Tibetan domestic politics is driven by provincial, or sectarian or regional affiliations.
Like most Tibetans, including those who voted for Sikyong Lobsang Sangay in the 2016 election, I am shocked by what Sikyong Lobsang Sangay did to former speaker Penpa Tsering — the Dalai Lama’s Chief Representative posted in Washington DC. He fired Penpa Tsering a few days ago for no reason other than political revenge.
Penpa Tsering was Lobsang Sangay’s opponent in the 2016 Sikyong election and a tough one at that. Penpa Tsering is the only Tibetan statesman who can stand up to Lobsang Sangay and speak the truth to his face for the good of our cause and our community as a whole.
Stand up he did, in and outside the Parliament. With humility but firmly. Roughly twenty-eight thousand Tibetans in our small exile community voted for him.
Recognizing Penpa Tsering’s capability, experience, and integrity, the Dalai Lama’s private office recommended Penpa Tsering as the right man for the Representative job. Sikyong had no choice but to relent. Also, to appear to be burying the election grudge and the regional hatchet, that was the best bet he had. No need to point out that Lobsang Sangay is a Khampa man and Penpa Tsering is an Amdo/U-Tsang man. Track the source of the conflict. It will help the reader understand the Tibetan domestic politics. To turn a blind eye because it makes you feel uncomfortable is, in fact, an endorsement for negative regionalism to continue.
When the media asked for elaboration on why Sikyong fired him, the response from him and his subordinates was shocking. Sikyong, laughing sarcastically, avoided the question by telling the media to talk to the Cabinet Secretary. The secretary simply said Sikyong fired him because it is in his power to do so according to the exile charter. No specific reason was given.
The Deputy Sikyong Youthok Karma Gelek responded, at an only 10-minute-long press conference, by saying that Sikyong had served three warning notices to Penpa Tsering to mend his ways in the past one year and that he was not respecting Sikyong. When pressed for what precisely wrong did Penpa Tsering do, Youthok became overbearing and left.
CTA, where is the transparency?
The Dalai Lama publicly rebuked both the candidates in Dharamshala in April 2016 for stirring regional tensions among the Tibetan community during the election. Both the candidates publicly apologized. And so, we believed the matter got settled there and then. Sangay even delivered tons of speeches on the importance of Tibetan unity.
But to our dismay, Lobsang Sangay proved us wrong. The man is still in the election campaign mode despite being in office again for almost two years. This firing on unfounded grounds is an attempt to tarnish the image and reputation of Penpa Tsering. How vindictive can Sikyong get? This is absolutely unacceptable, and it also goes against the very teaching of the Dalai Lama.
Penpa Tsering said on Voice of America that he was served only one warning notice and that too without any explanation. Sikyong also denied Penpa Tsering his right to explain his position. Sangay revealed his actual colors. Also, the removal of Penpa Tsering from the office is a slap in Dalai Lama’s face, and a kick to the rear of the twenty-eight thousand Amdos and U-Tsangs who voted for him.
What can we do now?
When we think an issue is this important, we are left with no choice but a massive protest. Protesting can help raise public awareness and prevent a cheap political vendetta that can ruin the Tibetan unity thus far achieved.
I call for the Tibetans to come out in thousands at Gangkyi on 27 November 2017 at 10 am sharp, and do the following.
Picket by holding up large signs at the Cabinet building and demand a detailed explanation for the firing of Penpa Tsering. Gather first at McLeod Ganj and march to Gangkyi, demanding the reinstatement of Penpa Tsering to the office. Hold a vigil at night in memory of Penpa Tsering’s dedication and service to our community. Do sit-ins at the Cabinet building lobby until the demand is met. Resist threats and violence with resolute non-violent action. Be the peace warriors!
Organise a core group of U-Tsang Association and Amdo Association if the Cholsum Association fails to do so. Assign roles to members pertaining to media coverage, permits, equipment, safety, transport, signs, and placards.
Gather as many people as you can to help out on the day. Remember to contact them the night before to remind them about the protest. Put the word out through emails, posters and flyers, local media, social media, word of mouth, and any other way you can.
Organise speakers for they can inspire and educate the Tibetan public, but keep the speeches short and powerful.
Thunder into the streets! Pound sense into the head of Sikyong! Lead by example, not by ego!