Tibetan politics is in a tailspin as there are signs of serious differences between the 14th Dalai Lama, unquestionably the supreme and undisputed leader of the Tibetans, and Lobsang Sangay, president of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA).
The immediate provocation is the unceremonious cancellation of the 13th Religious Conference of the Schools of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon Tradition, which was scheduled between November 29 and December 1 year in Dharamshala. Insiders have revealed that the conference was cancelled by Lobsang without consulting the Dalai Lama.
Even more intriguing is the timing of the move. Knowledgeable sources in the Tibetan establishment in India disclosed that Lobsang made the move while the Dalai Lama was travelling back from Japan, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to do anything to stop it.
Tibetan politics is turning out to be a cloak-and-dagger mystery. According to sources, Lobsang waited until the Dalai Lama was on his way to the airport before ordering the Department of Religion and Culture to cancel the event. Interestingly, the cancellation of the conference is available by way of an announcement in English on the CTA website.
The CTA’s Department of Religion and Culture announced that owing to the sudden demise of the supreme head of the Nyingma tradition, Kathok Getse Rinpoche, who passed away this week in Nepal and in respecting the sentiments of the followers of Nyingma tradition, the 13th Religious Conference of the Schools of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon Tradition was being indefinitely postponed.
The department cited that many lamas and representatives of the Nyingma tradition were unable to participate because of Rinpoche’s passing away.
On November 22, the CTA organised a prayer service to mourn the demise of Rinpoche, the 7th supreme head of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. Rinpoche passed away following an accident on November 19 in Pharping, Nepal. He was 64.
Sources say the Dalai Lama is furious with Lobsang Sangay for trying to take credit for his negotiations with China about returning to Tibet.
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Sangay claimed that the Dalai Lama has failed for 60 years in negotiations with China, but he has the power and ability to succeed. This is also an indication of how weak the Dalai Lama’s current position is. Sangay knows that the Dalai Lama has been negotiating with China about returning and he’s trying to position himself to take credit for it. Had this happened a few years ago the Dalai Lama would have had him removed, but since his cancer has become terminal, Sangay has been consolidating his position among the exiled community. He controls the press department of the Tibetan government-in-exile and has done so since he ousted Dicki Chhoyang.
For the record, the head of the department, which cancelled the conference, was appointed by Sangay.
By the time the Dalai Lama returned to India the event was cancelled and announcements were issued to the media while he was still in the flight, which would have prevented a confirmation with the Tibetan leader and nothing could have been done to stop it. The reason given for the cancellation was the death of a senior monk.
Sources said that the real reason for the CTA president to keep the Dalai Lama in the dark was because the latter would decide again whether to back the Karmapa as his successor. The Karmapa issue has been a major reason of discord between the Dalai Lama and the CTA president. Sources spoke about a telephonic conversation between the Dalai Lama and Sangay in this regard on November 22 when the former was in Japan.
During this conversation, furious arguments broke out between the two. The Dalai Lama is said to have “shouted” at Sangay, saying that the Karmapa wouldn’t be chosen and that he wouldn’t be dictated terms by anyone. In this conversation, the Dalai Lama used some expletives in Tibetan language which he didnot expect Sangay to understand as the CTA president doesn’t know the language. However, a Lobsang aide is said to have translated what the Dalai Lama said.
This marks the most significant power play ever between the different factions within the Tibetan exile leadership. In other words, it’s now an all-out battle between the Dalai Lama and Lobsang Sangay over the future of the exile community, which may worsen in the days to come.
(The writer is a columnist and strategic analyst who tweets @Kishkindha)