedented level. A country of a billion people with issues ranging from border encroachment, water resources, trade deficit and what not with China, Tibetans and the Tibetan administration have a great platform to strongly shape Indian public opinion in favor of Tibet. Even Indian journalists except a few, now finally seemed to be more aware of the Tibet issue and its various implications with India. 

This is one area where we can definitely garner some leverage and perhaps even use it to finally get China on table to discuss Tibet unconditionally. 

The same applies to most of other countries in Asia pacific with a wide range of issues with China. The south China sea debacle, many trade related  and ethnic issues with much of south east Asia, China is not really a beloved friend in any of these places. How do we utilize, improvise and capitalize on the antagonizing relationship China has with these countries would be the test of the ingenuity, the current or a new Tibetan leadership can show. 

The push in the west can continue, but India and Asia pacific are regions with real issues at stake with China. We have the resources and the mechanism to shape public opinion more strongly in these areas. 

What the incumbent Sikyong or any of the current candidates have planned in  this regard, can be a key factor in determining their caliber as a forward thinking dynamic leader.

Dealing with China

I cannot predict, as some of the Tibetan political pundits have tried to in their pieces or talks, but I can definitely put my views forward about the direction of our dealings with China.

As far as the current geopolitical realities of Asia pacific show, the possibility of restarting negotiations with China where Tibetans have some semblance of leverage, would be possible only if a country like India will broker it. 

How we bring India to do that or what our plans are (if any) in bringing this to fruition , will demonstrate the effectiveness of the incumbent Sikyong or the new candidates, in implementing a broader political vision.

Tibetans in Tibet

One of the greatest challenge, we continue to face is maintaining and establishing close knit ties with Tibetan in Tibet. Yes, there is progress but what specific strategies and action plan has the current Kashag or the new candidates have in place to make this more effective.

Tibetans in Tibet are using ingenious ways to access news related to Tibet and His Holiness. How do Tibetans in exile and the CTA effectively create avenues and channels for communication with Tibetans in Tibet?

With a tremendous leap in technology, what broader plans does the incumbent Sikyong and the new candidates have, in order to achieve broader communication and connection with Tibetans in Tibet. 

Education of Tibetan Youth

The current Tibetan administration's efforts in this area can hardly be pushed aside. From administrative changes, to scholarships and many other initiatives, the current Sikyong has shown that he was and is serious about making education more accessible and providing new opportunities for the young Tibetan.

Central School for Tibetan (CST) is one of the greatest resource the Tibet movement has in churning out  well educated and principled youth for sustaining not only our movement but Tibetan culture and heritage. There is a tremendous amount of change the Indian education system is undergoing, how do we Tibetans keep abreast and be competitive in this environment would be our test.

From changing teaching methodology, to providing 21st century resources for both our teachers and students, there is always room for new ideas and initiatives.

What does the incumbent Sikyong and the current candidates have in store in this regard?  What are their milestones and plan of action? 

Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) modernization and financial viability

Modernizing CTA is as crucial as any other aspect of our movement. Ideas like  e-governance, streamlining regulatory and bureaucratic systems in place for the 21st century will be another challenge. The current administration has shown their willingness in this direction with many changes, mostly notably, with a much better functioning website and some other changes. 

But what else is ahead. Do we see electronic green book payment for those in the west? How about an entirely online green book payment system for all Tibetans?What new security measures does CTA have in place, in light of a cyber attack? What services can be delivered by CTA online and in what ways?

I am sure there are many other aspects, that require attention and change. 

Has the incumbent Sikyong or the current candidates have devised any plans for future?

Any organization, without a viability plan for its finances cannot sustain long term functioning.

Besides, the current plans, what are future revenue sources and financial viability designs in store for the CTA?

Do the new candidates have better or more creative ideas about financial viability?

Tibetans in the west

The issues affecting the Tibetans in the west, especially who have already formed their roots here with a generation or two, are much different than those who are in India, Nepal, Bhutan or Tibet. This is especially true for the younger generation. 

Do they care about a Tibetan settlement somewhere in India and its future? May be some do, but most likely many don't?  Do they care about the education system in India, Tibetan schools and opportunity for young Tibetans in exile, may be they do and may be they don't ?

 But the point is, how does any new candidate shape his/her message amongst young Tibetans born and educated in the west. How does he/she practically align the broader vision of Tibet with Tibetans who already have a career, a house and citizenship of a country? His Holiness, the Dalai Lama does this job currently, but how does the incumbant Sikyong or the new candidates plan to do it?

"Tibetan Political Review", a very vocal online opinion portal run by western educated and western raised Tibetans, have very different priorities and issues that they care about, then Tibetans in Tibet or in India. 

How does the new candidate or the incumbent reconcile these views? Or is there a need to?

Global Support

His Holiness the Dalai lama, has put forth the perfect template for the best way to garner global support, love and respect for Tibet and Tibetan people's struggle. I don't see there is a need to do anything drastically different here.

I can definitely see His Holiness Karmapa taking a more and more active role in the coming future. This is very good for us. Despite what some cynics say about the separation of Tibetan religious heads and Tibetan struggle, there is no doubt that this formula has worked only in favor of the Tibetan cause so far. 

The new candidates and the incumbent Sikyong however, will definitely have to think about how to skillfully deal with this aspect of our struggle.

Breaking the hierarchy of career politicians, activists and bureaucrats 

Most organized movements lose their vigor as they slip into hierarchical nepotism and favoritism. Just as the 2011 election broke that cycle, so should the 2016 election. Whether its the candidate for Sikyong or even later, the Kashag assignments. 

I am pretty much done seeing my parents bowing their spine too much in the past to respect a politician, a career activist or a bureaucrat. 

Are the new candidates ready for such expectations and humble enough to bow their spine to the masses instead?

Is the incumbent Sikyong, ready to show the same humility he did during his campaign and during his administration, in the coming days?

Hopefully, some of these pointers will help the voters of the upcoming preliminary elections in deciding their favorite candidates. Good luck to the candidates.

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