A pivotal fact leading to the loss of independent Tibet is attributed to Tibet’s political isolation. Since the loss of Tibet, the Tibetan government in exile has achieved tremendous gains for the Tibetan community in exile in terms of cultural preservation and education. However, much of what we need to do is often camouflaged with what we have achieved. Most nations do not see this establishment carrying any legitimacy, nor does any government in the world see anything of benefit to them of recognising this establishment particularly in the light of the Chinese Sun. In our efforts to engage in a meaningful dialogue with the representatives of the Chinese government, we find ourselves in a similar position today: politically isolated.
Peking ducks have taken us for strolls on the great wall whilst our savvy duo proved to be political eunuchs in the sterile Chinese communist court. The issue of the day is how to engage the Chinese in a genuine dialogue with the Tibetan Government in Exile.
During the invasion of the island of Melos by Athens in 416 BC during the Peloponnesian War, the Athenians tell the Melians, “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”
We as a nation are the Melians as of now. Whether we want to have momos or thukpa, we have to knead dough first. Whether we adopt a path for complete independence or a middle path towards genuine autonomy, we must first have an efficient body that represents us. The Central Tibetan Administration is in need of major changes. The government of the people, by the people and for the people needs to be resuscitated from malignant complacency.
The Central Tibetan Administration, like other bodies of governance, exhibits strengths and weaknesses. His Holiness the Dalai Lama commented in his speech given during this year’s TCV anniversary that praise shall be bestowed by others but we must examine ourselves for faults. In order for the Chinese government and the world to take us more professionally, we must take a moment and analyse ourselves.
The CTA is a reflection of the state of the Tibetan world. The CTA is a very decorative and traditional body with heavy emphasis on ritual, tradition, and bureaucracy. There are many old civil servants within the CTA who have served our cause steadfastly in their various capacities from peons to senior officers. Countless others who have left us physically are talked about with fondness over ten o’clock tea breaks and lunch breaks. Civil servants from the black tingmo generation who have also served to their best are now fading towards retirement.
With the evolution of our society in exile, many from the MTV generation still come from different settlements and cities choosing the path to serve their beloved leader and government after graduating from the very schools and institutions that the CTA established and ran.
While the CTA attracts many young Tibetans to come and serve, it also faces a genuine problem of not attracting the brightest Tibetans. Many choose to leave the establishment for other modes of employment or emigrate. What is known in statistics is the number of civil servants who have left, but nothing is known of why they left. Those who leave, leave heavy-heartedly.
It is said that the English invented bureaucracy. It seems that the CTA has perfected it. Granted a certain level of bureaucracy is found everywhere, but it is quite astonishing to have to get a chit signed by the secretary of the department to buy a new stapler. The CTA has inadvertently become a place to produce bureaucrats par excellence. Many lifelong civil servants are experts of the rules of engagement (Drik-shi) but would care less about national issues. The rule book has taken the place of the Dhammapada. Curiosity killed the cat. Tashi the CTA staffer died due to chronic bureaucracy.
Anybody familiar with running a restaurant would know how everyone working in the establishment would be assigned different tasks and the team as a whole would work as one. The front of the house, the back of the house, waiters, prep cooks, dishwashers, ushers, and the all-important Chef. In a Platonic sense, everyone has a role to play. The smooth functioning of the restaurant lies in everyone doing their assigned tasks. Now imagine if there was no job delegation and everyone did not do their respective parts and the Chef was a one-man team. How disastrous would the restaurant be.
Imagine if you came to work on time and had no work. Well, this might be fun for a day to the most; you could read a book or something, but to spend most days waiting for work is a Herculean task. However, when days roll on and you chat with your immediate boss, you discover that he/she also does not have work other than the odd letter a day, then you begin to wonder what you are doing here. It sometimes seems that the secretary is doing everything and not delegating work. Common sense tells that delegation would free up the superior officers time to think and discuss policy issues — but if common sense were so common, everybody would have it. More importantly, proper management and supervision would ensure better quality of work. An opportunity for the particular department to transcend ’good enough’ to ’great’.
Watching the local Dharamshala public works department (PWD) road workers offer great insight into how we at the CTA handle some tasks habitually. After the monsoons have pock-marked the roads or have washed away bits of the hillside, these Indian road workers (often with the whole family) very daintily fix the road. Their wisdom of not doing a thorough job is that their job for next year would also be thoroughly fixed if the patch work lasts beyond one monsoon. Semi-professional work is accepted to be the norm and supervisors do not expect professionalism. A strange mixture of a Buddhist kind of sentiment rubs into the workplace. Those who possess a bit of perfectionism are taken to be distant relatives of Adolf Hitler. Personal relationships are far too often the deciding factors of good or bad teamwork. Egos get hurt when one criticizes how work is being done, which results in a total breakdown of communication between extremely high-ranking officers at the cost of the whole department.
Professionalism in policy, in job allocation and execution is not quite the way of CTA, but one hopes that the collective consensus of the CTA does favour a future of professionalism. On the contrary, a lifelong professional of the audio and visual arts was seen to have a calling in the department of culture and religious affairs. Is the department making a sequel to The Cup? Such celestial logic would make Roman Polanski aspire to be the Archbishop of Canterbury. There is a dearth of professionalism in how we handle many things, which also may reflect on why and how His Holiness emphasised the need for specialisation and specialists for our exile set-up. However, even if His Holiness sees the dire need for specialists, the question lurks: Is the CTA ready?
There are two hillside resorts in the outskirts of Dharamshala which exude great national importance every now and then. The Task force meetings. A group that brainstorms about strategies on how to talk with the Chinese. Every one above a certain rank in the CTA and of some importance is invited to these meetings discussing how to talk with China. Imagine a room full of right-wingers discussing the left wing. About 95% of those at this resort are from the CTA who share the same views (more or less). The obvious question remains: Are these meetings held to garner a common consensus, or are they actually hoping that a brainstorming of like-minded people who kowtow the same political ideologies will lead to new ideas and approaches? Even the oracle Delphi would not be able to make fresh first flush tea from last month’s used tea bag.
If Charles V (nephew of Catherine of Aragon; first wife of Henry the VIII) had not conquered Rome in 1527, Henry the VIII could have received a proper divorce from the Pope, Clement VII. If the CTA revs up its lobbying in places like the European parliament and other organisations around the world, we could see something different in the long run in terms of strategic alliances. As of right now, the only effective lobbying for Tibet is done by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, which makes the Chinese furious. The only thing that really hurts the Chinese is when HH visits a foreign country. His Holiness wins over millions of new hearts on each and every trip he makes, like a giant tide wetting miles of dry sand. However, the follow-up from the various Offices of Tibet has never been measured. The quest to turn awareness into action involves a lot of work, but if we honestly care about our leader, we must do the bulk of the work now. Keeping the sands of awareness wet after the tide has receded is our job. The CTA has apparently outsourced (fashionably so) its lobbying work to ICT (the International Campaign for Tibet) both in America and Europe, signalling a merger with a non-governmental agency. There are no doubts about ICT’s strengths but one wonders where the buck stops. Is ICT in charge or is the Tibetan Government-in-Exile in charge? The fact that the Tibetan envoy to Europe in based in Switzerland (near Zurich) and that the EU meets in Brussels and Strasbourg is baffling too. Our envoy, having been raised in Switzerland must be lobbying the different EU representatives by YODELLING.
I hope these comments will not wound egos. It is meant to heal a system. It is a very candid approach in writing that I have taken with no intent of character assassinations. These are my personal perceptions as a civil servant and I will be extremely happy if my perceptions are proven wrong by action or if things change for the better. This constructive criticism is by no means directed to the present Kashag, but it pertains to the culture that has prevailed in our system from times when the people of Tibet knew what political freedom was.
We as citizens of Tibet living in the free world must be more responsible and not always take for granted the benefits of being Tibetans or being the people of the Dalai Lama. Our government needs to improve to challenge the next world superpower. There are no short cuts to political victory.
Our greatest strength will always be our people, our race and the factors that unite us. If we do not stand united, than we will see even harder days, but if we unite and work, no power will be able to stop us. The issue of Tibet pertains not just to us but for the countless generations to come. We must have dignity, confidence and humility to work for our race transcending personal likes or dislikes, to think beyond personal hardship and have the courage and wisdom to work for our common good involving personal sacrifices.
What we have today is a leader who is dedicated to the Tibetan nation and a government in exile. Our leader, who is the symbol and father of our nation, our race, our civilisation, is 73. From a realist’s point of view, we have about ten more effective years to work for Tibet under his active guidance. So I hope that there are many skilled and talented Tibetans who are willing to come and work for the CTA and make the Chinese listen to us … whatever our terms are. We have a lot of work to do. Bhod-Gyal-Lo!