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In Conversation: Prime Minister of Tibet

(The Audio is a selected 18 minute excerpt of the Hour long interview)

In Conversation

Dr.Lobsang Sangay-Prime Minister-elect- Central Tibetan Administration.

His Excellency Dr. Lobsang Sangay the newly elected Prime Minister of the Central Tibetan Administration. Upon him rests the responsibility to guide the Tibetan movement and to resume the dialogue with China and also to enhance the welfare of the Tibetan refugee community in exile.                                                      



Q.) How do you see the Tibetan issue?

Dr.Sangay.) There is one country two system inChinainHong Kong. Why notTibet? That’s the question. Because Hong Kong andMacaupeople are Han Chinese. But then the Chinese argument has been thatHong Konghas had a different business or commercial system under the British hence you recognize the difference.  And gave them a different system. Then what aboutMacau? It didn’t even have a functioning system of infrastructure. It was a crime infested colony. Most of the criminals fromChinaran way here. Then why does it deserve a one country two system? Then we the Tibetans have had different culture different tradition different system even different state because we had our own currency. We had our own judiciary; we had our own tax system. None of the cases went toChina. We solved it ourselves.  And compared toMacauwe were in a much much better position to claim for statehood even. If you’ve given one country two system status toMacauthen why not Tibetans? And the answer is the same, because We Are TIBETANS. Because we are not Chinese.China’s reputation will be tested by how they treat the Tibetans.

Q.) what are they afraid of?

Dr.Sangay) So its not a..People often say “oh” the solution toTibetis very difficult.  But it is not a difficulty in the legal framework. There is a legal basis for granting genuine autonomy. Article 12, article 4, it’s not a question of institutional complexities. One country two system is already there in Hon Kong andMacau. And it is not a question of history or custom or tradition. We’ve had a distinct history, distinct culture, and distinct language. So the problem is not legal or institutional. The problem is simply political. Political problem because we are Tibetans and we are being Discriminated. So all we are saying is that the Chinese leadership should have the political will to solve the issue. There will be a huge dividend for them. You will gain respect from the international community. And they want respect; they are spending billions of dollars in buying or building a reputation of soft power. But you can’t buy soft power. You have to earn it.  Bollywood movies are more popular around the world then Chinese movies, why? Because there is free speech inIndia..There is diversity in India…and the movie is watched…and people feel it you know…its not the lack of science and technology or anything maybe Chineese technicians or Chineese moviemakers…some are better then some Indians but but the final product accepted by all around the world because what you see in Bollywood movies are staged here but expressed freely. And inChinathe expression in the movie is also staged. So the receptivity is less. That’s why the underlying lack of democratic foundation inChinain general and you have democratic foundation inIndiaand that’s the strength. So India might not be economically and militarily at par with China but India will generally will have more respect from the international community because you have moral authority, there is diversity in place…there is free speech..Only inIndia.. I always give this example ..There was a gathering of some people inDelhiand George Fernandes was giving a speech aboutTibet.. And after he finished his speech. I was a university student then. He asked after his speech..”Is there anyone who wants to say something in support ofTibet? And one man got up. one Indian man..a thin guy. and said..When I become. the next Prime Minister. ofIndia. My foreign policy will be that..and then my support forTibetwill be this.  You know he gave the whole speech…interesting guy you know. George Fernandes asked him…”what do you do normally?” he said “am a postman at the moment”…but I am launching a political party only inIndiayou see that you can gherao and say when I become the DR.SANGAY..And he was launching a political party but he happens to be a postman. And none will put him behind bars. He was criticizing the government. That’sIndiayou know.

Q.) So is it going to be your priority, getting the talks going withChina?

Dr.Sangay) From our side we are willing. That’s has to be the number one priority. Because to resolve the issue of Tibet is the number one priority.  That’s the core issue.

Q.) But if they don’t respond then is there any chance of the movement becoming violent going back to the demand for independence?

Dr.Sangay.)  no I think the movement becoming violent has a very very slim chance.   Because I believe in Non Violence. And ill do all it takes to see to it that remains non violent.  And we are inIndia..We are law abiding residents ofIndia. We also do not want to violate Indian laws as well.  We don’t want to create problems forIndia. So it will remain Non Violent. As for whether there will be a change in the issue or not. Is for the people to decide. And it’s for the Parliament to decide. For how long we can go on. When do we change. If at all is for the people and the parliament to decide. At the momentMiddle Wayis the Policy and I have to implement it. And ill do so.

 Q.) But you come from the TYC which supports complete, total independence fromChina. Have you changed your thoughts or stand?

Dr.Sangay) Yes! That’s why I am supporting theMiddle Waynow. I’ve evolve.

Q.) how do you reconcile?

Dr.Sangay.) well its like. When you’re young..Youre passionate. And with age you become more rationale and you become more pragmatic. But I do respect their work and I understand their frustration and their passion.


Q.) But now it seems divided, it almost is like a secular body now. The separation of the Church and the State. There will be more and more clamor for action. And I think you’re going to now act like a politician. So there will be enormous pressure on whoever daunts your chair. Even five years from now. So the person will be under tremendous pressure to deliver like all other politicians are. So in than case ifChinadoesn’t respond then what happens?

Dr.Sangay) I ran election platform on the Middle way policy and I won the election. And ill be around for five years. If they don’t like me then they can change me after five years. It’s their prerogative.

Q.) but you’re committed to the middle way?

Dr.Sangay) Yes!  One has to because that is the policy of the Tibetan Administration. Even parliament has resolved on this stand, thus as the executive head I have to implement the bills passed by, the laws made by the legislation.

 Q.) Are you going to make any special overtures toChina?                                                                                             Dr.Sangay) Let’s wait and see you know, during my inauguration I will give a speech…hahaha


Q.) So far they haven’t reacted very positively. They called the Dalai Lama’s decision to quit or retire as a trick and you have been linked to a terrorist organization haha…so their stand is full of negativity.

Dr.Sangay) Its part of their script…as I said. What comes fromChinais staged. So let’s say this is the next chapter in their script. So maybe they are trying to rattle me because I am young. But that’s not going to happen.

     Q.) so that’s the way you look at it?                                                                                                                                            Dr.Sangay) Well that’s generally the Chinese law. Tibetans have dealt with the Chinese for about thousand years. So we know pretty much…


Q.) how are you going to deal with the likes of N. Ram or Subramaniam Swamy?


Dr.Sangay) A vast majority of Indians have always been supporting the cause. There will be some people. Some people bound to be there andIndia’s a democracy…


Q.) you don’t take them too hard?


Dr.Sangay.) Obviously you don’t agree with them but you Indian ethos is that it’s a democracy. And we also have our say. Vast majority of Indians have been supporting for which we are very grateful and we hope and appeal that they continue to support us. Its IncredibleIndiaand Incredible Democracy inIndia. Some people don’t understand yeah we understand. Haha


Q.) When it comes to passport what happens to a Tibetan? How do you travel?


Dr.Sangay) We have Indian government issued travel document. Identity certificate. It’s issued In lieu of the passport.


Q.) what are the other priorities-age old priorities?


Dr.Sangay.) Return of HHDL toLhasais an important priority. Other internally I want to focus on education. I am saying this because I have become who I am because of education. I want to share my story and I have been sharing my story. And hopefully the younger generation will study a little harder…thinking that well if he can make it then perhaps I can make it even when our background is very similar. I literally resonate the life of a Tibetan in exile. So when I tell my story it more or less mirrors there’s. And they would say that’s exactly how I lived how I grew up and if can make it to the Kalon Tripa then I can too.


Q.) you want to inspire them?


A.)   Yeah yeah yeah and many youth have participated and they are quite encouraged as well.

Q.) but what do you plan to do? More concrete.

A.) Education is number one and create a culture where parent’s teachers and everyone say the education is very important. They inspire the youth and then provide infrastructure and then facilitate through sponsorship, counseling, coaching etc…and as they graduate upto class 12th they take professional courses. So its something like our goal should be to have some 10,000 professionals in Twenty Years time in the Tibetan community. – Doctors, engineers, lawyers, MBAs, white collared, high paid salaried professionals.  So if each professional contributes some $1000 for the cause per year then we will have 10 million dollars which would be sufficient to cover the administrative cost of the Tibetan administration. So we can be self sufficient on our own. And then 10,000 professionals, their family will be taken care of. They can help the community and the movement more effectively. Thus that’s a long term plan.


Q.) You already talked about this but the young Tibetans in some ways who have not been very happy with the stand of the CTA has taken but with your election some seem to have been starting to associate themselves with you. So are you going to take more steps to reach out to them? Draw them more into the fray of CTA and involve them more.


DR.SANGAY.) I ran on a platform ofMiddle Wayand overwhelmingly majority of them participated in it. In support of me. Hopefully they knew what my platform was. I think they are engaged actually. You know I go and talk to the youth all around and they are engaged and are very supportive of me. It’s not that ill try and bring them to my fold, trying to push them over. Ill do what I continue to do and keep everybody united and that will be my primary goal. Because I don’t seeIndependenceand autonomy as division. I just see it as two different views. Two different ways of approaching things. Both can be argued as right-  one from the matter of principle-Independence. And one from the matter of pragmativity- autonomy.  So it’s not a conflict. One sees it as the most pragmatic ways to do it as it stands today. And other says know we should think about what is our birthright and maybe we should go for our ultimate goal. So I always try to say that these are not conflict or divisons.these are two different views and both have validity. And I for one understand both sides because I have been on both and I resonate both sides. That’s why I think people voted for me overwhelmingly. Because there was choice for self determination or independence by other candidates.  Who stood for self determination? So people could have voted for them if that’s what they wanted. But people voted for me because I am more action oriented. Which means who ever have organized or done something forTibetI support it. I will not differentiate based on my ideology or philosophy. My ideology and philosophy if at all its pragmatic which means anything forTibetand Tibetan people. So that’s what people see me coming from all the way so they seem to resonate with them.


Q.) Sir earlier the idea of a multi-party democracy in the Tibetan legislature was rejected though His Excellency Samdhong Rinpoche did support the bill. Are you in a way planning to rejuvenate the idea of a multi-party democracy?


DR.SANGAY.) Hmm I don’t know multi party but I think Two-Party is needed. Having said that I don’t think parties can be formed through legislation. Parties have to be formed privately by parties. There’s already one party called the National Democratic Party of Tibet. If others want then they should organize themselves and join the election and fight the election and see where it goes. That’s how parties are formed. Party is always in the private sphere. You can’t legislate and make parties you know.


Q.) But inBhutanthey have done that…?


DR.SANGAY.) What they have done is…prelimnary rounds anyone can form party. In the final round you need cent percentage so in the final round it may be reduced to a two party contest. But none can say you cannot form any party, anyone can form any party. In this election also I realized that if you have two parties then you can have real good competition. Even now it was a good competition but the process was quite complex and at times absurd. I had to organize all my campaigns myself, individually. Travel to all these places; organize at the grassroots on my own. Even after I won the preliminary rounds. Now formally we are candidates still there was support mechanism from the government. That should change actually. After the preliminary rounds the government should provide support to each one of the candidate. And then all the events have to be automatically be organized in Tibetan areas. In this election when I went, I had to literally go find people, who would go make calls, run around and you call and organize and the officials were in a dilemma because they were not allowed to participate but they wanted to participate. So a lot changes have to be made. Though not through a legislation but through an election regulation.

Q.) Sir, another thing is the six representatives in the parliament are representatives of the schools of thought within the Mahayana Buddhism.  And there are a certain members of parliament in Diaspora who actually demand a reform on the basis of the place where the settlements are located in southAsiaand in European countries. So how far you think this proposal can go?


DR.SANGAY.) It’s for the parliament to decide. And I shouldn’t comment on it. Already we do have representatives from Europe andNorth America. And some people are proposing that we have some from the East Asian countries as well. I think we should have, as for how we go about doing this is like this is a long. Ongoing debate whether we should have representation from the Nepalese settlements or not. I think let the parliament decide.


Q.) Sir, Tibetans have been a part of the Indian Army but it seems they do not get pension benefits and this something which has been a pending issue; will your government reach out to the Indian government over this?


DR.SANGAY.) No, our official statement on this issue has always been that yes there are some people of Tibetan origin like Ladakhis, Sherpas like that you know they have joined the Indian Army. And I have read newspaper accounts where they have participated in some wars Operation Vijay and then Kargil and all. That’s our stand. Our official stand.



Q.) You’ve had a very vigorous campaign; you must have closely witnessed the life of an average Tibetan inIndia. Apart from other issues they have some socio-economic issues..Are you also going to…?


DR.SANGAY) Yes definitely. Welfare of Tibetans will definitely be an important priority..That’s why I thought that education will be a short, mid and long term plan. And I know socio economic conditions of some Tibetans in some settlements are in quite dire state. The conditions in these settlements are very harsh. Some Tibetans inNepalas well in the border areas ofTibet.


Q.) The elections were not allowed to be conducted freely inNepal, thanks to the government there. So will the administration take steps to harmonize the relations with the Nepalese government?


DR.SANGAY) yeah we are trying. We had good relationship before and Tibetans were allowed to function quite freely before. At least humanely. Now the Chinese embassy inNepalis the most powerful embassy even when compared to US orIndia. So their intervention is quite strong.  Yes we want to look after the Tibetans inNepal. And we wantNepalalso, Nepalese people to remember that we have long relationship with the Nepalese people. As old as 2000 years. So our Tibetan-Nepalese relationship should continue in a harmonious way and Tibetans should not be treated unfairly inNepal. BecauseNepalis a democratic nation and they participate in democracy, they know the importance of or the value of democracy and what Tibetans were doing were essentially practicing democratic rights and Tibetan rights should be recognized and allowed.

Q.) Sir, now this is Gujarat centric;Gujaratis basically an enterprising state. Most of them are into businesses. And withChina’s economic clout, somewhere people tend to remain a bit oblivious or rather pretentiously oblivious to the Tibetan issue, what would your message be to them? And there is also news of gujaratis actually starting to export toChina, which is a rarity because generally it isChinawhich exports to other countries.


DR.SANGAY.) My message is you know I like gulab jamun which is fromBengal. I like Gujarati Jalebi also. And I want Gujaratis to remember, and I am sure they do remember the message of Gandhi. Gandhi was from the great state ofGujarat. He led the salt march in the state ofGujaratwhich became known all around the world. Many see that as a model on how to organize non violent movements. And Gandhi became very popular after the salt march thanks to the support of the Gujarati people. It was well organized. Why he did that? Why Gandhi did that inGujarat? It’s because at that time the support for him from other states, compared to Gujarat cannot be said how much but in the state ofGujarathe was going to get so much support because he is a Gujarati himself. And Gandhiji’s known all around the world and Tibetans, we model our movement after Gandhi’s movement and the success of the salt march as well. So we are essentially banking on the legacy of the Gujaratis. So we want gujaratis to continue to recognize and support their own legacy.


Q.) You have stated earlier thatTibetshould be the core issue forIndiato negotiate withChina. Is it also that you would reach out to the Indian people so that they in turn can help shape the minds of the political executives. Which in turn can..?


DR.SANGAY) I don’t  know If ill go around trying to shape Indian peoples view but I have done and ill continue to do is travel around India, meet Indian people, Indian students and Indian academics and thank them for their support for all these years. Because I often say this that I grew up in Indian subsidized refugee camp. I went to Indian subsidized schools. I still travel on Indian subsidized Gas in train or plane. Whatever.  I am very much grateful toIndiaand the Indian people. And if they ask me about my views onChinaorIndiaorTibet, I will share to the best I could. With clear intention that I will not do or say to harmIndia’s interest orIndia’s security. We are here as a guest and we know it very well and we will do all we could, infact helpIndia’s interest and security. So in that context I will travel around, I will reach out. And as I have done and express gratitude for Indian peoples support for all these years. And then I often say this actually. When it comes to cricket I think my heartbeat is as strong forIndia. Or for that matter there was a survey done of the most popular food inIndia. Indian preference, my taste is exactly same as Indians.  Number one- Masala Dosa, Number Two Mutton Biryani. So very much. I was inAssamrecently, nearWest Bengaland I said “macchli lao…masala waala” so for sure..Yeah definitely. So I mean I grew up here and I very much appreciate.



Q.) Sir, the Wikileaks have revealed HHDL has stated that political issues should be sidelined and that more importantly it should be environment that should be of primary concern for a certain quantum of time becauseTibethappens to be the Third Pole. So what would be your government’s stand on this?


DR.SANGAY.) Now who knows how accurate the WikiLeaks source is? So you don’t know actually. So someone said something and note it down. One cannot say for sure. The political issue ofTibetis surely the primary issue and along with that the environmental issue is very important and affectsIndiadirectly. They are damming major rivers and some say that the Hydropower project is as big, if not bigger as theYangtze Riverproject. So whenever you dam a river, you control the flow of the river. Control the flow of the water. So that control is very powerful. So they can release water when it’s not needed. They can block water when it’s needed. So the environment is the major important thing. SoTibethas the source of all the major rivers.IndusRiverwhich flows toPakistanandIndia. Brahmaputra,Mekongall the way. Yangtze…all the rivers. So one could say around fifty percent of the population drink Tibetan water.  And as per Indian custom when a guest comes you say “paani pijiye” and yes Indians drink Tibetan “paani” and we are given hospitality. But on the other side, across theHimalayasthe Chinese drink lots of Tibetan water and we are yet to see the hospitality haha. We want to say that could you please show the same hospitality that Indians show us.



Q.) Sir, under the leadership of Mr. Gyari the current committee that is negotiating withChina, would there be a change in the committee or something?


DR.SANGAY) Not yet, actually I am yet to takeover. I am yet to review papers. Review the document. But as it stands today I have no plan to change anything as of yet. Now the Kalon Tripa has to appoint the envoys. Before it was his Holiness who used to appoint.  You seem to know quite a lot huh…youve been here for sometime?


Q.) One more question sir,

DR.SANGAY) yeah…


Q.) Voices of dissent within the Tibetan community. Would they be entertained in a much better now then before?


DR.SANGAY) voices of?


Q.) Dissent…


DR.SANGAY) yeah…of course I am a believer in democracy


Q.) Dawa Norbu in some ways was not well received for a certain point of time.


DR.SANGAY.) I hosted him at Harvard for about 6 months. I invited him. That says it all you see.  Yeah definitely, I know him very well. Dawa Norbu…he was a professor at theJawaharlalNehruUniversityand I invited him to Harvard for 9 months and literally I put him up at my place. Many people don’t believe that I did that. He was a bit eccentric. People asked how can you live with him for 6 months.  Yeah I put him up. You must have understanding and a bit of compassion. I am claiming too much. But yeah I put him up for 6 months and then he left forIndia.

During the elections I was criticized quite a lot by many people on facebook and websites and all but I hardly ever responded. Even if I responded I responded very politely. Because I have a bigger volume and I don’t want to hammer or poke on different voices. I wanted them to have space for free speech. Even though I was criticized. If I would have responded to them harshly they would have been discouraged to criticize anyone. I made myself available. Because I am a public figure so well I dint respond..I could have, normally you do, you try to defend your dignity and reputation. I dint do much because that’s when these people spoke for the first time. Young aggressive maybe indianized. Let them say what they want; I am not going to respond. Because we have to encourage this. The environment of dissent. Even though it’s critical of me.


Q.) Sir the happenings atTahrir SquareworriedChina. How does your administration look at those develoDr.Sangayents in theMiddle East?


DR.SANGAY) See, I am a..I support freedom. I support democracy. If there’s any place anywhere who are fighting for democracy and freedom we show our solidarity.  Yeah I think democracy is universal freedom is basic for human beings to have.











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