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Dalai Lama reverses 350-year-old tradition

Monday May 30, 2011 04:32:15 PM, Vishal Gulati, IANS

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Dharamsala: When Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama devolved his "formal authority" to the elected leadership of the Tibetan exiles, he created history of sorts by reversing the over 350-year-old tradition in which the top monk guided the Tibetan government.

Officials of the Tibetan administration, based in this northern Indian hill station, said the decision of the 75-year-old Nobel laureate to shed political and administrative powers was a major landmark in the Tibetan history.

"The aim of His Holiness is to strengthen Tibetan democracy and to develop a common responsibility among the people (exiles)," Thubten Samphel, secretary of the department of information and international relations of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), told IANS Monday.

"Of course, it's a big victory for the democracy," he added.

The elderly monk Sunday devolved his "formal authority" to the elected leadership of the exiles.

"Whatever amendments we (Tibetan parliament) have made in the charter, have been approved by His Holiness. He gave his approval yesterday (Sunday). Now, the Dalai Lama's administrative and political powers are vested with the democratically elected leaders," Tenzin Norbu, a spokesperson for the parliamentary secretariat, told IANS.

So far, the Dalai Lama was not just the spiritual guru but also the political head of around 140,000 Tibetans who live in exile in India and abroad.

But now, with the Dalai Lama draping only the spiritual robe, he ceases to have any say in the political arena.

Political observers here believed that the Dalai Lama gave up his political charge because he did not want any chaos after his death.

For the past one decade, he has been saying that he is in a state of "semi-retirement".

He has indicated a number of times that he has already transferred most of his political powers to Prime Minister Samdhong Rinpoche, whom he has addressed as his "boss".

The Dalai Lama, the global face of the Tibetan exile movement, shocked many Tibetans March 10, the 52nd anniversary of the Tibetan national uprising, by announcing that he would hand over political power to the elected leadership.

As the budget session of parliament began March 14, the Nobel laureate's message was read out by Speaker Penpa Tsering. "My intention to devolve political authority derives neither from a wish to shirk responsibility nor because I am disheartened. It is to benefit Tibetans in the long run," said the message.

A few days later, he told a gathering here: "The rule by spiritual leaders or the rule by kings is an outdated concept. In reality, I have been describing myself as a semi-retired person for the last 10 years."

Samphel said the practice of the top monk guiding the Tibetan government was in place since 1642.

"From the fifth Dalai Lama (Lobsang Gyatso) to the 14th (the present one), this practice was being followed. In 1642, Lobsang Gyatso was enthroned as both the spiritual and political leader of Tibet," he said.

But Samphel clarified that "the Dalai Lama would stay committed to the cause of Tibet and will continue to be the spiritual head of the Tibetans".

Tibetans-in-exile have elected 42-year-old Harvard Law School senior fellow Lobsang Sangay as the next Kalon Tripa or prime minister.

He will assume office when the two-time prime minister Rinpoche retires Aug 14.

It was in 1959 that the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, whom China calls a separatist, fled Tibet after an anti-communist uprising. He then headed a Tibetan government-in-exile which never won recognition from any country.

India is also home to around 100,000 Tibetans.




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